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Leicestershire in Print

Having come into being in 1879 Leicestershire joined the County Championship in 1895, five years after it began. For many years one of the whipping boys of the tournament the arrival of overseas players, and Ray Illingworth as captain, brought Leicestershire a first Championship in 1975. There were two more in 1996 and 1998, although two division cricket has not suited the county who are currently, in the four day game at least, struggling.

The first history of Leicestershire appeared in 1949. A History of Leicestershire was written by Eric Snow, the brother of Philip, who wrote a classic book on cricket in Fiji, and CP Snow, the noted novelist. Snow wrote a second volume as well, covering the story from 1949 until 1977, thus covering that first championship success. The third history was that in the Helm series, written by Dennis Lambert, and appeared in 1992, so of the latter two successes and the club’s subsequent decline there is, as yet, nothing.

The first book from the pen of a Leicestershire cricketer appeared in 1906, The Complete Cricketer by Albert Knight. The book is not an autobiography, but is nonetheless a fine book and, as I pointed out here, certainly merits much more attention than it gets.

John King was there at the beginning in 1895, and played for the county until 1925 and, just once in 1909, was selected for a home Ashes Test. In 2009 a biography of King appeared in the ACS Lives in Cricket series, written by Anthony Littlewood. The title of  JH King: Leicestershire’s Longaevous Lefthander introduced me to a new word – it means long lived.

In the same year that The Complete Cricketer was published a youngster named Ewart Astill made his debut for Leicestershire. He was still playing occasionally 33 years later in 1939 and although he never played a Test in England Astill did represent England nine times in West Indies and South Africa. An all-rounder with some impressive cumulative figures Astill was also the subject of an Anthony Littlewood contribution to the ACS Lives in Cricket series, WE Astill: All-Rounder Debonair, in 2014.

The only other Leicestershire player whose playing career was primarily during the the interwar period and is the subject of a book is Eddie Dawson. An amateur batsman Dawson led the county for four summers,and like Astill played Test cricket overseas, in his case in South Africa and New Zealand. He is the subject of a substantial biography by Peter Kettle, EW Dawson The Cricketer, self-published in 2009.

Just sneaking in by virtue of his five summers with the county before the Second World War is the New Zealander Stewie Dempster, who brought a welcome touch of class to the county’s weak batting. Dempster was the subject of an excellent biography from Bill Francis, Second Only to Bradman, in 2020.

One popular Leicestershire batsman who did not appear for England was Maurice Tompkin. Starting out in 1938 and playing continuously until his sadly early death in 1956 Tompkin is another to have featured in the ACS Lives in Cricket series. Maurice Tompkin: More Than Just Runs appeared in 2011 and was written by Richard Holdridge.

After the war Leicestershire appointed Charles Palmer as secretary/captain and acquired a fine all-rounder even if, as was certainly the case, Palmer looked much more like a desk bound civil servant than a sportsman. Fairfield Books published Douglas Miller’s excellent biography of Palmer in 2005, More Than Just A Gentleman.

In 1971 Leicestershire signed batting all-rounder Chris Balderstone from Yorkshire and for well over a decade he was a model of consistency and even earned a couple of England caps against the 1976 West Indians. Also a professional footballer for a number of years an autobiography, The Sporting Life, appeared in 2002.

Still the most famous and popular man to have played for Leicestershire is David Gower, who made his debut back in 1975. Gower has lent his name to a number of books amongst them four volumes of autobiography, With Time To Spare, A Right Ambition, Gower: The Autobiography  and Endangered Species, published in 1980, 1986, 1992 and 2014 respectively. Others to have written about Gower are David Goodyear (The Genius of Gower in 1993) and Rob Steen (David Gower: A Man Out Of Time in 1995).

Three years after Gower emerged a young pace bowler made his Leicestershire debut. Like Gower Jonathan Agnew went on to a long broadcasting career, the difference being that Agnew’s Test career is often overlooked. No mean writer Agnew has not produced a traditional autobiography (yet), but Eight Days A Week is an interesting diary of his 1988 season and Over To You Aggers the story of his first decade as a broadcaster.

Philip De Freitas played for three counties, Leicestershire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, but he started with Leicester in 1985, and finished with them twenty years later so his autobiography falls to be mentioned here. Daffy was published in 2012.

As with De Freitas Chris Lewis, another all-rounder, also served three counties, in his case Notts and Surrey as well as Leicestershire. Sadly for him Lewis’s story, by virtue of his fall from grace when caught importing drugs into the UK has made for a rather more spicy book. Lewis’s autobiography, Crazy, appeared in 2017, after his release from prison.

Wicketkeeper Paul Nixon was another who, like De Freitas, left Leicestershire and then returned, in his case for a couple of seasons of his long career to Kent. Nixon’s autobiography, Keeping Quiet, appeared in 2012.

The last Leicestershire player to be the subject of a biographical book, Alan Mullally, was another two county man. In his case the English born Australian raised quick bowler spent the 1990s with Leicester before moving on to Hampshire for another five summers with the county for whom, just once, he had first appeared back in 1988. Mullally, something of a troubled soul, is the subject of A Sort Of Homecoming by Paul Blewitt, published in 2018.

And that, as far as I am aware, is just about it for Leicestershire, other than a couple more to mention, both from Dennis Lambert and both from Tempus Publishing, one each from their Images of Sport and 100 Greats series, published in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Which brings me on to my two nominations for future books about Leicestershire and, for once, they are not two biographies. The first is however, and the man I would like to learn more about is Les Berry, the county’s long serving batsman who, in 1946, became the first full time professional captain of a county club. My second choice, perhaps more so than for any other county, would be an up to date history, covering as it would the highs of the Championship successes of 1996 and 1998, the early T20 successes, and the recent sad decline.

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