Saturday, 22 January 2011

Summer Game

Summer Game
Nottinghamshire Schism:
‘Trades Unionism in Cricket’

From the LSHG Newsletter, #41 (Spring 2011)

On 2nd June 1881 the Nottinghamshire cricket team that walked out at Old
Trafford was missing several regular players, including the captain Alfred Shaw and leading batsman, Arthur Shrewsbury.

The new-look Nottinghamshire did not fare well, losing the match by 10 wickets and, later, their status as county champions to Lancashire. But why would Nottinghamshire field such a weakened side?

Seven professionals had gone on strike in what became known as the ‘Nottinghamshire Schism’. As might be expected, professional cricketers’ contracts were long on players’ duties to the counties but light on their responsibilities to the players.

Between appearances for their clubs, men like Shaw and Shrewsbury arranged
exhibition matches to earn extra income. One such game took place in September 1880 when they organised a ‘North of England XI’ to play the touring Australians at Bradford. The success of that fixture helped the Nottinghamshire professionals increase their match-fee for their appearance against Australia from £6 to £20, much to the chagrin of county secretary Captain Henry Holden.

The following February, Holden wrote to Shaw, “I have been informed that you have arranged, or are about to arrange a match Nottinghamshire v. Yorkshire, to be played at Bradford… the committee strongly and decidedly object to any county match being arranged by anybody, except those...home matches arranged at the annual meeting of county secretaries at Lord’s” [1].

At a stroke this took away the right of the county’s professionals to work on the 36 days during the season when their county had no work for them. Shaw replied on 26th March and, after reminding Holden of several precedents, queried how it was that, “unknown to the subscribers to the county and also the players, fresh laws and regulations have been substituted for the laws which...governed the club”? [2].

If any restrictions on the professionals’ ability to earn their livelihood were to be accepted, Shaw and Shrewsbury wanted concessions. They argued for: greater security of employment; payment for all games in the season, as cover for illness and injury; and a guaranteed benefit match for any player with ten or more years at the county.

No agreement was reached before the first match of the 1881 season. Nottinghamshire defeated Sussex by an innings, with Shaw taking 8 wickets. At this time, the local press picked up on the story and, in an article headlined, “Trades Unionism in Cricket”, raised the spectre of New Unionism infecting the game. It reported, “that there are influences at work which have induced the players to look out for fresh grievances” [3].

One writer went further, it was, “a deliberate combination against recognised administration... it involved a distinct and material alteration in the relations between paid cricketers and their employers which vitally affected the interests of every club” [4].

Eventually, Nottinghamshire offered five of the seven, including Shaw, employment for the whole season. They refused – it was for all seven or none.

By the end of the season, Shaw and Shrewsbury were carrying out their final preparations for their 1881-82 tour to the North American, New Zealand and Australia. The other five professionals returned to the county, their dispute lost, as did Shaw and Shrewsbury the following season. And the ‘Nottinghamshire Schism’ was forgotten. At least you could be forgiven for thinking so, given its absence from many histories of the game, including that written by former Prime Minister, John Major.

Of the relationship between gentlemen and players, Major had this to say, “The distinctions were absurd and insulting, but in Victorian Britain
they were commonplace” [5]. Like much of what we now find ‘absurd and insulting’ – imperialism, racism, class snobbery – Major and his ilk may well recognise it for what it was but seem silent on how that change was effected; not by county presidents but by men such as onetime framework-knitter, Alfred Shaw.

[1] Nottingham Journal, 6th June 1881.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Nottingham Journal, 1st June 1881.
[4] James Lillywhite, quoted in Brookes, Christopher, English Cricket. The game and its players through the ages, p.150, Reader’s Union, Newton Abbot, 1978.
[5] Major, John, More Than a Game. The Story of Cricket’s Early Years, p.268, Harper Press, London, 2007.

Jim Grundy

1 comment:

  1. For 'cricket in trade unions' see

    Chris Coates