Gordon Greenidge and his team-mates at Leyland CC celebrate the Matthew Brown Cup victory

"A decent pro": Gordon Greenidge (back row, third from left) and the Leyland players pose with the Matthew Brown Cup

© Leyland Guardian


Summers with Greenidge and Marshall

A small Lancashire club went all starry-eyed and slack-jawed when a couple of West Indian invincibles turned out for them for two seasons in the 1990s

Scott Oliver  |  

The cricketing stories of Cuthbert Gordon Greenidge and Malcolm Denzil Marshall were interwoven across 444 professional appearances together for Barbados, Hampshire and West Indies, yet there is a fourth and little-known thread that further binds these giants of Caribbean cricket's halcyon era.

In back-to-back seasons, Greenidge in 1993 and Marshall in 1994, the West Indians with the most first-class runs (37,354) and second-most wickets (1651) - icons identifiable à la Michael Jordan by the silhouettes of that swivel-pull, that gather - were engaged as uber-glamorous professionals of Leyland CC, a small and not-so-glamorous town just south of Preston, in Lancashire. Forty-two and 36 years old they may have been, the lofty peaks of their international careers behind them, but for the awestruck policemen, schoolteachers, sales managers and engineers who shared the Leyland dressing room, this was a fairy-tale experience.

Leyland was one of the 12 founding members of the Northern League, formed in 1952. From Rohan Kanhai and the Mohammad brothers, Mushtaq and Hanif, in its first decade, to David Boon, Ravi Shastri and Javed Miandad in the 1980s, the league has had its fair share of star quality, yet the early 1990s were its undoubted heyday, when it was among the strongest in the country.

The year before Greenidge's arrival, Richie Richardson was the pro at Blackpool, scoring 1056 runs at 88, while Fleetwood availed themselves of a young Trinidadian left-hander by the name of Brian Charles Lara as sub-pro for Atul Wassan. Lara was in the country following his childhood friend Dwight Yorke's breakthrough season at Aston Villa.

The man responsible for bringing Greenidge and Marshall to Lancastrian club cricket was John Farrar, Leyland's hard-headed fortysomething captain and hard-handed wicketkeeper. "He was a legend, Faz," reflects team-mate Tim Barry, "but as a keeper he could just about stop it. There were times, keeping to Malcolm, he'd come off black and blue."

The super sub: Richard Hadlee, Greenidge's replacement for the first game of the season, with club chairman Terry Wilson at the opening of a bar extension at Leyland

The super sub: Richard Hadlee, Greenidge's replacement for the first game of the season, with club chairman Terry Wilson at the opening of a bar extension at Leyland © Leyland CC

The garrulous, bespectacled Farrar's career as a local sports impresario began with trading memorabilia, and soon he was organising black-tie sports functions and after-dinner speakers, as well as lucrative exhibition games for the likes of Ian Botham and Geoffrey Boycott. All of which gave him a bulging contacts book. Indeed, in 1988 Farrar had enticed Miandad to his previous club, Preston, although "Faz" would finish the season with a 12-month ban from the Northern League for "mooning", rescinded when it was established a team-mate had pulled his trousers down as they left the field. Life was rarely dull around him.

Freed from the mooning ban, Farrar took his bag of stardust to Leyland. In 1991, with former Lancashire and Gloucestershire stalwarts Ken Snellgrove and Phil Bainbridge as captain and pro respectively, they won the league. They also had two ex-England players, Graham Roope and Geoff Miller - coincidentally, both excellent after-dinner speakers and both travelling across county lines for their Saturday hit - ostensibly among the amateur ranks. They weren't the only ones receiving a little off-book remuneration for their cricketing services: Farrar lured a clutch of Minor Counties players and battle-hardened league cricketers in to supplement the official pros. Mark Greatbatch came in in 1992, fresh off a blistering pinch-hitting World Cup, then Greenidge the following year. "I think I was the only one in the team not being paid that season," says Doug Green, a solicitor who had moved from Preston with Farrar. "As a joke, I painted 'Leyland Amateur, 1993' on my coffin."

Among the new intake for 1993 was batter Paul Berry, coming off 1697 runs in a lesser league and good enough to be offered a contract by Northamptonshire two years earlier. "I didn't know Gordon was coming when I signed," he recalls. "All John Farrar told me was he was going to get 'a decent pro'. I nearly fell on the floor when I saw Gordon Greenidge. I thought, 'Surely it's not going to be him?!'"

It was going to be him, although Greenidge was unavailable for the season opener. Farrar was forced to thumb through that black book of his, and so it turned out that Leyland's second-change bowler at Lancaster was the world's then leading Test wicket-taker.

Richard Hadlee was in the middle of a six-week speaking tour, during which he would frequent Leyland's nets to roll over his arm and keep himself limber for exhibition games. He was also two years on from double heart bypass surgery, and not particularly fit, which may have explained why the Sky Sports cameras that descended on Lune Road were kept waiting for a glimpse of that familiarly regal approach, all wrist cock and finger voodoo. Hadlee caught his breath at the end of Geoff Miller's two-minute overs to send down 12 overs for two wickets in two spells as Lancaster declined to chase the target of 158, finishing on 75 for 7.

Greenidge with a long-time Leyland supporter:

Greenidge with a long-time Leyland supporter: "He wasn't a party animal, but he'd always stay and have a drink," team-mate Paul Berry recalls © Leyland CC

It would very much be the story of the season, recalls Green: "The opposition all had the hump for Leyland and did anything not to lose. I don't think John was really bothered about winning the league, which you'd do by batting second and knocking off [the target]. He wanted to bat first and watch all the lovely batting he'd signed. Me and Geoff Miller would be six and seven, and rarely got in. We'd usually sit doing the Telegraph crossword."

The one departure from this template came on Greenidge's debut the following week, when Farrar elected to bowl and Fleetwood were hustled out for 43, Leyland knocking off without loss by 2.30pm, whereupon Miller cordially invited the visitors to join them for centre-pitch practice. They preferred to hit the bar.

With teams regularly and sometimes resentfully shutting up shop against the "Leyland all-stars", the first half of the league campaign brought seven winning draws - they had the opposition nine down at stumps three games running - and just two outright wins. Greenidge had taken a while to get going, with scores of 28 not out, 1, 58, 10 and 37 in the first five league outings. He said to Barry that "he found it much more difficult playing club cricket once a week, often on dodgy pitches, than county cricket, where you're batting every day, fantastic pitches, and the ball feels huge".

Still, he soon found some rhythm, posting scores of 64, 55, 94, 64 and 99, the last a self-inflicted run-out against Chorley courtesy a direct hit from mid-off. "The only person on the ground who thought it was out was the umpire," recalls seamer Bob Cuthbertson. "Gordon wasn't a happy chappie at all. Paul Simmonite, his opening partner, then started ribbing him: 'What's the matter Gordon, have you never had a hundred before?' It then comes out that Gordon had been dismissed for 90-odd in both innings of a Test on two occasions - the only player to do this."

"It was a very good innings on a difficult pitch," adds Chorley's Nigel Heaton. "Afterwards, he hung around for a quick drink. Once he'd gone, the barman said he had left his collection money behind to buy everyone a drink, but had told the barman only to announce it once he'd left."

Despite all the draws, Leyland were just four points off leaders Netherfield at halfway and two behind Kendal. Meanwhile, Leyland had navigated the opening rounds of the Lancashire Cup and had advanced to the final of the Matthew Brown Cup, the first of the Northern League's two annual domestic knockouts. Greenidge made 74, 32 and 99 not out, but was dismissed for single figures by Morecambe in the cup final, which Leyland won by two runs after Barry successfully defended six runs from the final eight-ball over, prompting a late evening chez Farrar, which hosted regular boozy soirées.

Class of '93: (back row, second to sixth from left) Doug Green, Bob Cuthbertson, Tim Barry, Gary Wells and Paul Berry. (Front row, second to fifth) Greenidge, John Farrar, Brian Tennant and Paul Simmonite

Class of '93: (back row, second to sixth from left) Doug Green, Bob Cuthbertson, Tim Barry, Gary Wells and Paul Berry. (Front row, second to fifth) Greenidge, John Farrar, Brian Tennant and Paul Simmonite © Leyland Guardian

Socially, Greenidge's team-mates found him a serious, reserved figure, but never aloof. "He wasn't a party animal or one of those who'd be last at the bar, like Malcolm was," says Berry, "but he'd always stay and have a drink. He got that about league cricket."

He lived in Nottingham during the week, but would occasionally stay in the North West. Simmonite invited him along to the Skipton Building Society hospitality box for the Old Trafford Ashes Test, where they witnessed Shane Warne's "ball of the century". And having played a season for Greenock in Scotland two years earlier, Greenidge asked team-mates there to arrange for some fresh salmon to be sent down. "He paid for it, marinated it and cooked it himself, barbecuing it up for us in the clubhouse after a game," recalls Green.

Greenidge was "fully integrated into the life of the team", says Barry. "There was no ego with him, nothing about him being one of the all-time great opening bats in one of the greatest teams that ever played the game. He was a team player, and always willing to help." Such an attitude would be important if they were to keep pace with the two Cumbrian sides over the second half of the season.

Things got off to an ordinary start with defeat at St Annes, whose 15-year-old opener Andrew Flintoff made 48. The following week, Greenidge arrived late and had to bat at five, albeit with the mitigation of a delayed flight from Barbados, having returned to attend the opening of a school named in his honour. A week later, at Darwen, one of the loosening Leyland wheel nuts came free when Farrar sent off new-ball spearhead Brian Tennant for refusing to bowl when asked.

Fiery and wiry, with a temperamental and physical resemblance to Robert Carlyle's Begbie in Trainspotting - "he was about eight stone wet through," says Berry, "but could cause trouble in an empty house" - Tennant had erupted when Greenidge spilled a difficult chance off his bowling. Words were exchanged and Tennant had not cooled off by the time he was asked to bowl again, so Farrar banished him to the dressing room, despite the damage to their chances of winning - and thus, their title challenge.

With seven games left, Leyland's hopes hung by a thread. They won three of their next four, however, Greenidge contributing 86, 28, 93 not out (his ninth half-century) and 38, and headed to Kendal for the third-last game still in with a mathematical chance of the title, at which point the team had another shock.

"Dennis Lillee walked into the dressing room," recalls Barry. "John was doing some work for him - and Lillee says, 'I've got a charity match coming up and haven't bowled for a while, do you mind coming out onto the edge of the square?' So Paul Berry and I went out to warm up with Dennis Lillee, which was bizarre."

Mac power: Marshall took 6 for 39 against St Annes, including dismissing a 16-year-old Andrew Flintoff for a first-over duck

Mac power: Marshall took 6 for 39 against St Annes, including dismissing a 16-year-old Andrew Flintoff for a first-over duck © Leyland Guardian

With DK watching on, Leyland crashed to a nine-wicket defeat against Kendal. Greenidge was nicked off for a duck by his sometime West Indies colleague Eldine Baptiste, and Kendal won the title, becoming just the third team to go unbeaten through a Northern League campaign. As for Greenidge, he reached that elusive first century in his final innings for the club, an unbeaten 120 in a win over Fleetwood taking him past the club record aggregate and leaving Leyland in fourth, qualifying them for the Lancashire Cup. A commendable 976 runs at 57.41 placed him third in the averages, and with Berry, Gary Wells, Green and Simmonite also featuring in the top 15, it was clear where Leyland needed a little extra bite, so Farrar had the ingenious idea of signing as pro the man with the lowest bowling average of anyone to have taken 200 or more Test wickets.

Having had Greenidge in the ranks, and Hadlee and Lillee in the fan base, one might assume the Leyland players were becoming accustomed to the presence of cricketing megastars. Not so, says Berry. "The buzz around the place coming into Malcolm's season was incredible. I was star-struck. He had an aura about him, a swagger."

Marshall had finished his 14-year association with Hampshire at the end of the previous summer; unlike Greenidge, however, he was still playing first-class cricket when he came to Fox Lane, captaining Natal in the Castle Cup through the South African winters. There was gas in the Ferrari's tank. Unfortunately for Leyland, however, Miller and Tennant - 44 and 47 wickets respectively the previous year - had left the club. Farrar pulled in a couple of veterans of Lancashire club cricket but Marshall would end up bowling a staggering 448.3 overs, the most in the league. Farrar was evidently keen to get his money's worth.

Initially, it worked. By the end of May, unbeaten Leyland had won six out of seven and sat atop the table, seven points clear of champions Kendal. Marshall had begun with 4 for 44 in a victory over soon-to-be national club champions Chorley, followed by 6 for 39 against St Annes, cleaning up the now 16-year-old Flintoff in the first over for a duck.

Marshall started just as well with the bat, plundering 85 in the win at Darwen and a crucial 53-ball 60 in the victory over Blackpool, although it took a pair of last-over sixes from Barry to seal the deal. "Malcolm ran on the pitch and carried me off," Barry recalls. "He said, 'I've never done that for anyone before in my life.'" A week later Marshall's 6 for 50 blew Netherfield away. Then they went a month without winning.

A more hands-on presence than Greenidge, Marshall lived in the town, attended practice nights, and often stuck around to socialise, as competitive on a pool table as he was in the middle. "Training with him on Tuesdays and Thursdays was testing," recalls Berry. "He'd tell you what he was going to bowl, 'two outswingers, then one inswinger', and even though you knew what was coming, there wasn't usually much you could do about it. You'd be mesmerised by that run-up, which we'd all seen so many times on TV."

If not quite possessed of the extreme pace of his youth, Marshall still had that high-grade skill set and those many years of sharp-end experience to fall back on. And yet, by the end of May, he had already taken two of his three five-fors. "Malcolm bowled too short," Green says. "He seemed to have a dread of being hit through the covers, which only happened two or three times all season. I fielded slip all year and counted the amount of times he beat the bat before getting the edge: it was 12 on average."

Party pros: Marshall and Brian Lara at a social do at the club

Party pros: Marshall and Brian Lara at a social do at the club © Blackpool Gazette

"The workload may have been an issue," says Barry, whose doctoral thesis was on spine curvature in fast bowlers. "You can't bowl flat out for 25 overs on the trot. Impossible. But there was a lot of playing and missing. Maybe he could have bowled a bit fuller, but who's going to tell one of the all-time greats how to bowl? The fact is that pitches were slow and the standard was high. Players would do their all to survive against Malcolm."

That was amply illustrated in the next game, against Morecambe, where Marshall sent down 25 wicketless overs for 67. The following week produced a humdinger against local rivals Chorley.

"Marshall tried his nuts off when we batted, revved up by Farrar at every opportunity," recalls Chorley captain Roland Horridge. "He hit Nigel Heaton on the grille a couple of times while I was out there.

"It was tough going. Then Neil Senior, our keeper, who could be really devastating, comes in with no helmet. He never wore one. At the end of one Marshall over, Neil signalled for a lid. Farrar shouts up: 'You've won the battle, Maco. The soft **** is crapping himself.' The helmet came out, but Neil pulled out a baseball cap. It was probably a set-up. Steam was coming out of Marshall's ears. First ball of his next over, Neil hits him out of the ground over backward square leg off one knee. Fifth ball: exactly the same, only further."

Senior eventually fell for 40, and with the top six back in the hutch and only 120 on the board, Chorley might well have called off the chase. Instead, they chipped away and brought it down to four needed off two balls. "Mark Richardson hit the ball to square leg, toward the pavilion where we were all sat, and Doug Green fielded it three feet over the boundary," recalls Horridge. "There were stud marks. We were apoplectic. When he was asked later, Doug said he couldn't tell. I told him he'd cheated."

Contentious it may have been, but it demonstrated to Marshall that his colleagues were up for the fight. The following week's top-of-the-table showdown with Kendal was lost to rain, however, and the end of their winless June left the two sides level at halfway. Leyland then reeled off three straight wins, but had the wind taken from their sails by two cup exits to Kendal inside a week. Next game up, against rock-bottom Preston, they needed Marshall to uproot a tailender's stumps from the final ball of the game to secure a scores-level draw.

Things were wobbling on field and starting to wobble off it - specifically, over some of the off-book money that Marshall had been promised by Farrar, whose mouth regularly wrote cheques he couldn't cash. Perhaps it was this growing irritation that fuelled Marshall's next two performances, when his colleagues were given an up-close glimpse of the old, A-list Maco. The first was only a vignette, prompted by his former Barbados colleague Terry Hunte - Kendal's more-than-useful support act for Baptiste - having the temerity to pull him for four, first ball, off the front foot. "We said, 'I can't believe you're letting him do this,'" recalls Berry. "The next three balls were absolute lightning. He gloved the third one, and thankfully John Farrar, one of the worst wicketkeepers I've ever seen, managed to hold on."

Don't think, just sledge: wicketkeeper John Isles aggravated Marshall while he batted, but lived to tell the tale

Don't think, just sledge: wicketkeeper John Isles aggravated Marshall while he batted, but lived to tell the tale © Blackpool Gazette

Hunte was in the process of adding a league-record 1351 runs to the 1136 he had amassed the year before, yet Marshall had given him a swift and brutal reminder of his upper gears. "The change in Malcolm that day was frightening," Berry adds. "I thought, 'Christ, I wouldn't have fancied facing this in his pomp.' It must have been horrible."

This was very much a bear who shouldn't be unnecessarily poked. Or so you would think. Yet there is a certain breed of northern English club cricketer - thick-skinned, foghorn-voiced wind-up merchants - who are either (delete as appropriate) "no respecters of reputation" or "psychotically indifferent to the welfare of their opening batters". Usually they are wicketkeepers. One such was John Isles of St Annes, who the previous year had chirped Greenidge with "NFI, this lad" (short for 'no f***ing idea'), only for Greenidge to turn to him later - walking off with that unbeaten 120 - and say: "Not bad for someone with no idea, eh?" Funny, but then Greenidge couldn't bowl quick. His successor could.

"I was stood up to the wicket and heard an edge, so I appealed," says Isles, recalling his tussle with Marshall. "Not out. So I says to him, 'What did that hit?' and he just glared at me. Next ball he cut down to fine leg. So I start saying, 'Playing by numbers, this bloke.'"

Not long after, Isles dropped Marshall off the pro, Stuart MacGill. Marshall went on to make 80, Berry 85, and Leyland declared at 226 for 6. Chirp still ringing in his ears, Marshall roared in after tea and knocked over five quick wickets. "The skipper had asked me if I'd bat 11," Isles continues. "Wickets start falling and I'm searching for any bit of padding I can find. We get nine down and I walk out there like Tutankhamun. I can still hear Maco saying, 'This is him! This is the keeper!' I'm thinking: 'Oh for f***'s sake.'"

Isles dug in, protected his castle, and even frustrated Marshall into a few balls of legspin. With three overs left, Marshall switched ends and trapped Australian amateur Ross Wintle lbw for 61. "Missing leg," says Isles, "but it was Malcolm Marshall appealing, so what are you going to do?" Marshall had finished with 8 for 39, a season's best, although the haul didn't include the tempestuous 23-year-old MacGill, on the cusp of receiving an unprecedented lifetime ban from the Northern League.

"[MacGill] was constantly swearing at umpires," recalls Isles, "calling them 'f***ing cheating c****' because they'd given something not out. He was even abusing his team-mates for misfields."

Marshall was a more socially active player at Leyland than Greenidge was. Berry remembers,

Marshall was a more socially active player at Leyland than Greenidge was. Berry remembers, "He was a bit more outgoing, a lovely man, great company, and he certainly didn't spoil his rum with much else" © Leyland CC

MacGill had dropped out of the Australian Cricket Academy to take up St Annes' offer, but by this stage the club had told him his form didn't warrant another deal. The news wasn't well received, and his already questionable on-field behaviour started to unravel, culminating in the umpires halting a game at Kendal amid abuse from MacGill and a colleague, who was also banned for life. A week earlier, Blackpool batter John Wright had so taken umbrage at MacGill's verbals that he head-butted him during the tea interval. The police arrived at the ground to investigate a possible assault, but the case against Wright was thrown out when MacGill failed to show up in court. He also failed to attend his league disciplinary hearing, having gone AWOL with his club car by then, recalls St Annes chairman John Cotton. "He sold it in south Wales - where his mother was from - never to be seen again. We wrote to the Australian governing body explaining what had happened and never heard a thing back."

Things at Leyland may not quite have gone full MacGill, but they were starting to fray. Marshall had enjoyed an early August benefit game at Fox Lane, with Lara leading an International XI and Marshall a West Indian XI featuring Courtney Walsh, but money issues lingered and with five games left and a league title to play for, his form collapsed. He failed to turn up for the third-last game, the derby at Leyland DAF. "The chairman, Terry Wilson, went to look for him," recalls Cuthbertson, "and he was just sat there in the house the club rented for him. He eventually came an hour or so late."

Averaging over 53 with the bat heading into August, Marshall signed off with scores of 5, 1, 14, 14 and 1, and took just ten wickets in 99 overs across those final five games - a strike rate of 59.4, compared to his Test figure of 46.7. Still, Leyland won the penultimate game at Lancaster and headed into the finale, at home to Darwen, level on points with Kendal but with the advantage of having won more games. One more and they would be champions. As it was, they lost after folding to 96 for 8 from 40 overs. Farrar announced that Marshall would be heading to Denton CC in Manchester the following year, having been offered £25,000 there. Marshall finished with 64 league wickets at 17.39, Baptiste 81 at 9.71.

Any sense Marshall might be washed up was soon dispelled by his performances in the Castle Cup in South Africa, where he finished on top of the wicket charts, with 35 at 16.17 (Baptiste: 27 at 24.55), as Natal were crowned champions.

"Malcolm was a lovely guy, a true gent," reflects Denton treasurer John Foxall, "although he did tell me he was going to burn John Farrar's house down - joking, obviously, but I think he'd been let down over money. He said he was paid £12,000 up at Leyland. We actually paid him £30,000 [£55,000 in today's money], and this for someone a year older and playing in a lower league! Crazy, really. He couldn't believe it. I only became treasurer in April that year and I couldn't believe it either! In the end, he agreed to £25,000. He took 82 wickets at 9.62 and we won the league, for which we received a cheque for £200."

There was one more South African winter before he called time, yet the peerless, immortal-seeming Marshall would, of course, be dead within four years, cruelly taken by colon cancer in November 1999, aged just 41. The following year, Farrar also died a premature death, suffering a heart attack at Manchester airport. It would take Leyland 14 years after Marshall's departure to manage even a top-half finish, with ten bottom-three placings in the first 12 years. There may be nothing quite so desolate as a morning-after visit to the site of a party, but while the party was in full swing, it bequeathed magical experiences for team-mates and opponents alike, memories that will never be forgotten.

"I remember walking out to bat in one of Gordon's first games, taking my guard and thinking: 'Blimey, that's Gordon Greenidge at the other end,'" says Berry. "I was so nervous, because I didn't want to let him down. But if you played a good shot, he'd tell you so and make you feel ten-foot tall. He was quite reserved, Gordon. Malcolm was a bit more outgoing, a lovely man and great company. We had many good nights at Squires in Preston on a Thursday after training, and he certainly didn't spoil his rum with much else.

"It was such a privilege to play with them both. When we were kids, me and my mate used to play cricket all day, every day in the holidays, making up our own teams. Greenidge was always in there. Marshall was always in there. So to play with them both was totally surreal."

Not the sort of thing you can easily put a price on.

Scott Oliver tweets @reverse_sweeper