5 March 2020

by Clarence Hiles


In the archives of the Northern Cricket Union there is one notable omission and it dates back to 1896. It was the inaugural competition for the Senior League and it seems nobody wants to include the records.

We wonder why this could be omitted as the NCU Centenary 1886-1996 compiled a memorable brochure at the time, although there was also some doubt about the actual date when it was later discovered that an earlier meeting took place in Belfast in 1884. Cricket records are the bane of historians as more and more information is found, especially from the Internet. However, cricket club details are rarely found and there is a heavy dependence on newspapers. Thankfully, a lot of information can be found from Northern Whig, Belfast Newsletter, Belfast Telegraph and the much lamented Ireland Saturday Night, often called “The Pink.”

NCU details don’t record the winners of the 1896 Senior League and the reason is that the trophy was not received until 1897. Many people might think the easy option is to set the record in place and make the required insertions, but it seems the impressive trophy was not altered. However, the details have been documented in the Ireland Saturday Night (28 March 1925), Cliftonville Cricket and Hockey Club 1870-1970, A History of Senior Cricket in Ulster (p72), and The History of the NCU Challenge Cup 1887-2011 (p38).

Of course, Cliftonville Cricket Club has a vested interest, and for good reason.

Cliftonville enjoyed the halcyon years 1890-1902 under the leadership of Dr. AB Mitchell (alias ‘W Denne’).  It seems the inimitable Doctor loved his cricket and it was often difficult to find him at the hospital when he was on duty as he was usually playing cricket! To hide identity from the public he used the pseudonym “W Denne.”

He captained the North Belfast club in 1896 to a memorable victory against Holywood in the Senior Challenge Cup at Ormeau in August. Six weeks later the Belfast Club shared the inaugural Senior League title with North Down, to cap the greatest season in their history.

The league campaign lasted into late September, and after North Down had routed the Belfast team (88-40) they expected to win as Cliftonville had still two matches to play. However, they won both games and shared the title, albeit without the trophy to share! Both teams won 8 matches.

Cliftonville had some outstanding players. Of course, the Doctor was legendary, but the team included the excellent batting of FB ‘Ned’ Newett and Capt. Cox from the Royal Fusiliers. It also included the brilliant all-round sportsman Jimmy Campbell, who starred for Cliftonville FC and Ireland.  North Down was packed with fine players, inspired by a young Oscar Andrews, later to distinguish himself in every facet of Irish cricket.

For the record, the Senior League trophy was presented to the Northern Cricket Union by Sir RHH Baird one year later after the league had started. Sir Robert also provided badges for winners, and was a stalwart at the Ulster CC. He later became Vice President of the NCU.


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