Seeing as how the Ashes have started and England aren’t – at the time of writing – being thrashed seven shades of black and blue by Australia (though there is plenty of time for that to happen over the next few weeks or so), we thought that now would be an appropriate time to have a quick look back at the (now dying) breed of sportsman that combined their summer sport with their winter sport. In the past, cricket and football were much more closely linked than they are now. Many professional football clubs started out as cricket clubs, and one of the most famous cricket grounds of all, The Oval at Kennington, hosted the first ever international match between England and Scotland in 1870, as well as twenty-two FA Cup Finals and replays between 1872 and 1892. Two football grounds remained in use as cricket grounds until comparatively recently – Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane remained three-sided and was used by Yorkshire County Cricket Club until the mid-1970s, whilst Northampton Town’s old home, The County Ground, remains three-sided. Since The Cobblers moved to Sixfields in 1994, Northampton CCC have continued to use the ground. Here, then, are the ten footballing cricketers and cricketing footballers.
1. Chris Balderstone (Carlisle United, Leicestershire & England): Chris Balderstone was first spotted as a footballer by Bill Shankly and signed for Huddersfield Town before going to Carlisle United in 1966. He went on to make almost 400 appearances for Carlisle, including getting promoted into the First Division in 1974. His cricket career was more illustrious still. He won the Benson & Hedges Cup for Leicestershire in 1972 and the County Championship in 1975, as well as winning two test caps for England in 1976. Balderstone died in 2000 from cancer, at the age of sixty.
2. Viv Richards (The West Indies & Antigua): The legendary Viv Richards played cricket for the West Indies for seventeen years between 1974 and 1991 and is widely accepted to be one of the greatest batsmen of all time. What is less well known is that he also occasionally turned out fo the Antiguan football team. It has to be said that his football career was somewhat less auspicious than his football career – he played in their qualification campaign for the 1974 World Cup finals, but Antigua lost all four of their matches, including an 11-0 defeat against Trinidad & Tobago and a 6-0 home defeat at the hands of Surinam.
3. William “Fatty” Foulke (Derbyshire, Sheffield United, Chelsea and England): Willam Foulke, owner of the least ambiguous nicknames in the history of sport, was a legendary goalkeeper for Sheffield United and Chelsea, as well as winning one cap for England. Foulke (who, after the 1902 FA Cup Final, chased the referee naked from the changing rooms and into a broom cupboard and had to be dragged away by understandably nervy FA officials) also made several appearances for Derbyshire CCC while playing for Sheffield United.
4. Steve Ogrizovic (Shrewsbury Town, Coventry City, Liverpool & Shropshire): Ogrizovic made four appearances for Liverpool before going on to make his fortune at Coventry City, for whom he made over 500 appearances. Whilst starting his career at Shrewsbury Town, however, Ogrizovic also played cricket for Shropshire and three times for the Minor Counties side in the Nat West Trophy during the early 1980s. Ogrizovic also once bowled Viv Richards out for the Minor Counties in a match against the tourning West Indies.
5. Ian Botham (Scunthorpe United, Yeovil Town, Somerset, Worcestershire & England): Botham earnt his fame with his famous performance for England at the 1981 Headingley test match against Australia, but also had half a go at playing football too. He made a grand total of eleven performances as a non-contract player for Scunthorpe United between 1979 and 1985, as well as a handful of appearances for (then non-league) Yeovil Town. After a fight on a Scunthorpe United team night out, he was arrested and almost missed out on a winter cricket tour for England to the West Indies.
6. Phil Neale OBE (Worcestershire, Scunthorpe United & Lincoln City): Phil Neale (not to be confused with the former Liverpool and England full-back Phil Neal) was probably the very last of the players that were professional footballers and cricketers at the same time. Whilst his football career didn’t progress above the bottom divisions of the Football League, he was very successful as a cricketer, captaining Worcestershire to four county championships between 1987 and 1989 (two of which were in the one day Sunday league). He has worked as a cricket coach since retiring in 1992.
7. Andy Goram (Oldham Athletic, Rangers & Scotland): The Rangers goalkeeper kept goal for both the Scotland football and cricket teams. His cricket career saw him play four times for his country ( he played 43 for the Scottish national football team), twice in the Nat West Trophy. He was reportedly banned from playing cricket by Rangers upon signing for them in 1991 for fear of picking up an injury.
8. Brian Close (Leeds United, Yorkshire & England): Brian Close, the legendary Yorkshire and England cricket captain, had a cricket career that lasted for almost thirty years but he was almost lost to football before he started. His was signed as an amateur player by Leeds United. He became the first Leeds player to play at international level for any country and at any level when he represented England youth against Scotland in 1948. Not long after this, he gave up the (then) blue and yellow of Leeds United for the white flannels of Yorkshire.
9. Denis Compton (Arsenal, Middlesex & England): Along with his brother Leslie, Denis Compton had an illustrious career as both a footballer and a cricketer. He only played just over fifty games for Arsenal (though it is worth remembering that his football career was effectively wiped out by the start of the Second World War, which started just three years after he started playing. His cricket career, however, was one of the most spectacular in the entire history of English cricket. He played in seventy-eight test matches for England and hit seventeen centuries in those matches.
10. Geoff Hurst MBE (West Ham United, Essex & England): He may have scored the most famous hat-trick in the history of English football, but Geoff Hurst was also pretty useful with his hands, and he made one appearance for Essex in 1962 against Lancashire at Aigburth, in Liverpool. Unfortunately – and having got himself out without having scored in either of his innings for his county – this was his only appearance for the First XI, although he was a regular for the Essex Second XI for the next two seasons before deciding to focus on the football. It’s difficult to believe that he didn’t think that he had made the right decision by 1966.