Ohhh, Lanky Lanky!
“What’s the best thing ever to come out of Yorkshire?”
Here we go again…let me guess……the M62??
If I had a pound for every time I heard this little joke during the three years I lived in Lancashire I’d be a rich man. All the more so, of course, due to the fact that I am a Yorkshireman and we all have short arms, deep pockets. Well, according to everyone I ever met in Lancashire anyway.
Honestly, I spent those three years trying my damnedest to reverse stereotypes, propelling myself to the bar to buy the first drink whenever I could despite being short of brass. I tried my best to fit in. A Rotherham United fanatic back then, I couldn’t bring myself to follow Burnley or the all-conquering Blackburn led by Alan Shearer’s goalscoring, but you would find me at the Crown Ground watching the then non-league Accrington Stanley. I had a Lancastrian girlfriend, developed an East Lancs twang and even started putting gravy on my chips. Ecky thump!
It’s all a bit unfair, this mean Yorkshire stereotype, if you ask me. The meanest opponent I ever came across was at Haslingden BC, a club that was just a little bit bizarre anyway. I think I scraped 7 for the Globe Bowling Club in the Sunday morning East Lancs Premier League up at Hassy, a bowling club framed by the bleak beauty of the Rossendale valley. If the BBC final score vidiprinter did bowls results it would have read Rob Carroll 7 (SEVEN). Anyway, it was my oppo’s duty, having hammered a visiting player, in the process obliterating my position near the top of the league’s merit table, to buy me a drink. To add insult to already considerable injury my Lancastrian adversary led me thirstily through the clubhouse to a fully stocked bar, with barman poised to serve one of a variety of delicious Thwaites brews from the pumps, only to point at the tea urn in the corner.
“Milk and sugar?”
I bought my own Thwaites Mild that afternoon, although bitter would have summed up my mood better. I was smarting at the fact that I had already beaten the same player at home earlier in the season and had behaved in a much more generous way. The tight Lanky get!
It’s now 25 years ago and lots can change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I enjoyed a Saturday night out in Hassy once and it was a hell of an eye-opener. The Wild West springs to mind. And back then Haslingden Bowling Club seemed a bit odd too. I remember turning up early from work in the next village for a Friday night Burnley League game for Oswaldtwistle’s Spring Hill WMC, a club and green now sadly disappeared to make way for housing. As I opened the door to the empty club I heard another door clatter in the distance. Thinking I had disturbed a burglar I dutifully ran through the club, out of the other door to the greenside, only to find the wife of one of Haslingden’s best players looking very sheepish and apologetic. She had come to open the club for the evening as her hubby was delayed at work. Why so sheepish? What was the problem? Women were not allowed inside Haslingden Bowling Club. Even women doing their members a big favour. I’m not making this up. This was 1996, not 1896! Well, I’ll go to th’foot of our stuuuuurrrs!
Did I mention sheep back there? Ah, yes, that reminds me of the other Yorkshire joke. I ended my time in Lancashire teaching German in Further Education Colleges and often opened my first lesson with adult classes with the ice-breaker, “I’m Rob and I’m a Yorkshireman!” Usually there would be a few gentle jibes, a bit of welcome friendly banter, but I made the mistake of trying the same ice-breaker with a BTEC class of 16 year olds. “Baaaaaaaa!!” they all went. All 30 of them. A cacophony of sheep noises. Despite the fact that I’m from industrial South Yorkshire and outside the classroom window behind the students I could see sheep on them thuuurrr Lancashire hills. Bloody kids.
“What car do you drive, sir?” asked one surly Burnley youth to my right after the sheep noises had ceased.
“Why do you ask?” asked your friendly Yorkshire teacher.
“So I can put a bomb under it next week!” came the menacing response. Well, as menacing as a gawky 16 year old with bumfluff round his chops could muster.
The class guffawed.
“You’ll struggle with that, pal. I don’t drive!”
I was pleased with that response. Had I been on a green I would have signalled a pair. Jokes aside though, I loved those years at the Globe, a great old-fashioned club perched on top of one of the hills overlooking Accrington. The sun could be so hot up there that it cracked the flags in high summer, yet you’d be met with hail and howling wind in March or April. We played out one club comp in the snow. Knowing the Globe’s micro-climate that was probably sometime in June!
When I rolled up to the Globe to ask for a game, I was surprised that there was no Saturday league. “We all play comps on Saturdays over here, lad,” explained club steward Colin Crompton, a Bolton lad and occasional Panel* player. “Sunday morning is where it’s at!”
And he was right. The East Lancs Premier League was six-a-side, featuring teams from Colne in the north to Bolton in the south, Leyland in the west to Todmorden in the east. Hang on, isn’t Todmorden in Yorkshire?! Whilst you debate that little boundary issue, I’ll crack on. There was no time to waste in this league. With 16 teams playing home and away, that made 30 games a season, running every week from mid-March to mid-October with no break for part-timers to go on holiday. It was a local bowls soap opera with top 20 players merit table published every week in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph and cash prizes for the top players at the end of the season. More than once I was stopped in town by strangers asking me how I’d got on the previous Sunday. Imagine that nowadays. For bowls.
I did okay generally, though looking back I would have done a whole lot better, had those not been my rock n roll years. The East Lancs Premier kicked off at 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning. Every week. Apart from cup weeks, when the league game was brought forward to 9.30. Nine chuffing thirty! The league game was then followed by a cup tie at a neutral venue. I must have rolled up in various states of disrepair most Sundays after the night before. God knows what turned up at the Globe after that Saturday night in Haslingden! But what times we had.
Turton rocked up one early Sunday morning with Brian Duncan in their team. As the skippers did the draw and as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I distinctly remember half of me wanted to draw the king, half of me was begging, “Please no!!!” After the game the home team catered and it was a real treat. Colin’s home speciality at the Globe was huge chunks of bacon and assorted other cures for the misdemeanours of the night before. Duly fortified, we’d head to the bar at mid-day and start again.
I recall one Sunday up at the Globe, watching a Fred Dibnah demolition at a former mill in the town centre below, felling one of the stacks that gave Accrington its townscape. Like the decline of the traditional industries, our game has declined too. Long gone is the East Lancs Premier League, if not the best, then easily the most enjoyable bowls league I’ve ever played in. But the Globe is still there, standing proud on the hill and thriving even in difficult times. If you are in the area why not pay them a visit. Finger peg up to the club pinches a pair every time. Make sure you wrap up warm though.
* For non-bowlers, the Panel was and is the British Professional Crown Green Bowling Association, with top players competing and bookmakers taking bets from punters round the green.