Turf Moor is better known as the home of Burnley FC, but in the lee of the giant Cricket Field Stand (clue here) is the home of the Lancashire League side Burnley Cricket Club.
At the turn of the old century the population of Burnley was about 100,000. Most lived in simple terraced housing that was just being developed. Conditions were overcrowded and the air clogged with the smoke of scores of coal fired steam engines running the mill works.
Playing and watching cricket was the great summer escape. The crowds were huge. The barracking constant and challenging – Sydney Cricket Ground would have held no terrors for those used to playing in front of the raucous crowds that took advantage of the pavilion bars at Burnley, Nelson, Accrington or Ramsbottom.
In 1901 Burnley C.C. had a Staffordshire man in his late twenties as their professional. In 1900 he had had a good year for them taking 111 wickets for 9.22 apiece. He’d ‘pro’d’ for rivals Rishton for five years before Burnley in time honoured tradition had lured him away with a better financial offer than Rishton’s salary of £3 10s a week plus 7s 6d for scoring 50 or more and 10s 6p for six or more wickets. *
Financial security mattered most to the lad, as time would tell.
He had played three unnoteworthy matches for Warwickshire in the mid-90s, a couple of times for Lancashire in ’99 and once in that season of ’01 when he had taken 6 wickets. His first class figures at the time amounted to 13 wickets from 189 overs at an average of 35.3.
Some days after that last game for Lancashire he took the field as usual for Burnley. It was only towards the end of the match that he sauntered over to his captain, Joe Allen, taking a letter from his pocket for Allen to read. It was from Archie MacLaren the captain of Lancashire and England inviting him to join a tour of Australia that winter to play for England.
The pro needed the Burnley Committee’s permission to be released from his contract. “Have you replied to this?” – “No.” – “Then you’d better get off the field and reply at once accepting.” – “Perhaps I don’t want to go,” said Sydney Barnes. Perhaps only half-joking.
S.F. Barnes (1873 – 1967) was an extraordinary man and an extraordinary cricketer. A beautiful biography by Leslie Duckworth, a life long admirer, published in the year of the Master Bowler’s death, describes him as an enigma. Perhaps this is an understatement. Duckworth might have borrowed from Churchill’s description of Russia to describe him as a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Barnes played serious cricket for over fifty years, yet played only those three matches in a couple of seasons for Warwickshire and a few more in four years at Lancashire. In all he played a total of only 133 first class matches, instead playing minor county cricket for Staffordshire between 1904 and 1935 and league cricket for a catalogue of sides between that first time for Rishton in 1895 and 1940 when he played his final match in the Stone N. Staffs League for Stone.
He is the only cricketer to be selected for England when not playing first class cricket. And when chosen by Wisden as a Cricketer of the Year in 1910 he was playing minor counties cricket for Staffordshire and the professional at Porthill Park Cricket Club.
His Test appearances in 27 matches were formidable. He bowled 1,312.2 overs, 358 maidens and took 187 wickets for an average of 16.43. That is nearly 7 wickets per match.
Against Australia he took 106 wickets for 2,616 runs at an average of 21.58. (Bedser would later take 104 at an average of 27.49)
That selection of Barnes to tour Australia in 1901/02 caused a sensation, but MacLaren had been batting against Barnes in the Old Trafford nets and had been peppered on the thigh and gloves from balls rearing from a length.
One national newspaper asked in its headline, “Who’s Barnes?” “They will soon know who Barnes is,” retorted the Burnley Express.
And they soon did know who Barnes was. At Sydney in December he took 5 for 65 in 35.1 overs in Australia’s first innings. A fortnight later on New Years day in Melbourne he took 6 for 42 and in their second innings 7 for 121.
So why did Barnes turn his back on Lancashire and county cricket in 1903? County players were then poorly paid – £5 for a home match and £6 for an away match with expenses coming out of the players’ own pockets. Nor would or could the Lancashire Committee find him a winter job.
Between his two Australian tours he refused the chance to go to South Africa in order to keep his good position with good prospects at an ironmasters in Staffordshire.
League cricket simply offered him greater security and, combined with a steady position with good prospects somewhere, the prospect of a more dignified future.
In later years, Barnes would point ruefully to those who ‘after fleeting years as famous cricketers, feted and fussed, dropped out, returned to the mine or factory, or, at best, took a fourth-rate beerhouse, trading as best they could upon their faded glories’.
Third Man can see Barnes and the other Lancashire professionals in their cramped dressing room after the last session of play, removing their boots, lighting a cigarettes or pipe, sipping pints that Maclaren or one of the other amateurs has sent through to them. Their feet are sore, their knees ache and their hands are bruised and mangled from the viperish wickets they bat on. All have a mind on the vagaries of selection. Some are chatting of their dream to one day run a pub or open a tobacconist.
Barnes, the enigma, from a position just outside the established team is using his long strong fingers on one hand to worry the laces on his newly studded boots while the other mechanically rubs the back of his knee damaged in Australia. With his steely and direct mind he is calculating the chances – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats – of a career for Lancashire. Just as he uses that mind to work out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats of each batsmen. He is far too practical to dream of a pub, but he has a new aim; a totally new delivery that would be indistinguishable to the batsman.
“We don’t understand you,” Lord Hawke had said when he was trying in vane to persuade Barnes to go to South Africa. “You only play when you like.”
“And that is what I intend doing. I have a birth besides cricket and I am looking after it. Cricket is a secondary consideration.”
Barnes would understand the dilemmas of modern professional cricketers and they would find much in his story to help them in their big decisions.
Third Man has strayed from his intention to show the links between Barnes and Mendis, but he hopes he has set up the situation for tomorrow.
*Securing the services of SFB was an astute move by the Burnley Committee as the club won the Lancashire League Championship in1901