Life

Bowled over! Obsessive Stockport cricket collector pushes boundaries with enormous memorabilia stash

By Ross McLean

Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties but one thing for sure is the sport’s ability to attract fascinating and interesting personalities.

There are cricketing enthusiasts and then there is Keith Hayhurst of Cheadle Hulme who boasts an astonishing collection of cricket memorabilia, which he has collated over the last 60 years.

Thousands of pieces including autographs, stumps, pads, postcards, balls, programmes and photographs make up the vast collection.

Keith sat down with MM to chat about his sporting heroes, museum-worthy memorabilia and old English sayings.

Reminiscing about an early brush with cricketing history, Keith said: “I remember in 1953 I went to a game in Stafford with all my heroes in it.

“I took my 1951 MCC annual, which had Lancashire in it as they were joint holders of the county championship, to get some autographs and an old man came on to bowl the first over.

“I was told it was S.F. Barnes, possibly the greatest bowler ever, he was 80 and bowled one over and then umpired the game.

“The other umpire was former England international Tiger Smith – I queued up for both of their autographs.”

That day ignited a passion and ever since the sport has been constant in the former RAF serviceman’s life.

He spent more than two years travelling the world and visiting cricket grounds, before founding the Cricket Memorabilia Society 28 years ago.

He has also been a committee member at Lancashire County Cricket Cub as well as being the museum’s curator.

Vast swathes of his collection, which includes a remarkable 2000 cricket books, remain at his house, although much has been passed to Lancashire’s museum for others to enjoy.

This stems from Keith’s belief there are things simply too valuable to cricket’s rich history to be horded away for his eyes only.

“One such thing was a cap that Dick Barlow gave me,” he said.

“In 1884 he was batting against Fred Spofforth and the Australians and the press quoted Spofforth when he said ‘Give me the ball and I’ll have them out for 60.’

“Barlow got a century and ten wickets in the game and coming off the park, Australian captain Billy Murdoch ran up to him and said ‘I take my hat off you to you’ and gave him his cap.

“The saying ‘I take my hat off to you’ had never been used before and it hit the headlines and, through this cap I’ve got, became an English saying.”

After reading an Old Ebor book, which talked about visiting Barlow – also a collector – in 1899, Keith set out to track down one item in particular.

The book mentioned a stained glass window featuring Barlow, Albert Hornby and Richard Pilling, which he finally found after a seven-year search.

“I had to look and look for this window and I managed to track it down in the home of Barlow’s son in Southport,” said Keith.

“When he opened the door and I saw the sun shining through this stained glass window, it made my hair stand up on end.”

Keith, who carries out committee work for the England and Wales Cricket Board, has seen many of the game’s greats play in some of the most iconic stadia around the globe.

And when pressed on who was the best player he has seen in the flesh, he was unable to answer simply because there have been too many.

“If I was to pick a world XI, Shane Warne would be in it but I can’t say he is the best player, he is the best spinner,” he said.

“I thought Donald Bradman was the best batsman but not the best cricketer. I saw a lot of Garfield Sobers, I thought he was the best all-rounder but not necessarily the best player.

“I saw Graeme Pollock bat with Sobers in a series in 1970 and that was absolutely heaven – It was like watching an orchestral ballet, beautiful cricket.”

Not too many greats have slipped through Keith’s net during his lifetime but one cricketer from the past he wished he had seen was W.G. Grace.

The former England captain is widely regarded to be one of the greatest batsmen of all time, although Keith believes he remains underestimated in some circles.

“I don’t think people realise how good Grace was, people think of him as a big, old fat man,” he explained.

“On one occasion, he left the game he was playing and went out and won a European sprinting cup for England and came back the next day and got a century.

“He was probably three or four times better than anyone else in the world at that time.”

Despite being over the age of 75 now, Keith – who cites Wally Hammond as his cricketing hero – still attends every Lancashire game, home and away, during the course of a season.

And he believes the Red Rose will have a positive campaign as long as the weather does not intervene as it did last year when relegation struck.

“I am always optimistic. I was astonished when we won the county championship in 2011,” he said.

“We have a team full of young lads and that year they were all just naively confident.

“I think last year the rain was a major contributing factor and made pitches change their character.

“We have signed good players like Simon Katich, who is a veteran but I think he is someone we need, someone who is mature and can bring some experience to the side.”

However the season pans out, Keith will be there supporting his beloved Lancashire and no doubt spying any opportunity to expand his and the club’s memorabilia collection.

Further information about the Cricket Memorabilia Society, which Keith chairs, is available at www.cricketmemorabilia.org

Membership costs £20 per year, with various concessions available.

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