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The 'Grand Old Man' of Derbyshire Cricket

PUBLISHED: 15:04 12 February 2009 | UPDATED: 08:57 21 February 2013

L. G. Wright

L. G. Wright

L.G. Wright 'The Grand Old Man of Derbyshire Cricket'

On 11th January 1953 a revered 'local elder' died at his home in Normanton, Derby. Although he had attained the age of 90, his passing attracted more than routine interest, for in his Derby Evening Telegraph obituary he was dubbed the 'Grand Old Man of Derbyshire Cricket'. Yet today his grave in Normanton Cemetery lies forlorn, his once-proud name obscured by encroaching thatch.

The 'G.O.M.' referred to was Levi George Wright, a former stalwart of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, an influential figure in the game's development locally, and to boot one of only 19 men to achieve the 'Derbyshire Double' - that is to have played at least one first team game for both Derbyshire County Cricket Club and Derby County Football Club.

Levi George Wright was born into a working class background at the Armoury on New Road, Oxford, on 15th January 1862. At school he applied himself well to both academic subjects and sport, emerging sufficiently rounded to take up a teaching position. This happened to be in Derby - so in January 1881, a few days before his 19th birthday, he moved to the town which came to be 'home', taking lodgings at 74 Whitecross Street and starting as Assistant Master at St Anne's School. By then Wright had already acquired the all-round sporting skills and innate enthusiasm which were ultimately to render him one of the best known figures in Derbyshire sport. He quickly came to the attention of both cricket and football enthusiasts during his first days in Derby, and was soon to find himself playing at the highest level in both games.

He emerged more prominently as a cricketer, first nailing his colours to the Napier Cricket Club - in effect a pub team - whose headquarters were at the long-demolished Sir Charles Napier in Brook Street. But by the first day of the 1881 season he had swiftly risen to the far more able ranks of the Derby Midland Club, where he established himself as a right-hand batsman of real promise. Thereafter he soon advanced to County level, serving Derbyshire for over 25 years from 1883 to 1909. Including representative games for other sides he played in 325 first-class matches, scoring 15,166 runs at a creditable average of 26.1. He also gained a reputation as a fine and brave 'short point' fielder, often advancing to the 'silly' position close to the bat. For part of 1906 and for the whole of 1907 Levi Wright captained Derbyshire, and in 1906 at the age of 44 he was named Wisden 'Cricketer of the Year'.

Notwithstanding his cricket talent, his football credentials should not be overlooked. He began in earnest with the strong Derby Midland Club attached to the railway, making his debut in their inaugural season of 1881. He performed so consistently in the full-back and half-back berths that when Derby County was formed in 1884 Wright was invited to join its ranks. The Midland 'committee' was sorely chagrined by his decision to defect, for Wright was not the only 'Midlander' poached in that fashion by the County upstarts!His early games for the Rams were in the pre-League period - and therefore not officially recorded - but four appearances and one goal in the opening Football League season of 1888-89 ensured Wright's status as a bona fide member of the 'Derbyshire Double' brigade. For good measure he had married Derby girl Agnes Harriet Brooks early in 1888, the couple setting up home at 53 Richmond Road in Pear Tree, and then 45 Crewe Street as their family grew. In truth Wright was a far better footballer than he is generally given credit for. He became an automatic choice at full-back for the North of England in their annual encounters against the South, and was frequently reserve for the full International side. The consensus was that he would regularly have graced the England line-up in the late 1880s but for the brilliance of two other full-backs who kept him out - they were the brothers A.M. and P.M. Walters, known in the game as 'Morning' and 'Afternoon', or more eruditely the 'Meridiem Brothers'!

So Wright's enduring football legacy remained modest compared to his cricket record. An average score of 26.1 in a perennially-struggling Derbyshire side was no mean achievement, and that in an age when his contemporaries numbered some of cricket's true giants - not least his friend and adversary W.G. Grace.

One of Wright's best innings was a fine 193 at the County Ground in 1901, a tally which securely enhanced his local celebrity, for it came against the old enemy Nottinghamshire and saw him pass the 1,000 run mark for the season. His highest ever score was 195 against Northamptonshire at Derby in 1905, which he immediately followed with 176 and 122 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston. Thus he achieved the rare distinction of three successive innings above 100, and in his entire career he notched up twenty first-class centuries.

Wright also turned his arm as a bowler, although without conspicuous success. He delivered 295 balls at a cost of 204 runs for only a single dismissal - his solitary victim the hapless Worcester and England man George Wheldon. No wonder Levi Wright was 'best remembered' as a batsman - and in that capacity he remains one of the finest in Derbyshire's history.

When his playing days ended Wright carried on working as a clerk at the Midland Railway, a position he had first taken in the 1880s after deciding that teaching wasn't his true vocation. He continued following cricket with relish, and in retirement rarely missed a game at the County Ground. By then he had settled into his home of forty years at 42 Derby Lane, a substantial 'semi' in Normanton close to the Cavendish. The property still stands - a prime 'blue plaque' candidate should Derby ever implement such a scheme.

With advancing years 'L.G.' became a popular figure 'out and about', also a very active freemason, and in time he assumed the mantle of 'approachable Methuselah', the sort of 'Mr Chips' character eager to talk sport with anyone who engaged him. In 1938 he spoke to a wider audience via the BBC Radio sports feature 'Cricket Interval' - alas now labelled 'wiped' in the archives. Nor did he give up his active participation in ball games - he became a great enthusiast of bowls, and was still playing at the Arboretum Bowls Club in his final years, emerging victorious in the club's Ling Cup in 1947 at the age of 85 - so he did prove a good 'bowler' after all!

Following a brief illness L.G. Wright died at his Derby Lane home in January 1953 four days short of his 91st birthday. After fulsome tributes were paid, the Archdeacon of Derby Mr J.F. Richardson conducted the funeral service at St Giles, Normanton, before a large gathering which included many sporting representatives. And for once the age-old standby reserved for such occasions proved perfectly true- all agreed that the 'Grand Old Man of Derbyshire Cricket' had indeed enjoyed a 'jolly good innings'.

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