Editor’s choice – issue 46

Managing editor Matt Thacker makes his selection from the Summer 2024 issue. We publish one article from each edition on the website, but you can see the rest if you subscribe or buy a single issue or four-issue bundle. Matt has chosen Richard Edwards’ look at how the 1984 miners’ strike affected cricket then and for a long time after.

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The miners’ strike was not something I had thought about in a long, long time when Rich Edwards emailed me asking if I fancied a piece about it, and its effect on cricket, 40 years on. But when the submission came in, it transported me straight back to 1984 – rampant Thatcherism, IRA bombings in Brighton and elsewhere, the Libyan Embassy siege, Zola Budd and Mary Decker, famine in Ethiopia, record unemployment, and, of course, the near constant news footage of Arthur Scargill, gesticulating, shouting, exhorting his miners to hold out. Another time, another time.

Matt Thacker, Summer 2024


Falling apart at the seams

Richard Edwards on cricketing memories of the miners’ strike 40 years on

It wasn’t your average team bonding exercise. But it was a timely one.  The miner’s strike had just reached its conclusion after 11 months, three weeks and four days, when Kevin Sharp and his Yorkshire teammates were given a first-hand experience of life underground. It’s one that has stayed with him.

“We went to a colliery near Doncaster,” says the former Yorkshire batter. “We did it as a club, so there were players there, and coaches. We crawled along one of the tunnels for about 30 yards – it was unbelievable. We were at the coal face and there was just a little tunnel that the miners would have to crawl through on their hands and knees.

“Mate, it was scary. We were all in a line and you just wanted to get through to the other end. One or two of the boys panicked. It was very, very claustrophobic. You were on your hands and knees in a black tunnel. There were some little lights on the side, but you basically wanted the person in front of you to just get on with it. I remember thinking, how the hell can you do this for a living.”

A similar view was shared in the corridors of power in Westminster, as then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher prepared to take on Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Miners (NUM) in a power battle that would change the landscape of the country and decimate previously thriving communities across the north of England.

The West Indies’ 5-0 “Blackwash” of England that summer, played out against a toxic backdrop of hostility between striking miners, flying pickets, “scabs”, the police and a Government that was determined not to give an inch to the unions. The violence that erupted in some areas of the country as a result made facing Malcolm Marshall look like a tea party.


The relationship between sport, the mining industry and the communities that were dependent on it, is a deep one.

In football, the pits and the relentlessly grim nature of physically demanding work underground, helped to nurture some of the finest talents the game has ever seen.

Take Manchester United legend and Busby Babe, Bill Foulkes, as just one high-profile example.

In The Busby Babes, Men of Magic, Foulkes describes how his entire life was shaped by his experience of working deep underground in conditions that are now almost impossible to imagine.

“I was assistant manager in a coal mine – earning much more than I ever did for Manchester United,” he said. “I would do a full shift down the mine, starting at 5.30 in the morning and finishing at 2.30 in the afternoon. I would take a shower at the pithead, grab a bite to eat and then frequently have to dash for a train to Manchester. With a life like this I was fitter than many full-time professional footballers.”

Teams like Barnsley’s FA Cup finalists in 1912, meanwhile, were made up primarily of footballers who spent their working days not on the training pitch but 800 metres underground at the coal face.

“Clubs like Barnsley, fed by miners from the nearby coalfield, abounded in stories polished in the telling of men working double shifts and walking 20 miles to play a match,” wrote David Winner in Those Feet, An Intimate History of English Football.

The impact of mining and the communities that were forged as a result of it were no less pronounced in cricket.

Harold Larwood and Bill Voce – possibly the best-known pair of England opening bowlers behind Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson – worked in the same mines at Annesley in their teens. The Derbyshire team of 1936 once fielded a side featuring that included 10 players from the county’s mining stock.

The industry even dictated when games would start and finish. Club matches involving colliery cricket teams would routinely start at three and finish after eight, to fit in with shift patterns. In short, the links between mining and county and club cricket, ran as deep as the seams of coal that sustained so many areas.

By 1984, though, the industry’s entire existence was under threat.


“It was always a bit odd, ‘the scab county’ was how we were characterised by the supporters,” says Andy Afford, the former Nottinghamshire off spinner who made his debut for the county in the summer of 1984.

“They would shout it at you – even though I was from Lincolnshire! Playing in my first season, it all felt a bit uncalled for.”

Afford was particularly close to the unfolding enmity between Nottinghamshire – where the majority of the county’s miners had voted to continue working in the absence of a national ballot – and Yorkshire, where the overwhelming majority were on strike. The police, meanwhile, focused their efforts on attempting to stop flying pickets from joining striking miners on the picket line in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire.

“I was going out with a girl from Clipstone [a mining village around 20 miles outside of Nottingham] at the time,” he says. “I was trialling at Trent Bridge back then, and so would have to get on the bus to get the ground. She lived on one of the avenues in the village – you would leave the house and get stopped by the police and asked where you were going.

“I was a bloke around the sort of age of a lot of those who were joining the picket line, so I could have easily been doing the same. But the whole thing was just really weird. It really manifested itself in the Bassettlaw League, which basically included towns and villages all the way up the [A]614. All the mining communities had cricket teams and they were all impacted in one way or another.”

While Afford was merely an interloper in Clipstone, former Nottinghamshire pace bowler David Millns grew up in the village and, alongside his brother Paul, was working at the colliery at the time of the strike.

“There were pickets every day – I know because I would walk past them on my way to the pit,” he says. “There were people there trying to bully and dictate. I can’t stand being told what to do. If someone says ‘do this’, then I need a reason. If I agree with them, then I’ll crack on. If I don’t agree with them? Well, I won’t do it.”

Millns was in Clipstone the day that 3,000 Yorkshire miners turned up to bolster numbers on the picket line. “There was a lot of noise,” he says with some understatement.

The now umpire signed his first contract at Trent Bridge later that summer, despite missing out on a place in the county’s under-19 side. For a kid from a colliery village that wasn’t unheard of. The Nottinghamshire squad for the 1984 season clearly wasn’t short on quality. Indeed, it included some of the county’s most well-known and best-loved characters in the form of Tim Robinson, Richard Hadlee, Derek Randall, Clive Rice and Bruce French, but there were plenty of other talented cricketers who never got a look-in.

“I’d been offered a few quid to play semi-pro football at 19, I was sort of thinking I was going to be the next Bobby Moore – but I was crap!” says Millns. “I had been looked over for the Notts under-19 side so Clipstone Cricket Club put my name forward for a ‘Find a Fast Bowler’ competition at Trent Bridge, which I won. The prize was to play against a Notts XI for a Celebrity XI at Sir John Starkey’s estate in Southwell.

“I tootled off there in August on a Sunday. It was a beautiful ground, and it was packed. I opened the bowling and Bruce French was opening the batting with Kevin Cooper. I didn’t understand the protocol – the pros were there to have a nice Sunday afternoon with a couple of glasses of wine. I was a young tearaway and I was charging in at two players who weren’t wearing helmets. After three balls, they stopped the game and ran some out to them.

“Sir John was our skipper and after two overs of trying to bowl as fast as I could he came and asked me if I didn’t mind slowing down. I said I wouldn’t be doing that as it was my chance to impress whoever was watching. I ended up getting substituted for the Sale of the Century’s Nicholas Parsons. He came trotting on and I went trotting off.”

Stood on the boundary with his parents, watching the game unfold without him, he was approached by Ken Taylor, the cricket manager at Notts.

“He asked me if I had just moved to the area,” says Millns. “I told him that I was born and bred in Clipstone and he turned round and said ‘how the hell have I never seen you’. Unfortunately, that was the kind of prejudice that existed.”

Millns kept his job at the colliery, getting up at 5am and heading straight to the pit. He would surface at two, have a sleep and then drive to Trent Bridge for squad nets on a Wednesday night. Incredibly, he took a pay cut of £7,500 to turn professional, his wage being £2,500 at Nottinghamshire, a quarter of what he was on at Clipstone.


As the bitter dispute continued more and more miners began breaking a strike that was bringing families and communities to their knees, but not Thatcher’s widely vilified government. As cricket continued peacefully enough at Trent Bridge and Headingley – although in the case of Yorkshire everything is relative – the Battle of Orgreave, in June 1984, became a symbol of state-sponsored brutality, as picketing miners suddenly came up against massed-ranks of police, who had arrived from all over the country.

As skewed news coverage hit the nation’s screens that evening, the miners were portrayed as the perpetrators of a day of violence. In all, 95 people were arrested. The ramifications of that day still reverberate 40 years on. In 2016, Alan Billlings, the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said that his force had been “…dangerously close to being used as an instrument of the state”.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, Jim Beachill, the chairman of Elsecar CC, revealed that some of the club’s players were at Orgreave. Others from neighbouring teams were doubtless there too. None could have foreseen what was to follow. The trials of those arrested quickly collapsed as a result of unreliable police evidence. Michael Mansfield QC described Orgreave as the “worst example of a mass frame-up in this country this century”. Given the competition, that’s quite some statement. Calls for a public enquiry into the events of that day have continually fallen on deaf ears.

Further south, as Clive Lloyd’s West Indies continued their demolition job of England, the Bassetlaw League provided some welcome relief for those workers who suddenly found themselves front and centre of a strike that continued to dominate Fleet Street headlines and local and national news bulletins.

But if players hoped that a game of cricket would serve to ease tensions between the striking miners and those still working, they were sometimes left disappointed.

David Griffin, Derbyshire’s photographer, was in his first year in the police back in 1984. Some 36 years later, with the country attempting to manage its way out of another national crisis, this time in the form of Covid, he sat down with a number of league cricketers to discuss club cricket in that miners’ strike summer.

Phil Matthews and Bob Davis of Glapwell Colliery Cricket Club had vivid recollections of a clash which reflected just how high emotions were running in the county.

“Halfway through a game, some of the local lads from the village who weren’t involved with cricket came up to cause some aggro with the Nottinghamshire team, who were all working,” says Davis. “Two of the lads who were playing for Shirebrook chased these guys in the middle of the game off the ground with a stump apiece in their hand. They chased them down into the village.

“They knew them because they had grown up with them. They eventually got their revenge away from the cricket pitch.”

The Bassettlaw League became a melting pot, pitting – if you’ll forgive the pun – “Scargill’s men” from South Yorkshire against Nottinghamshire’s mining communities. For many of the clubs up and down the A614, life would never be the same again.

“These places were decimated,” says Millns. “You take the main source of income from a village and it’s not just the people who worked down the mines, it’s all the add-ons. It’s the local shops and the local businesses that relied on customers who, by and large, were miners.

“Clubs like the one I grew up playing for struggled massively for years. Once the colliery closed, the Miner’s Welfare, which was the main source of income for the club, pulled its funding. The cricket club had to stand on its own and that impacted everything – the maintenance of the ground, paying the groundsman. The impact was huge.”


As the sun set on an almost unprecedented summer of discontent – and with no sign of movement on either the side of the NUM or a Government still reassured by its mass stockpiles of coal – Essex celebrated winning the title. Nottinghamshire finished second. Yorkshire fourth from bottom.

“Not great,” is Sharp’s summation of that season. The same could be said for the one-eyed news coverage of some broadcasters and some newspapers, in an era when weekday circulation figures totalled over 63 million.

As summer turned to autumn and winter loomed, a trickle of miners began returning to work. On 20 August, Paul Wilkinson returned to the Easington Colliery, becoming the first miner in Durham to break the strike. He blamed the absence of a national ballot that the NUM continually refused to sanction.

Reality was biting. In some areas, soup kitchens were sustained with food that was being sent from mining communities in the Soviet Union – an irony given the Cold War was at its height, and Thatcher had addressed parliament to warn of the “enemy from within”.

As players packed up their kits and prepared for whatever their winters held in store – a spell with the local water board was as glamorous as it got for some – the futility of the NUM’s stance was becoming clearer.

By early March 1985, the strike was all but over. The real struggle, though, was about to begin.


“The main problem was that the mines and the railways were the life of the village and both were closed down with nothing to give work to the young guys,” said Enid Bakewell in her biography Coal Miner’s Daughter, by Simon Sweetman. “I saw grown men trying to find pieces of coal from the fields where their supplies for the power stations had been stored.”

Research carried out by Sheffield Hallam University estimated that the UK’s coal industry workforce was around 221,000 at the time of the strike, already considerably lower than the estimated one million who were employed at the industry’s height. Shortly before Australia arrived to compete for the 2005 Ashes, that number had dwindled to just 7,000. Kellingley Colliery, the country’s last surviving deep coal mine, closed down its lifts for the final time in December 2015.

The communities that were based around the coal industry were left to fend for themselves. There was no contingency put in place for what would follow once the mines were closed. The cricket clubs bearing colliery names, by and large, remained. But their decline was irreversible.

“The colliery grounds were always really well maintained,” says Afford. “Mining was a prosperous industry. The blokes always had a few quid, there was always the Welfare to have a drink in after a game. And that just changed. There just wasn’t the money for it. You could see it all the way up the 614.

“Those cricket grounds are probably emblematic of the decline of the industry. Those grounds would have had pride of place within those villages – it was a massive part of village life. To some degree, a lot of the colliery sides have continued but they have dropped down the leagues because the money just isn’t there.”

As the summer of 1985 dawned, towns and villages, families and friends still bore the scars of the strike. Even now, 40 years on, the ill feeling in some parts of the country remains resolutely frozen in time.

“It rumbled on,” says Afford. “You would hear it for years and I think it’s still there. You probably don’t have to scratch too far underneath the surface, even now.

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