Britton and Crump had traditionalists stumped
D IEHARD traditionalists found it hard to believe when a female cricketer made her debut in a men's team in a senior league match.
It's difficult to put a precise date on an occasion which made North Staffordshire cricketing history, but it happened around 25 years ago when Julie Crump and Tracy Britton were among the first invaders of an all-male bastion.
Dressed for the part – Julie Crump in skirt and white socks pictured before a match at Rode Park with her father Brian, brother Neil and mother Lynn. Above, former England women's captain Rachael Heyhoe-Flint at Stone in 1985.
And opponents were left in no doubt about Julie's gender when she took the field for Rode Park in the North Staffs and District League wearing a skirt and long white socks.
Tracy, who later married Julie's brother Neil, played in flannels when turning out in the same league for Meir Heath, feeling, she says, that trousers helped women cricketers to be taken more seriously.
"At first, the men were a bit chauvinistic, they didn't like girls playing in their cricket," says Julie's father Brian, who played first-class county cricket with Northants.
"I was captain of Rode Park when Julie took five wickets in a match at Marchington. They were already league champions, but we beat them and the home team were moaning that girls shouldn't be allowed to play."
Julie, now Mrs Harris and a mother of two, agrees that a lot of men were embarrassed when she got them out.
"I bowled one bloke out when I was six months pregnant and he said he'd never live it down," she says. "But to other men it was a good laugh.
"I played practically a whole season for Rode Park's first team and was rated as an economic bowler. In the second team I bowled an average of 20 to 25 overs in a match."
Former West Indian star Vince Lindo remembers batting against Julie's bowling and describes her as a very accurate seam bowler.
"But I don't really like to see women playing cricket against men," he says. "I prefer women at men's matches to be making the tea!"
Vince, now 73, remembers playing in two matches against the women's England team, one at Newcastle and Hartshill's ground and the other at Ashcombe Park.
"It was in John Ikin's time as Staffordshire's captain and he asked me to play," he says. "The England women had two fast bowlers. We just stood back and let the girls have a go."
However, Vince's traditional views about women cricketers are not shared by Bob Cherry, long-serving secretary of the under-18s Kidsgrove League.
"I would like more clubs to offer chances to the girls," he says. "I admire female players like Julie Crump and Tracy Britton taking on the men.
"When ladies' cricket first came on the scene there was a degree of scorn. But when women are seen to take the game as seriously as men, they invariably win respect.
"In any case, women do practically every other job at cricket clubs, so why shouldn't they play as well?"
For Lester Meredith, former secretary of the North Staffs and South Cheshire League, the main issue is whether men should treat female opponents as equals.
"When a man is bowling at a woman he faces a moral dilemma," says Lester. "Is he happy to bowl in his usual way, or does he hold back?
"In the past I've watched one or two females playing in second eleven cricket and always felt there was a problem about them being treated as equals. Personally, I was happy enough to see girls playing, provided they were experienced in the game and knew how to look after themselves.
"In my time as league secretary there was nothing in the rules about a player's gender."
Other girls or women playing in male teams have included Vicky Coates, whose father Barry played with Sneyd, and Nicola Hall, daughter of Sneyd stalwart Jess Hall.
Cheshire girl Laura McLeod (later Newton) played for Crewe Rolls-Royce in the North Staffs and District League and went on to play for the England women's team.
Crump also won a place in the England women's team after she and her future sister-in-law, Britton, joined Wolverhampton Ladies, where the former England captain Rachael Heyhoe-Flint was the coach.
Tom Yates, a lifelong member of Burslem Cricket Club, recalls seeing both Crump and Coates play at Burslem and has his reservations about what he calls mixed cricket.
"Girls must be in the team on merit, that's the only way in a competitive game," he says. "Women don't have the physical strength of men, yet they have to be treated as equals."
Will the day ever come when women players appear alongside men in first-class county cricket?
"I won't live to see it," says Bob Cherry, "but you never know what might happen if women's cricket gets even more competitive and talented girls are given a chance."