I have a feeling that Luke would have been more than happy with the title of this blog post. Having read a little about him in the newspaper archives he strikes me as a modest man who loved his sport, a man who gained satisfaction from imparting his knowledge of the game and encouraging young talent. A man too who never realised just what an impact he had made on those who were fortunate enough to have made his acquaintance or been coached by him.
In an obituary in the Sheffield Independent – Tuesday 05 July 1892 Luke was described as ‘One of the best of fellows that ever donned the flannels.’ It is one of my favourite quotes about anyone buried at Wardsend.
A big thank you to Joy Bullivant for this guest blog post which tells us more about Luke Reaney, another of Wardsend’s, and possibly Yorkshire’s, unsung heroes.
On 28th June 1892 they buried Luke Reaney, a table blade hafter. He left four daughters and an invalid wife living in the court where he had lived and worked for over 30 years. Buried in the same graveyard as his 28 year old only son was buried 4 years before. The papers said that they stopped the local cricket match during the funeral. Reaney’s obituary in the paper said,
“Luke Reaney was a great favourite with all who knew him, and the Yorkshire County Committee thought very highly of him not only as an admirable judge of the game, but for many good personal qualities, and his excellent character.”
So why did a lowly table blade hafter have an obituary in the paper? Luke was a player. In cricket there were Players and Gentlemen. Gentlemen were amateurs and Players were the paid professionals. There weren’t many gentlemen in Sheffield who could afford to take time off work to play. Most of the players were working men like Luke.
Luke started out in a club called Broomhall. For a while it was the Reaney brothers John and Luke. It became pretty obvious that Luke was a much better cricketer than John. In 1864 he hit the headlines playing for the MacAlister club as best batting average for the season, and man of the match. He was called a promising player He was 27 years old. That’s when he really started picking up professional cricket work. Luke was a great all rounder and his bowling and his fielding saved many a match.
Sheffield was once the centre of Cricket outside Lords in London. Cricket really took off in Sheffield when Me. Steer built the first purpose build stadium on a piece of Darnall Common. Thousands came to the matches which would last all week The great counties came to play Sheffield and wrote complimentary articles about the great ground at Darnall. Two local clubs also played on the grounds on a Wednesday and a Friday and became known as the Wednesday club and the Friday Club. Steer brought in a trainer to improve the playing and Sheffield’s reputation for cricket was born. But after a few great years the Darnall cricket ground was gone and was made into a graveyard and the Wednesday club moved to play at the Sheffield Park ground.
Every works had a club and practically every pub and church. Due to the demand for better facilities in 1855 seven cricket clubs raised funds to build a purpose build stadium next to the sporting grounds of Sheaf House on Bramall Lane. The clubs were Mackenzie, Broomhall, Collegiate, Milton, Wednesday, Caxton, and Shrewsbury calling themselves Sheffield United. Wednesday eventually became Sheffield Wednesday and moved to Olive Grove to play football and later to Hillsborough.
In 1863 the Yorkshire County Cricket Club was founded as a funding idea to raise more income for the Bramall Lane Ground. In 1867 Yorkshire were declared champions and again in 1870
In the early days of cricketing Professionals were often only booked per match. The programme of matches could be pretty haphazard too and the cricket season could have matches at any time of the year. Luke was paid about 2 guineas a match and no payments during the winter. Nor was he paid any travelling expenses.
However he started getting booked by clubs per season. In 1874 and 1875 he was booked as Otley’s first professional appointment, and he contracted to serve the club from April 24th to September 11th (20 weeks) for two guineas a week and whatever his benefit match was worth. On every day, except Sunday, he was to be on the ground from two till four and five till dusk, was responsible for the good order of the ground and club equipment, to be present at every Otley match, and he signed that he would use his “best endeavours at all times during the said term to promote the success of the club.”
Over the years Luke is played as professional in Kendall, St Helens in Lancashire and a wide variety of Sheffield clubs. Luke became one of the Sheffield X1 and was based at Bramall Lane. He played for a variety of local clubs.
By 1883 the Yorkshire team was often described as “ten drunks and a parson”. At the end of the 1882 season, they appointed Lord Hawke as captain who made several improvements in the team and in the pay and conditions of the players. The Yorkshire County Committee gave Luke captaincy of the Yorkshire Colts, the junior team which was created to bring in new young talent and in 1883 he was engaged as coach and instructor to instruct 2 likely hopeful young players from each of the local clubs. The basic problem was that the older players were past their peak and younger replacements were taking longer than expected to bring in high scores. Fielding was especially poor. Something that Luke was very good at.
From 1888 Luke was also umpiring games for Yorkshire and umpired two Yorkshire versus Australia matches. Pay was not great and in December 1891 there was a request for an extra guinea payment by the umpires but their request was turned down.
In June 1892 Luke umpired several matches at Old Trafford grounds in Manchester. His last match was a County Championship on the 23rd June which was Lancashire versus Surrey. He came home feeling unwell due to an infection and died within four days.
Yorkshire improved during 1892, making a good start to the season by being undefeated until mid-June but fading badly to finish sixth. The Yorkshire team began to improve from that year. It is sad to think that the players Luke Reaney trained were not able to share their triumphs with Luke, and that Luke’s contribution to what became a great Yorkshire team is now forgotten.