Gerald Smithson, the former Yorkshire and England batsman, is remembered each year at Abingdon School, where he coached from 1958 to 1970, in a match for the Gerald Smithson Memorial Trophy. This is played for by ‘Old Boys’, pupils and parents and was recently held on Easter Monday with Gerald’s widow, Anne, once again presenting the trophies.
Gerald, who was born at Spofforth near Wetherby, was drafted into the coalmines in 1944 as a Bevin Boy and made his debut for Yorkshire in 1946. He came to national prominence the following year when, after a number of very good innings for the county, he was selected for the MCC party to tour the West Indies. Gerald’s innings included a memorable 98 against Lancashire at Bramall Lane, 74 of the runs being scored before lunch after he had gone in early at number three. Jim Kilburn wrote that it was “..as happy an exhibition of left handed batting as any young cricketer could dream .”
Initially, the Ministry of Labour said they would not allow Gerald to go to the Caribbean as he had yet to finish his three year commitment in the mines, but after a debate in the House of Commons he was granted leave to tour. Gerald played in two
Tests and both his innings in the second match helped England draw but an elbow injury limited further appearances and meant he missed most of the following season.
Gerald’s Yorkshire career was severely interrupted by the injury and a subsequent operation and thereafter he rarely repeated his successes of 1947, joining Leicestershire in 1951 and giving them good service over six seasons. After his county career was over Gerald worked as a coach and groundsman, firstly at Caterham School in Surrey in 1957 before moving to Abingdon School in Berkshire the following year. He continued to play cricket for Abingdon CC and also for Hertfordshire in the Minor Counties.
Action from Abingdon School
Gerald, who was to spend fourteen years at Abingdon School, quickly became a well respected and much liked coach. He was extremely successful at developing cricket players and teams. Gerald died in 1970 aged just forty three and the following summer Sir Leonard Hutton took a team to Abingdon as a benefit match for the family – a widow and four young daughters.
Two Abingdon Old Boys, John Bunce and Julian Shellard, have very happy recollections of their former cricket coach. John described Gerald as a ‘consumate professional’ who transformed Abingdon’s cricketers and teams from wayward and often ordinary to very good and competitive. He taught technique and demanded high standards of behaviour. John said that Gerald liked people “ in his gruff Yorkshire way ” and that the boys responded enthusiastically and positively to his influence. John later played league cricket in Yorkshire for Harrogate and believes that Gerald prepared him for that competitive atmosphere.
Julian remembers Gerald as a ‘fantastic coach’ who, “.. could see talent at a very young age and nurture it “. He was highly demanding in his pursuit of excellence for his pupils and showed great attention to detail, Julian recalling how a player who had just made a century was taken to one side and shown how to rectify a poor shot made before he had reached fifty. Gerald was also unstinting with his praise when his players turned theory and practice into effect.
Gerald was good with all his players but had a special influence on left handers and a number were indebted to him including Mike Hill who made appearances for Hampshire, John Bunce who also played for Berkshire as well as Harrogate and Michael Nurton who scored many runs for Oxfordshire. Gerald had benefitted from the coaching of a great left hander, Maurice Leyland, and was able to pass on valuable insight.
It is a testament to Gerald Smithson’s high standing amongst the ‘Old Boys’ that nearly forty years after his death they organise a cricket day in his name.
Gerald Smithson (left) and Brian Close display their batting stances at a cricket school at Headingley, April 16, 1949