Leicestershire — 1975 County Champions

Kev Neylon
6 min readApr 23, 2024

I wasn’t looking for an old Wisden annual. But I was in a charity shop at the weekend and happened to see a table with a load of them from the seventies and early eighties on it. I was drawn to one on the table as the writing on the cover was in red as opposed to black on the yellow background. It happened to be the one for 1976 and it still has the original WH Smiths receipt in the pages, and it cost a whole three pounds (which is less than the charity shop were charging for it nowadays.)

It triggered a memory in the back of my head, and so I opened it, and flicked through to the County Championship pages. Of course, it would be a review of the 1975 season, and so Leicestershire’s first County Championship win. And therefore I picked the book up and bought it.

When I was a lot younger, I never bought a Wisden, but I would get the Playfair Annual each year, and spend ages poring over the stats, and making massive sheets of my own from what was in there. I would however borrow Wisden’s from the library as they had so many more pages of stats for me to be a strange child about. I still get the Playfair annual every year (and bought the 2024 one on the same day I found the Wisden), but I only ever bought a couple of Wisden’s in the nineties. I had forgotten just how much there was in the annual.

I knew about the 1975 championship winning team however. From one of my other nerdy interests. Maps. And the fact that the majority of the championship winning team were immortalised with street names in the Rowlatts Hill Estate, as a new part was being built from 1976, and it had Champions Close, and eleven road names containing the names of the Championship winning team. (Twelve if you take into account that there were two Tolchards playing for the county in 1975.)

Dudleston, McKenzie, Illingworth, Balderstone, Booth, Higgs, Steele, Tolchard, McVicker, Humphries (who only played one game), and Davison were included. The other four players to play that year who weren’t included did already have streets bearing their names. Cross had both Road in Clarendon Park, and Street in Belgrave. Birkenshaw Road is in New Parks, Gower Street in in the town centre just off Belgrave Road, and Norman Street is in Westcotes.

A lot of that team were still playing a couple of years later when I first started going to games at Grace Road after earning a child’s season ticket by doing a ten-mile sponsored walk around Victoria Park six times. (Something I did three times whilst at junior school.) It helped that my grandparents living in Aylestone, and my grandad was a keen cricket fan and a local league umpire.

Four players of the team stand out for me. The captain Ray Illingworth had come from Yorkshire in 1969, and was an England regular until 1973, and captained the country thirty-one times, and went on to be a commentator after he finished playing in 1978 (although he did return for a couple of years in the eighties for Yorkshire). At the other end of their career was David Gower, 1975 was his first season and he only played three games. He would go on to become England’s leading run scorer, and test appearance holder (both later overtaken), and England captain, before himself becoming a commentator.

The other two are for a completely different reason. Back in the seventies it was perfectly normal for a player to play county cricket, and to play league football. It was the football bit that gave me my first proper glimpse of Chris Balderstone. Another collecting habit was football cards, and the Topps series of the seventies were all the rage when I was at junior school (and a constant source of arguments and fights). It was the 1975 set of cards that had one of Balderstone playing for Carlisle United in their only season in the top flight.

From the same set there was also the Leicester City card for Graham Cross, where as a footballer he still holds the Leicester City records for most appearances, most top flight appearances, most FA Cup appearances, and most League Cup appearances, and finished as losing finalist in two FA Cups and one League Cup.

The County Championship was won on the basis of Leicestershire’s batting, as only Warwickshire scored more runs over the season, and no one got as many batting bonus points. The bowling wasn’t shabby, but there were five other counties who took more wickets over the season, and none of the counties got less bowling bonus points than Leicestershire.

But they won two more games than anyone else and finished top of the table having only climbed there in early September. It was interesting to see that the prize money for the county for finishing as champions was only £3,000. And that they went to Buckingham Palace to receive the trophy from the Duke of Edinburgh.

In addition to winning the County Championship, they also won the Benson and Hedges Cup beating Middlesex in the final. Having won the John Player League the season before, they didn’t fare as well in that Sunday competition sliding to twelfth in that league. But what a time, two of the trophies sponsored by cigarette companies. They also got to the third round (quarter finals) of the Gillette Cup, and beat the touring Australia team. And it wasn’t just the first team that was playing well, Leicestershire also finished as runners-up in the Second Eleven Championship, and won the Under-25 tournament.

It took Leicestershire ninety-six years from their formation, and it was their eighty-first year in the championship before they won it. It would be another twenty-one years before they won it again, winning two in three years in the nineties, since when not only has there been a drought, but since moving to a two-division championship we have been languishing near or at the bottom of the second division for most of the last decade.

Let’s hope it isn’t another ninety-six years before the next championship.

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Kev Neylon

Writing fiction, travel, history, sport, & music blogs. Monthly e-zine with all kinds of writing at www.onetruekev.co.uk. All pictures used are my own.