Sunday, 6 November 2011

Book Review - Bill Copson: More Than Miner Interest by Kit Bartlett

The latest book I have been sent for review is not new. Kit Bartlett's book on Derbyshire fast-bowling legend Bill Copson was first published in 2008, but it perhaps slipped under the radar of many Derbyshire fans.

The Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians do great work within the game, especially with their publications programme, which often sees books produced on players who would never capture the imagination of the big players in world publishing. Nonetheless, their tales are worth the telling, more so than the ten-a-penny big name autobiographies which often are too formulaic for my taste.

Bill Copson was a very fine bowler, albeit one too often troubled by injury for some. He got three Test caps, two in 1939 and the other in 1947, when he was 39 years old. That those Tests produced 15 wickets was no mean feat, but the feeling remains that Copson's sketchy fitness record was a factor in him getting limited recognition. Only in 1936 and 1939 did he remain injury-free, but those two years saw him take 160 and 146 wickets at 15 and 13 respectively. He was not quite fast, but hostile and awkward, like Les Jackson later, obtaining extravagant movement from a whippy action. Of his 1094 first-class victims, the major percentage were bowled, an unusual state of affairs, while his season average never exceeded 19.81 per wicket prior to the Second World War.

That injury-free season in 1936 was a major factor in the only Championship win, together with the similarly impressive form of Tommy Mitchell. Their "brimstone and treacle" saw Derbyshire to eventual triumph and the latter would be another worthy subject of an ACS publication. Indeed, it is in that area where the book has its only failing. There are a number of stories about Mitchell as a "character" non-pareil, something that enlivens any read. While this book has been well researched and is as well annotated as all of the ACS series, by the end of it I felt I knew little more of Copson the man than when it started. He was lugubrious and by all accounts a private individual, yet even the input of his son reveals little of his personality.

Perhaps the most enlightening section is that covering the war years. Copson spent those in the leagues with considerable success, though not enough for the secretary of Shipley CC, who referred to him as either "very brilliant or very poor" at the same time that he slated other players at the club, including Les Ames, Denis Smith, Alf Pope and Learie Constantine. Nothing about Copson the bowler was poor and even when the 'nip' had gone post-war, he retained an ability to make scoring difficult and, like all Derbyshire's best seamers, "gave nowt away".

At 92 pages it is not a weighty tome, but for those who, like me, enjoy reading about the greats of the past it is well worth buying. There are some interesting photographs and statistics and - let's be honest - books on Derbyshire cricketers are not overly abundant. Cliff Gladwin, George Pope and Tommy Mitchell would be worthy future subjects for the series.

Hopefully there's someone out there of similar opinion...

Bill Copson: More Than Miner Interest is written by Kit Bartlett and published by the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians. It can be purchased for £10 from the ACSH at

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