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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
George Wilson
  • Born 30 June 1916 Ligoniel, Belfast
  • Died 27 April 1995 Glengormley, Belfast
  • Educated Belfast Technical College
  • Occupation Draughtsman in Engineering Company
  • Debut 24 July 1948 v Scotland at Hamilton Crescent, Glasgow
  • Cap Number 442
  • Style Right hand batsman, right arm off breaks.
  • Teams Woodvale

George Wilson was a very good all round cricketer, whose appearances for Ireland were limited by war and a reluctance of his employers to release him as often as the Irish selectors wished them to do. Had Adolf Hitler died at the Somme, where as he later explained he had several narrow escapes, or had that well known Belfast employers Mackies shown more understanding of the demands of cricket, George might have been remembered among the best known of Ulster's Irish cricketers. As it was, he will remain in the minds of those who saw him bat - though we are a dwindling band - the writer was eight at the time he witnessed a Wilson innings - and of those who have merely read about or been told of his deeds, a truly classic batsman, whose grace and elegance marked him out above his team-mates. Add to this off spin delivered off a three pace walk, of at least a top class club standard - the presence of Jimmy Boucher and, sometimes John Hill - in the same Irish sides limited his international bowling - and it is evident that George was indeed a player of quality.

His cricket began on the upstairs landing of his schoolmaster father's house in Ligoniel. He was later to attribute his trademark clip to leg to this grounding. It brought him childhood runs down a flight of stairs, and was therefore a profitable shot. He was still a small boy when a move of schools for his father saw him domiciled in the vicinity of Ballygomartin Road and his summers were never the same again. At sixteen he was in the Woodvale side, and helping them, then a junior club, gain senior status and score a remarkable NCU Challenge Cup victory over Lurgan, thus becoming the first junior side to lift the trophy. Woodvale won by an innings, two centuries helping them pass 400, but the teenage all rounder made his contribution with 29 and a wicket.

It was the first of several Finals in which he was to play a notable part. In both 1937 and 1939 Woodvale saw off the mighty North Down, which was no easy task. The Comber side, in 1937, was still led by arch strategist Willie Andrews, and included not only three Macdonalds, but two Shields and John Dearden, still in some opinions beyond The Green, the best keeper in Ireland. The match, over two innings of course, went on and on, until George, who had earlier opened the second innings bowling to take a vital wicket, made 57 as supported at the last by Harry Armstrong, he saw his team home by three wickets at 237-7. Woodvale defeated "Mr Willie" and his cohorts again in 1939, this time by an innings, though they made only 153 themselves. George's 62 was the vital knock, while Armstrong was the bowling hero.

George also brought the Cup to Ballygomartin Road on four post war occasions with his bowling recording five wicket hauls each time. His best match with the ball was in the 1952 Final v Armagh though he was upstaged as a bowler by the Cathedral City's paceman Lloyd Armstrong who took 11-111 in the match. For Woodvale George and Lloyd's cousin Harry both had nine wickets in the match, George's figures being 5-21 and 4-79. He was the leading all rounder in the Cup Final two years later. His 5-25 saw Lurgan put out for 91. He then topscored with an ever elegant 47, while Larry Warke hit a typically bustling 41 to build a lead of almost 100. There was little trouble in winning by an innings.

7 September 1957 saw his last game for Woodvale. He had already played an almost lone hand in a heavy loss v Lisburn in the Cup Final. His 4-109 being the only check on Ray Hunter and Cecil Walker as they posted 336. Jack Bowden then bowled the Belfast side out twice, even George being unable to counter him. That last game was against Downpatrick. He held a slip catch, he had always excelled there, hit a six for his last scoring shot, and finished the match, hitching his trousers and ambling to the stumps as ever, with a double wicket maiden.

For Ireland he scored 311 runs at 17.29 in his nine appearances, also taking five wickets at 13.00. These figures may seem a somewhat meagre return for one of his undoubted ability, but he was often batting against strong attacks and his record holds up well in comparison with those of his contemporaries. As has been mentioned his bowling was hardly used though figures of 2-12, achieved against both MCC and Scotland in 1949, suggest that he would not have let Ireland down in this department. Further, he often was at his best with the bat when the opposition was at its strongest.

Thus, though he had impressed in his debut match v Scotland at Hamilton Crescent in 1948, he was seen at his elegant best against Yorkshire at Ormeau the following summer. That year the county shared the Championship with Middlesex, and, were not at full strength v Ireland, they included their spinners Ellis Robinson, odd breaks, and Johnny Wardle, to become one of England's best ever slow left armers, who were a formidable combination, though Robinson played only a limited number of county matches that season. They routed Ireland in the first innings, and, though the Irish attack held up well, a declaration, left Ireland to bat out four hours or chase an impossible 410. Three batsmen went for the runs. Stuart Pollock made 89 in 75 minutes, reaching 50 with six consecutive 4s, then George and the left handed all rounder, Church of Ireland clergyman Bobby Barnes took over. Pat Hone in Cricket in Ireland, unfortunately described the match as having been in College Park, but - after waxing eloquent about Pollock continued, "RJ Barnes and G Wilson hit up 59 and 41 at similarly rapid rate."They put on 58 for the 6th wicket in quick time. Derek Scott's match report puts more flesh on the bones, "George Wilson played some magnificent off drives." In the end Wardle bowled him and Yorkshire were victorious by 162 runs, but the afternoon, had belonged to the three Irish batsmen. A comparison of the visitors' spinners bowling figures over the two innings makes interesting reading.

Robinson 9 - 7 - 5 - 4 and 24.1 - 2 - 106 - 4: Wardle 8.3 - 4 - 19 - 3 and 24 - 5 - 105 - 5.

He also had a fine innings against a county attack, when Nottinghamshire came to College Park the following summer. Ireland played really well in this match, and, but for a rain break on the second day, might have anticipated that day at Pagham by some twenty seven years. George made 14 at 3 in the first innings, but moved down to 4 in the second. Ireland, with a small lead batted well. "Wilson," wrote Derek Scott, "made a very cultivated 45 with seven fours." It was to remain his highest score for Ireland and contributed well towards a 4th wicket stand of 97 with Eddie Ingram. Eventually he was bowled by the Nottinghamshire captain WA Sime. In those days of amateur captains, William Sime, who was a useful all rounder, took his summers off from his barrister's chambers to lead his county. He later worked full time in the legal world and became a Judge. A fine all round sportsman, he narrowly missed an England rugby cap.

Another of George's good innings against high quality opposition came at Ormeau in 1951 against the South Africans. Ireland stole a slight first innings lead against the terrifying pace of Cuan McCarthy, regarded by most who faced him as one of the most blatant "chuckers" of all time, and those outstanding spinners Athol Rowan and NBF "Tufty" Mann. George had played his part in this. Batting at 4, he put on 75 for the 3rd wicket with Pollock. He began uncertainly, stretching out to the spinners, but, to quote from Derek's invaluable work once more, "Then met the ball in the middle of the bat." He reached 29 before Rowan bowled him.

That same season he batted impressively against Scotland, but was again to the fore in the Ormeau match with India the following summer. This was a weak Indian side whose batsmen were destroyed by a young debut making fast bowler called Trueman in the Test matches. However, both batting and bowling, they were too much for Ireland. An easy win in College Park, with only Pollock, Lloyd Armstrong and Eddie Ingram really troubling the scorers in a match in which George did not play for reasons of availability, was followed by a draw at Ormeau, where the hosts were saved by rain and a remarkable second innings effort by the Clontarf opener Louis Jacobson, 41* in a score of 68-6. George was needlessly run out for 0 in the second innings, but had played a key role in giving Ireland some sort of respectability in the first, with a sound 24, putting on 40 for the 4th wicket with the gritty left handed opener Stan Bergin (36). George was caught off fast medium bowler Dattu Phadkar, who was fresh from bowling Len Hutton for 10 in the First Test. It should, perhaps, be added that Len scored 399 runs in the series at 79.80, while Dattu took but three wickets at 70!

George did not play for Ireland after this season, and, as we have seen, his Woodvale career was to end five years later. In retirement, first from cricket, and then from work, he became a highly competent golfer, and was always a welcome visitor at Ballygomartin Road. Alfie Redpath, in a splendidly evocative article on George in the Woodvale Centenary brochure (1987), recalled a comment made about him some forty years before, "Of the many fine players who have made their contribution to Woodvale's grand record since they first became a force in Ulster cricket, few have held a warmer place in the hearts of the Ballygomartin Road club's followers than George Wilson."