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A.N.Hornby: The Boss

Written by Stuart Brodkin

Albert Neilson Hornby was a sporting legend, captaining England and Lancashire at cricket and England at Rugby Union. He was also a useful footballer, appearing for Blackburn Rovers, and a keen boxer and hurdler. He regularly rode to hounds and was a decent shot.

The man known as ‘Monkey’ for his diminutive size as a youngster and his hyper-active demeanour carved out one of the most durable careers in the game. For five decades he ruled the roost at Lancashire as player, captain, chairman and president. In his heyday it was said that only W.G.Grace was his superior as a batsman, and his captaincy was admired even by the Australians! He was also a brilliant fielder.

Hornby will be remembered as the captain who lost the famous Oval Test of 1882 to the Australians, a defeat which gave birth to the Ashes, and also went down in cricketing folklore as one of the central figures in Francis Thompson’s poem ‘At Lord’s’.

As a captain, he demanded the utmost loyalty from those who played under him and, in return, defended his players to the hilt, most notably when a number of Lancashire bowlers were accused of throwing. He was one of the central figures when a disputed umpiring decision led to the Sydney riot of 1879, and there were other occasions when he was not afraid to wade into a crowd of unruly spectators.

Had he been alive today, Hornby would have been the darling of the tabloids. In his lifetime, during the Golden Age of cricket, he was never far away from controversy and confrontation.

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