The unmistakable sound of willow on leather began to echo around Fox Lane on Thursday evening as I sat in front of the pavilion talking cricket with Leyland CC captain David Makinson.
With the team facing a crucial fixture this weekend in the Northern League Division One title race, there was a polite but determined look on the players’ faces as they passed the pair of us – heaving their huge cricket bags – on their way to the ‘nets’.
A win over Penrith at the Stanning Memorial Ground today could be enough to see the team crowned champions for the third time since 2010.
As soon as I finished my chat with the veteran all-rounder, he immediately joined his charges for some vital practice.
No doubt at the end of the net session a few hours later, Makinson will have gathered his players together for a quick pep talk.
‘Nothing silly on Friday night lads’ would perhaps have been his parting words.
It is unlikely that Leyland’s talented and youthful stars would have put their team’s title chances in jeopardy by having a few beers – or more – the night before today’s crucial encounter.
And the mere thought of his players tucked up in bed early last night will no doubt have been met with a nod of approval by Makinson – and possibly a wee wry smile.
Now aged 55-years-old, Makinson’s prime years as a player were around 30 years ago – an era when drinking beer was part of a cricketer’s daily diet.
Good enough to earn a deal with Lancashire in the 1980s, the left arm fast-medium seamer and handy lower order batsman would regularly take to the field at Old Trafford having downed a good few pints the night before.
“Back then, it was the norm,” recalls Makinson.
“After the game you would always have a couple of pints with the sponsors.
“If you were playing away from home, you would probably go out for meal and a few beers.
“Then we would call in at a pub and have another couple.
“Nowadays diet and fitness are massive things especially at the highest level.
“But back then, it was never thought about or ever mentioned.
“You would have five or six pints and then go out and play the day after.
“Some players would get in some right states – you hear the tales about Ian Botham and walking out without a bat.
“That was the same era that I played in and that’s what people did in those days.
“I always remember at Lancashire straight after the close of play, a tray of drinks would be brought into the dressing rooms, which you would have ordered before play.
“Every drink on the tray would be a pint of lager or pint of Guinness or pint of bitter.
“That’s how it was.
“I think it was when the former Australian Test player Bobby Simpson took over at Lancs as coach, he wanted to put a stop to all that.
“But Ian Austin refused to do it.
“So after play, there would be a tray of orange juice, water or shakes, but on its own in the middle would be a pint of mild for Ian.
“Maybe that’s why Ian didn’t stay too long at Lancashire after that.”
Makinson’s rise to become a player for Lancashire was a dream come true for him.
Born and raised in Eccleston, he lived across the road from the village cricket club – a place where he spent many happy days of his childhood.
“I used to pop over to the ground, which was in Doctors Lane in those days,” he said.
“The club has moved about 200 yards up the road now, just a little bit out of the village, but the old ground is where I spent all my life really.
“During the summer holidays, I would go over there with my friends and play cricket.
“There was also a rough piece of grass where we would play football during the winter.
“Back then life seemed to be different, there was no fear of being abducted or anything like that.
“Your mum would push you out of the door and off you went.”
Makinson, who attended St Mary’s Catholic High School – played as a junior at Eccleston – winning a place in the Under-17s team at the age of 10.
He became a regular in the second team at the age of 12 and graduated to the first team a couple of years later.
As he began to develop physically – he grew to an imposing 6ft 3in – Makinson’s ability started to get noticed.
It was at the age of 17 when he cut his ties with Eccleston and joined Leyland for the very first time – persuaded to do so by current president Terry Wilson, who had watched him play alongside his own son for the school team.
It was during his first spell at Fox Lane that Makinson was handed his first county call.
He played for both Lancashire and England at Under-19s level and progression to the senior ranks looked a formality.
However, the Red Rose county did not firm up their initial interest by offering him a contract and Makinson’s dream of making it in the county game appeared to be ebbing away.
Forced into getting a day job as an engineer at BAE, Makinson settled into life as a club cricketer.
“It was always my ambition to make it and I always thought I would do,” he said.
“But I thought I would get signed on earlier than what I eventually did. I had played for Lancashire and England Under-19s so I was confident I would be all right.
“But once I got to 19 and was too old to play for the Under-19s – I just did not get a game with Lancs.
“I heard nothing from them for about four years.”
After winning the Northern League title with Leyland in 1981, Makinson then enjoyed a successful two-year stint in 1983/83 as the professional at Leyland Motors, which placed him back on the radar of Lancashire.
“I got asked to play for Lancashire seconds at Fleetwood, which is one of my favourite grounds.
“I ended up getting 40-odd and took nine wickets during the match.
“They asked me to play at the Oval against Surrey and I remember bowling about 28 overs, taking four for not so many.
“I thought surely I will get a contract with Lancashire but it did not come along because they said they had enough contracted players.
“Nowadays, you would go and look to sign for another county, but back then you didn’t – you just played for your home county.
“During the winter of ’83/84 I signed a deal with Leyland to come back as pro.
“It got to the February when I got a call at work from Jack Bond, who was Lancashire’s manager.
“He told me that there had been a committee meeting and that they would like to sign me on a two-year contract.
“It came out of the blue, but it transpired that Warwickshire were after me and so it made Lancashire offer me a deal to stop them signing me.”
Despite taking a big drop in salary, Makinson did not have to think twice about accepting the deal.
“My basic wage was £4,600 for the year,” he said.
“I know that because I’ve still got my very first contract.
“At the time, my salary at BAE was £7,000 so I was taking a big drop.
“You have to remember I was married with a mortgage, but I never gave it a second thought – I was always going to sign.”
Having signed so close to the start of the new season, Makinson missed out on meeting his new county team-mates during the winter nets.
Instead he was introduced to them all at a hotel in Grange-over-Sands where the squad – including players such as West Indian legend Clive Lloyd, fast bowler Paul Allott, batsmen Graeme Fowler and John Abrahams and veteran spinner Jack Simmons – had gathered for some pre-season fitness work.
“I remember walking out of my room and John Abrahams walked past me and said ‘hello’ to me,” he added.
“He hadn’t a clue who I was and probably just thought I was a guest at the hotel.
“It’s funny because John does some coaching at Leyland now so I give him some stick.
“I remember being nervous at the time even though I was not a kid – I was 23.
“There was some real characters in that dressing room.
“It was an eye opener because nowadays cricketers are really fit, but they were not back then.
“Jack Simmons – he was in his 40s, a bit overweight
“I remember we went on a walk which is known as the Fairfield Horseshoe.
“Jack wasn’t too keen on it and within a mile of us setting off, he had fallen behind and then suffered a mystery ankle injury.
“He ended up getting driven back and spent the afternoon in the pub while we had been flogging ourselves for 13 miles.”
Makinson enjoyed five seasons at Old Trafford.
He played against some of the greats of the game including Botham, David Gower, Kapil Dev, Richard Hadlee and Imran Khan.
In total he played 35 first class games and 52 one-day matches, taking 120 wickets with a best of 5-60.
“Believe it or not I can’t remember my debut for Lancashire – how ridiculous does that sound,” Makinson said. “I do remember my first wicket. That was Wayne Larkins at Northampton.
“He was caught by Neil Fairbrother at deep midwicket for 140-odd.
“I played against some great players obviously.
“Gower once hit me for four boundaries in a row at Old Trafford and they all went to different parts of the ground – backward point, deep backward square, extra cover and mid-on.
“None of them were actually bad balls – he just hit them.
“I got Graeme Hick out a few times, Mike Gatting – I don’t think I ever got Viv Richards out but I bowled at him.
“I once caught Botham. It was a televised NatWest game and I caught him at long-on in front of the side screen.
“I think I was fielding at wide long-on and Jack Simmons was at straight long-off. “Botham tried to hit someone out of the world at Taunton and it should have been Jack’s because he had only about 20 yards to go.
“But as soon as it went up, I got the shout, ‘Makie, it’s yours’.
“It went miles up in the air and I managed to make up the ground and catch it.”
Being a full-time player with Lancashire, it also afforded Makinson the opportunity to fulfil an ambition of playing club cricket in Australia.
During the winter, he would fly over to the Sunshine Coast Down Under and turn out for Mairoochydore CC.
Unfortunately a back injury sustained on the other side of the world, which was exacerbated on his return to the UK, ultimately ended his career at Lancashire.
After leaving Old Trafford at the end of the 1988 season, Makinson rejected offers to remain in the first class game.
He landed a job teaching and coaching cricket at Stockport Grammar School and began playing as a professional in the locals leagues.
He eventually returned to Leyland Motors before becoming captain of Leyland CC when Motors merged with Leyland and Faringdon in 2007.
Since then Makinson – whose son Andrew plays for Leyland – has presided over a golden period for the club.
Over the past few years, they have been consistently one of the better teams in the Northern League.
And their team is full of exciting young talent like Henry Thompson and Ross Bretherton, while former player Luis Reece has gone on to play for Lancashire
“Since we won the league the first time in 2010, we have been far and away the most consistent team in the league,” he said.
“In the last seven seasons, we have come first, second, third, first in 2013, I think we were second or third in 2014 and last season’s fifth place was our worst finish for some time.
“This season, we are going to come first or second probably – hopefully first – that will be nice.
“But we have done well to say we’ve lost the likes of Luis. He was with us since the start of it all in 2010 and played a massive part.
“When you think about the new rules about allowing two overseas players, we’ve only been able to afford one.
“We are lucky that we have got a nucleus of seven or eight lads, who have all been together since 2010 and we just keep adding to it with the younger lads.
“It helps that they are coming in to a winning environment and we’re looking to develop them, but they have to be good players to get in the team.”
One player who has played an important role in Leyland’s success over the years has been South African overseas star Brett Pelser, who helped guide the club to their previous two title triumphs.
With fellow Springbok Richardt Frenz having to cut short his stay at Fox Lane this summer, Pelser is primed to turn out for Leyland as their sub-pro next weekend in what could be a potential title decider on the final day against Blackpool at Stanley Park.
“Before Brett’s arrival we had a lot of decent players who needed that extra push and belief installing,” said Makinson, who is married to Sue and has a daughter Rachel.
“Brett provided it and has proved himself an excellent coach for our youngsters. He has continued to this day to do one-to-one coaching with many of our younger players.” As for Makinson himself, he still loves the thrill of taking a wicket or hitting a boundary despite being half-way through his six decade.
“If I wasn’t enjoying it, I wouldn’t be playing,” he said.
“As long as I am still worth my place in the team, I will carry on playing.”