It’s nearly twenty years ago that Clyde Walcott was professional with Enfield in the Lancashire league but Jack Simmons remembers him well. He almost lived at our house and he took me into the nets for hours to coach my batting but it was my Dad who made me bowl spinners’. They always teaseled to games in Clyde’s car and there developed a real friendship between the great West Indian player and the twelve-year-old boy.
The coaching was never wasted and young Jack captained North Lancashire schoolboys against South Lancashire at Old Trafford, then represented Lancashire boys against several other counties. To watch him now 6ft 2 inches and 14 stones it’s hard to recall him with his chubby red face and flaming hair as the smallest youngster in the North Lancashire team. At the age of 14, he joined the Accrington Town team, then Enfield, and was selected to tour with the Lancashire Federation under 18 sides.
Jack Simmons continually in the cricket news gave every appearance of being a good county prospect, and in 1959 he was invited to play for Lancashire’s second eleven where he averaged 23 with the bat yet did little bowling, taking 4-36 in 12 overs. Still, as an amateur, he was invited to return in 1960 and it was arranged that he could have time off from work for cricket provided that he made up the loss. The arrangement worked well even if he did have to work every Saturday morning from the end of the season until Christmas.
After a long illness, his father died in 1961 and with his two sisters already married, he was left to support his mother on an apprentice draughtsman’s salary. It was to cricket that he turned as a means of increasing his income and he accepted a position in the Ribblesdak League as a professional which brought him an extra five pounds per week. It could well have been this situation that caused him to lose contact with the county for no further approach was made for several years. it was 1968 before he was asked if he would again play for Lancashire’s second team.
Against Derby Jack Simmons played well enough to remain in the side for the Warwickshire match and he proved himself by taking 9 wickets in the game and making 87 in one inning. A county debut came against Northamptonshire at Blackpool when he managed 3 for 44 but although he lost touch with the bat he had arrived in first-class cricket and commenced his first full season in 1969 at the age of twenty-eight. When given chance at occasion arises Lancashire’s night watchmen bat well at Hove. Geoff Clayton made 84 there in 1963 and in 1970 Jack had to face five balls overnight, was asked to see the shine off the next morning, and stayed until after lunch while making his highest score of 112.
It was also in 1970 that he acquired the name of ‘Flat Jack’ when bowling against Yorkshire. Usually, a spinner flights the ball in a counts game but in league cricket, it is invariably pushed through at the maximum pace that will still allow it to turn. Bred in league cricket Jack Simmons uses this delivery in one-day games, pushing the ball through with a flat trajectory and aiming to put it up in the block hole.
Playing in a special one-day ‘Roses’ game at Tewkesbury during Gloucestershire’s centenary celebrations Yorkshire needed about 15 to win, three overs to go, and several wickets in hand but ‘Flat Jack’ earned his name by taking five wickets in two overs and Lancashire was just home. For over ten years he played soccer in the winter sharing a duel center forward role with David Freeman and regularly scoring around forty goals but he tended to suffer breakages fairly frequently and finally left the game.
Jack Simmons left leg was broken three times his right leg once and he also broke his left arm. On one occasion he was away from work with a cracked bone in his leg, it was thought to be mended but he was still attending the hospital and not signed off as fit. In a Saturday needle match, he scored three goals and when he saw the doctor on Monday for a final check there was a local paper on the desk with a sports page headline ‘Simmons back with a hat trick’.
He was signed off but three weeks later it broke again. Now he returns to his work as a draughtsman during the winter unless he is coaching in South Africa or Tasmania. Mildly, he’s a gambler with a liking for cards, a gentle flutter on the horses and sometimes on the dogs but although he admits to not winning much it’s also true that he doesn’t lose much either. Golf, television, and radio are his relaxations and he enjoys a holiday cruise. In cricket, he has high regard for men like Colin Cowdrey.
Rohan Kanhai and Garry Sobers sometimes wonder how he ever came to leave league cricket and bowl against such famous players. Jack Bond, he held in high esteem ‘It was not so much what Jack did as how he did it—he was a great captain, especially to us less experienced players’. There is no doubt that his big heart is in Lancashire cricket and he once said with humor, ‘Don’t let the secretary know but I’d play this game for nothing’.