Many Liverpudlians are familiar with the great sportsmen the city has produced, boxers, footballers, athletes, skaters, cricketers and so on. But the name of Alan Gibson Steel is probably known to few, despite the fact that he was one of the outstanding cricketers of his age, a player in the first ever test match and one whose name is inscribed on the famous Ashes urn.
He was born on 24th September 1858, the son of shipowner Joseph Steel who lived at 2 Southhill Grove L8 (now demolished). His cricketing prowess was first established at Marlborough School and when at Trinity College Cambridge he excelled for the university team. He played for England at the Oval in 1880 in the first test match played in England and also played in the narrow defeat in 1882 which led to the famous mock obituary in the Sporting Times saying "R.I.P. English Cricket...the body will be cremated and the ashes will be taken to Australia". Soon afterwards, Steel set off for Australia with his Cambridge University friends Ivo Bligh and the Studd brothers George and Charles, and a team they had put together. They toured Australia in 1882–83 and won the agreed series 2–1, thus being given a small urn. They are commemorated by the poem inscribed on the side of the urn
When Ivo goes back with the urn, the urn;
Studds, Steel, Read and Tylecote, return, return;
The welkin will ring loud,
The great crowd will feel proud,
Seeing Barlow and Bates with the urn, the urn;
And the rest coming home with the urn.
In 1884 his score of 148 was the first-ever test match century scored at Lords. In 1886 he captained England to a 3-0 whitewash against Australia. Overall he played in 13 tests, scoring 600 runs at an average of just over 35. He also took 29 wickets at an average of just over 20. His first class career saw him amass 7000 runs and take 789 wickets. His first-class career ended in 1890 and in 1902 he was President of the MCC. Many rate Steel an equal to W. G. Grace as an all-rounder. The Doctor himself was a big fan of Steel. He wrote in Classic Guide to Cricket: “I have never envied a county the possession of any cricketer so much as I envied Lancashire the possession of Mr A.G. Steel.” WG was never one to dish out compliments easily!
After qualifying as a barrister Steel practised law in Liverpool with chambers at 20 Harrington Street L3. He went on to become a King’s Council (1901) and Recorder of Oldham (1903) — a position he held till his death in 1914.He lived firstly at 6 Albert Park L17 (now demolished) and in the 1890s at 79 Ullet Road L17 before moving to London.
Steel married Georgina Dorothy (née Thomas). One son, Allan Ivo Steel, played for Middlesex, and served as a lieutenant of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards regiment and was killed on active service in 1917 , aged 25. Another son, John "Jack" Steel, who served in the Royal Navy. A Lieutenant, he was washed overboard in heavy seas and drowned, en route to take on the command of HMS Munster on 18 April 1918.
Alan Gibson Steel died on 15th June 1914, aged 55, at Paddington.
Alan Gibson Steel's Liverpool home in the 1890s.
© Liverpool Footprints