WlLLIAM HENRY COPSON, the auburn-haired Derbyshire fast bowler, was born at Stonebroom a small village near Alfreton in Derbyshire, on April 27, 1909. As a boy he never took any interest in cricket. There were no facilities for the game at Stonebroom where he was educated and on leaving school he went to work in the mines at Morton Colliery, near Chesterfield. But for the general strike in the summer of 1926 he might never have been seen in cricket.
On the miners leaving the pits, Copson was persuaded by his colleagues to occupy his spare time with them on the local recreation ground. He was then 17 years of age and surprised his team mates and opponents by his accurate, fast bowling.
No one told him how to bowl; he simply ran to the wicket in his own way and, like most youngsters, hurled down the ball as fast as he could. He hit the stumps so often that he was promptly found a place in the Morton Colliery second team and in 1927 he became a valuable member of the first eleven.
After spending about four seasons with Morton, Copson joined the Clay Cross club in the Derbyshire League and he achieved the greatest performance of his junior days when he took all ten Staveley wickets in an innings for five runs.
Meanwhile, his steady improvement was followed closely by Mr. Fred Marsh, the secretary of Morton Colliery C.C., and to him belongs the credit for introducing Copson to the Derbyshire county authorities in 1931. Given that year a trial at the nets at Derby, Copson in 1932 made his entry into first-class cricket at the Oval, where he attracted immediate attention by bowling Sandham with the first ball he sent down for his county eleven and afterwards dismissing such renowned Surrey batsmen as D.R. Jardine, Tom Shepherd and P.G.H. Fender.
That year Copson took 46 wickets in County Championship matches and next summer he progressed so rapidly that his victims numbered 90 for just over 21 runs each. Maintaining his form in 1934, Copson obtained 91 wickets, average 17.61, and undoubtedly would have done better had not poor health kept him out of a number of games. In 1935 he again missed several matches, but took 71 wickets for just over 16 runs apiece.
Derbyshire made every effort to get him thoroughly fit and he was sent away to Skegness to recuperate. At one time it was feared that Copson was afflicted by a serious ailment and the club had him examined by specialists whose reports dispelled those doubts about his condition. It was found he was suffering from a strained sacro-iliac joint at the lower extremity of the back.
As part of the treatment to remedy this weakness, Copson went into training with the Chesterfield Football Club and the value of physical exercises was shown last summer when he jumped right to the fore and his deadly bowling was one of the main factors in Derbyshire winning the Championship. In the course of the season he credited himself with many fine performances, his outstanding feat being 12 wickets for 52 runs against Surrey at Derby.
He gained recognition in the North and South trial and the Gentlemen and Players matches at Lord's, and at the end of the summer had the impressive record of 160 wickets at a cost of 13.34 runs apiece. Though he had never figured in a Test Match no surprise was caused when his name appeared in the list of players chosen to participate in the tour to Australia.
Taking an easy run up to the wicket, Copson hesitates slightly before releasing the ball. He is not particularly fast through the air but can make the ball swing either way very late and his quick pace off the pitch often finds the batsmen unprepared, besides causing them to make hurried strokes. Few men of pace can get so much out of a lifeless pitch and at times he whips the ball back so unexpectedly that he is almost unplayable. As a batsman, Copson does not excel, but he is a dependable fieldsman close to the wicket.