Newmarket Cricket Club's return brings back memories for former club member
The resurgence of Newmarket Cricket Club, and its official launch by legendary West Indian bowler Michael Holding this month, has brought back a host of memories for a former player of when the team were champions of Suffolk.
Keith White played for the club in the late 1960s, and into the 1970s, when it shared the town ground, a former rubbish tip, with the football club.
The tip had been filled in to create the playing surfaces but as Keith remembered it was hardly a level playing field.
“The fact that it had been a rubbish tip explained why when I fielded in the same position in the first home game each season I was thinking the level of the ground had altered and it had due to the ever decaying rubbish,” he said.
“It was amazing how the wicket never really played badly, mainly down to the hard work of the club members who did the maintenance as we did not have a groundsman.”
The club’s first single wicket competition was in 1965 when guest fielder was none other than the then Bury St Edmunds MP Eldon Griffiths.
Then, three year later, club players took part in a benefit match for England opening batsman, John Edrich, which was attended by several Surrey county players.
Keith was opening bat but during his playing days always hoped his side would be fielding first as, growing up at Warren Place, the son of Jim White, travelling head lad for Royal trainer Sir Noel Murless, the yard usually had a runner in the 2pm televised race on a Saturday which Keith wanted to watch. “It was always a photo-finish to make the town ground and pad up for 2.30pm,” he said.
The club thrived and enjoyed its most successful period in the 1970s when it joined the Suffolk league led by its talented captain Mick Nash.
Nash was later to move to Scotland where, after many years playing and umpiring in the Scottish County League, he was recently appointed umpire development manager for Cricket Scotland.
Newmarket’s first trophy came in 1974 when the team won the Fisher Cup, a success it repeated the following year when it also added the Ingham Cup to the trophy cabinet. In 1977 the team won the Fairhaven Cup and the same season topped division one of the Suffolk League for the first time after several near misses.
“The club’s highest score record was 357 against Stetchworth in the first round of the Fisher Cup in 1975,” said Keith, “when Mick recorded another record of 194 not out. We had to extend the club’s overdraft to replace all the balls that he hit out of the town ground into the neighbouring allotments never to be seen again,” said Keith.
Early in1976 club members decided they needed a new pavilion, so two pre-fab buildings were bought and, thanks to the skills of the members and their wide net of contacts, it was completed and officially opened in September of that year by Lady Butt, the club’s president, who made the trip from her home in Guernsey to perform the ceremony.
Such was their president’s generosity that the club made two tours of the Channel island in 1973 and again in 1975 when members were the special guests at garden parties hosted by Lady Butt. “The tour results left much to be desired, mainly due to her late night alcoholic generosity,” said Keith.
Competitive as the club was, its friendly fixtures were much enjoyed, in particular at Fenners, Cambridge University Cricket Club’s ground, reputedly one of the best wickets in the country. There they played against Cambridge YMCA who used the ground when the university was on its summer break.
“I am still in contact with some of their players who always remind me of the time one of the return fixtures coincided with the the annual visit of the circus to Newmarket where it was based at the town ground,” said Keith. “They housed the animals in the far corner of the ground and play had to be halted several times when a llama decided to wander behind the bowler or a friendly giraffe took up a position at long leg.”
Another much-loved fixture was against the historic, and exclusive, Cambridge University Pitt Club, established by William Pitt in 1835. “Their players always seemed to try and break the world record for the number of Pimms consumed during, yes during, and after the match,” said Keith. “Unbridled hospitality and wonderful times.”
In the early 1980s, the club moved from the town ground to the George Lambton playing field in Fordham Road and that was when Keith took his leave from the side. “I missed the camaraderie as much as I did the cricket,” he said. “The world has certainly changed since I last played and I wish the current team every success and, hopefully, as much fun as we had at the town ground.”