CLUB HISTORY 1936-2015
By Brian Scovell, Life President
The club was formed in 1936 by a group of toffs, mainly public school boys who loved cricket, particularly village cricket. One of them was inspired by reading A.G. McDonnell's book England, their England mentioning a village cricket match. Around 1978 it was filmed on the ground at Tilford, one of our oldest fixtures and shown on BBC TV. There are no records and no survivors so the story is taken up in 1963 when I was reporting an England v West Indies at Trent Bridge. There had been a rain break and with little to do, I was skimming through the ads of The Times. I saw one saying Woodpeckers CC wanted quality players for social wandering cricket around London. I took out my portable typewriter and knocked out a rather cheeky letter, claiming that I was another Gary Sobers, opening both batting and bowling and being a great close fielder. At the time I had just started a seven year stint ghost writing Gary's syndicated articles for about 25 newspapers around the world. In 1988 I ghost wrote Gary's first autobiography.
Two days later I received a letter from the President Tony Cadman inviting me to attend a meeting at the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane. When I arrived, I sat across from three very happy, bulbous elderly men who were very keen to sign me. I apologised, saying "I'm only an ordinary third team cricketer." "Don't worry," said Tony, "I like your style." My first game took place at the old Westerham CC ground at The Squirryes, next to a 17th century manor house close to the house where William Pitt the Younger, the Prime Minister, lived. As I started driving up the unmade up road to the ground, I saw a parked white Bentley and sitting in it was Tony Cadman. "Are you stranded?" I said. "Oh no," he said. "I don't want to take my vehicle up there, it would get mud on the wheels!" Not concerned about getting mud on my Triumph Herald, I gave him a lift. I scored a quick duck, bowled well below the standard of Gary Sobers and dropped a catch. Afterwards John Boyd-Carpenter, the secretary, congratulated me and said "I suppose you want to play again next week?"
Barrie Hill was the captain and found it difficult to raise a side in 1965, with most of the senior officers retiring or in one case, dying at the wheel from a heart attack, I volunteered to take over. The club had few outstanding players in our multi race collection of cricketers and one of them was Bradman Benka-Coker who bowled fast and hit the ball very hard and played several games for Uganda. His twin Ponsford played rugby and they were named after Bradman and Ponsford who set a world record. Younger homegrown players were recruited, including Matt Wall, our redoubtable retired left handed opener, Paul Davidson, our small, ginger haired medium pace bowler who bowled line and length and took a record 451 wickets, both teachers and an Irish teenager from Shepherds Bush by the name of Mick Hogan. Mick was an embryonic Botham and I fixed up trials for him at Middlesex and Surrey but he failed to turn up. He was never coached but bowled 80 mph with a high action, played some wonderful, attacking shots and held some brilliant close catches. Within eighteen months he had disappeared. Paul was the gutsiest sportsman I've ever seen. He was a diabetic and at the age of 58, still playing football, gangrene set into one of his legs and it had to be amputated. He was talking about a comeback when I saw him in the Gillingham Hospital but a week later, he died of MRSA. A terrible loss to humanity, and cricket. On one memorable occasion when a group of rowdy schoolboys approached the main entrance of his school in the inner city carrying bricks he strode out, alone, to face them and realising it was him, they were dissuaded from attacking the school.
We encourage wives to bring their children to games for a day out, usually to a beauty spot and that tradition is firmly set. My wife Audrey, an artist, would sell the idea to them and when she died on Christmas Day 2000 at the age of 58, we had a rather large trophy called The Audrey Scovell Memorial Cup for the person we thought contributed the most to maintaining the Woodies ethos. We presented it to Paul as the first winner just before he died and he said "that's the finest thing that has happened to me."
For the next forty odd years I filled most of the posts and with help of good, sound men like Alan Wood, a brilliant all rounder and sportsman, Patrick Owen-Browne, an ultra enthusiastic all rounder from a distinguished cricketing family and Gavin, my son, I ran this unique club. I love it. Two stalwarts, Hugh Stoneman senior who played for Cornwall's Minor County side, and his son Hugh Stoneman Junior, known as Bingo, an artist, set the pattern. Senior was a delightful man who worked as a private detective exposing rich folks' adultery cases, among other things. He was a very slow inswing left arm bowler good enough to take 9-33 against a team of hard hitting West Indians representing Lewisham Hospital, the best analysis by any Woodie. When I would ask Hugh for advice he always said "Put Bingo on!" When I spoke to Bingo he would say "Put Dad on!"
Another great character was the Fleet Street journalist and author Bob Harris who had three eight wicket hauls. Bob was a junior at Warwickshire and bowled off a 25 yard run and delivered every type of ball, including googlies. Any suggestion that he should be taken off was greeted with an angry response. Once at Hertford Brewery, on a sizzling hot day, he ran up and suddenly collapsed holding his heart. Everyone gathered round and we all thought he had a heart attack because he looked ghastly. I said to Paul Davidson "you better finish his over." Bob's eyes opened and staggered to his feet. "I'll be fit to continue thank you," he said. And he bowled another 23 overs.
In post-WW11 years we had an outbreak of Owen-Brownes. Twin brothers Colin and Kim played and in the field they spent a lot of time trying to beat each other on long throws. Over throws piled up. Both threw the ball more than 100 yards. Sadly Colin died at the age of 38 and his son Patrick has done a fantastic job in charge and invariably he is able to sign up unsuspecting possible cricketing recruits at the last minute. He still has a powerful long throw and has a club record of direct hits of run outs. Colin's elder son Alastair plays occasionally as a left hand batsman and spin bowler, excelling with both bat and ball. Three other OBs, Toby, Rupert and Jamie, sons of Kim, have also played and Toby specialises in scoring spectacular centuries or ducks. Rupert’s two young sons made their debuts at Withyham at eight and ten and both took wickets.
We have always had Australians in the side and they love playing this kind of cricket. Three of them were ear, nose and throat consultants and when I was hit in the mouth by a bouncer bowled by an 18 year old named Steve Deathridge at Withyham in 1978, none of them was able to discover that I had a broken jaw until I went to my dentist next day. Dr Mike Jay from Adelaide still comes over most years and at Christmas, he usually rings up volunteering to play. His son Alex, a also a doctor, had a couple successful seasons with us and the two sons of Dr Ross Elliott from Melbourne, brother of former multi millionaire John Elliott of Foster's infamy before he lost his fortune, also played a season with the Woodies.
Alan Wood, who has now passed Allan Border's tally of 12,000 Test runs and is our second leading scorer with 24 centuries, sometimes appears in the same side with his son Robbie. A former deputy Headmaster, he did the club's averages for more than twenty years which was unusual because he never played for his averages. He had a reputation of hitting a six off the first ball he received. He was the ideal clubman and his all round skills were phenomenal. The family links continue with 17 year old Olly Gower, grandson of Nigel Phethean, aged 60, playing in the side side. We even had lady players. Rebecca Watkinson, whose father David took 283 wickets for us, was an U19 player with Kent and played several matches with his Dad.
One of our most cherished players was Chris Rossi who was still playing in his mid 70s, battling away against cancer for eighteen years and still opening the innings. He was a heroic man, much loved and he died on September 20, 2014 at the age of 76. Two weeks ago he opened at Tadworth, faced four balls and was caught for a duck. "Terrible shot," he said. "Worst ever. Just spooned the ball up to an American from Des Moines, USA called Sura in Minnesota. I ask you!" I first played with him for the Norwich Barleycorns in 1958, an apt name because for most of his life he was a manager supplying beer and spirits to pubs around the West Country and in the South. He was descended from a famous Italian clockmaker and inventor Georgio Rossi from Como who became naturalised in England in 1845. Renamed George, he has a Blue Plaque in the main square in Norwich. Chris was known as "Ba Ba" because they called him the black sheep of the family!
Sixteen Test players have played for us, starting in 1966 when my great friend Willie Rodriguez, the West Indian, legspin and googly bowler started the trend. Others include Sarfraz Nawaz, Salahuddin, Aftab Gul, Amir Sohail (Pakistan), Danny Morrison (NZ), Geoff Lawson, Michael Slater (Australia), Ian Bishop (WI), BS Chandrasekhar and T.K. Sekhar an opening bowler who played 4 Tests for India in 1988-9 and took 7-40 for us against the Royal Household at Windsor. The Queen's staff were so upset, they refused to play against us in future. Qamar Ahmed, our now retired slow left arm bowler who played first class cricket in Pakistan and is the only bowler who dismissed Hanif Mohammad and his four brothers, introduced the anonymous bowler to us.
We pride ourselves on our quality of our men. They are good men but there was one exception, the Pakistan opener Aftab Gul. He made two appearances, the first one at Hertford Brewery and he and kept up a torrent of abuse, upsetting both teams. A year later, he was arrested for having Sam missiles in his house. He he friends in high places and after being exiled for several years, he is now back in Pakistan continuing his work as a lawyer.
Speakers at our prestigious dinners include Gary Lineker, John Emburey, Angus Fraser, Graham Gooch, Nasser Hussain, Mark Ramprakash, Mark Butcher, Alec Stewart, Ian Ward, Ashley Giles and Nick Knight. Simon Hughes, ex Middlesex and Durham, upset the ladies once with his rugby style speech and when he sat down I looked at the sleeping Richard Nowell on the top table and said "My learned friend Richard has understandably dropped off to sleep so I am asking Simon to repeat his speech." There were howls of "No, no, sit down!"
My son Gavin was a junior at Kent and could have played county cricket but he preferred working in TV as a cricket director, the only one who has worked in ten Full Member countries of the ICC. He holds most of the Woodies' records - 184* the highest score, 25 centuries, 49 50s, one every four innings and Woodpecker of the Year 4 times. There have been some great stories from the 1,200 odd matches and the one I like most concerns the Australian swing bowler from Perth, Simon Hare. We were looking as though we would lose at Tilford and the number 6 batsman was pulling a succession of sixes over the Barley Mow pub. As the rain fell harder, the ball became almost impossible to hold. I said to Simon, who fielded on that side of the ground on the boundary, "Next time the ball is throw back, lose it and that's our only chance of using a dry ball." A six went over the pub, someone threw it back and Simon promptly hurled the ball into the nearby river. The umpire looked at me and said "Have you seen that? That man has thrown the ball into the river!" I said "Yes, I did but he is from Western Australia and they're all batty!" After a short interval of backchat the game resumed and with a dry ball, we achieved a worthy draw. At another game at Tilford, an Aussie named Mike Pringle raced round the same boundary and caught a miraculous diving catch. A dozen or so locals started shouting "Don't leave the wicket Fred, the guy was over the line when he caught it. He's a cheating bastard." Mike said "Hold on a minute. I'm an Australian cheat but not a bastard. Let's sort this out in the pub. What do you like to drink?"
To finish, I'd like to set down my version of the best Woodies XI: Alan Wood, Gavin Scovell, Will Elliott, Mick Hogan, Patrick Owen-Browne, Tony Cozier (WI wicket keeper and broadcaster, one of our members), Mike Jay, Frank Dabell, Qamar Ahmed, Hugh Stoneman Senior and Paul Davidson. 12th man: Matt Wall. They can all bowl and they like a drink and a joke. And they don't worry about getting mud on their tyres.