...and found them just as much a part of the match as players, umpires, groundsmen and spectators. Some became, and still remain good friends, others kept their wary distance and protected the scorer’s box as if it was their fiefdom. But throughout my playing days the scorer’s box produced a bevy of colourful characters, which is why I find it sad when premier clubs have to advertise for a club scorer these days. OK, its probably part of the overall erosion of cricket traditions in the modern era, but somehow I feel we are losing much of the charm and unique character the partisan cricket scribes brought to the local game.
In any trip down memory lane we inevitably revert back to our playing days and highlight some of our favourites, although sadly many have passed to a higher calling. At North Down we were blessed with a wonderful guy called John Patton who is still very much a part of the Comber cricket scene, but thankfully he’s enjoying his ‘retirement’ and well he should. John endeared himself to everyone, friend or foe, and over four decades he was an integral part of the 1st XI. He was hugely popular with everyone, which is another reason why the players genuinely loved the scorers. However, this wasn’t always the case and in my day the ‘Villain of the piece” was often the late Bothwell Vennard at Laurelvale.
Bothwell was a former Irish League footballer and like any doting father he had a deep affection for his offsprings. The County Armagh team were lively opponents and matches were usually close. Quite often the scorebooks didn’t tally towards the end of the game and the first place to investigate was the bowling analysis of Vennard brothers! I’m not saying Bothwell’s mischievous smile was a giveaway, but it was hard enough keeping Eddie and Cyril at bay on the pitch to then to discover their bowling figures were ten times better than they should have been!
Billy Best scored for Lurgan and Waringstown and if you got on the wrong side of Billy his tongue was as sharp as his pen, but over the years he mellowed, largely because he was always in the winner’s enclosure against North Down!
One of our big favourites was the legendary Pat Rogan the North of Ireland scorer. Pat was a retired headmaster who had a dry wit and limitless reservoir of knowledge and intellect that was largely wasted on us. We always saw Pat as different, not least because he was an ardent Celtic supporter and you don’t see many of them in Comber, so he was treated with some suspicion and intrigue in the early days. However, he was a loveable and engaging character. The North Down and North of Ireland players got on well with each over in the 1980s and one particular after-match drinking session ended up in the irascible Miller O’Prey’s house not far from The Green. Miller’s wife Betty was out with the girls when we all arrived and everyone congregated in the kitchen. Perhaps a little too much drink was taken and as the night wore on the fridge was emptied to feed the hungry guests. In the middle of the pandemonium Betty unexpectantly arrived home and bellowed across the kitchen “who’s taken the dog’s bone out of the fridge?” Almost immediately and in tandem all eyes turned towards the corner of the room where Pat Rogan was devouring what he thought was delicious pork chop! Pat never lived this story down, and when he retired in 1994 cricket lost a one-off great character. North were then fortunate to have the much-travelled Ros McMullan from Limavady and the genial Peter Russell as successors because each brought interesting personalities to the scorer’s box. However, although they were both very competent they could never replicate the amazing Pat Rogan. Nobody could!
GD ‘George” McKillen was the Instonians and Ulster Town scorer for many years and was a chirpy little know-all. He smoked like a train and drank like a fish, but he kept a great scorebook. He was besotted with everyone’s initials and used colour pens with the precision of a heart surgeon. Gin and tonic was his medicine and he could down plenty of it especially if someone else was buying. Wee George was never too quick to buy, but you could never dislike him.
Lisburn’s Dick Shaw was an ex-Army Englishman who came to Northern Ireland during the war and stayed. Dick regularly referred to himself as WO2 Shaw and was a former Lisburn player. He had a droll wit and always enjoyed a few drinks in the Wallace Park clubhouse after the match. Sometimes a few too many like the rest of us!
When it came to competency there was no scorer to match the inimitable Dr. EM Power! Murray knew the game and the Laws inside out and was equally at home either as Scorer or Umpire. He reached international status in both disciplines, no mean achievement.
Over the years we had some charming ladies in the box as well and Jackie Neill, Joy Muir and Judith Hewitt come quickly to mind. Perhaps they had little choice but to take up scoring. I know if Jackie was ever going to see her sports-mad husband Neville then this was the only way. We had many fiery encounters with Ballymena over the years, but we never had any problems with their lovely scorer. Indeed, seeing her and John Patton set up the score-box for a match was like two lovers laying out a picnic table such was the camaraderie they had with each other!
Space prevents me from reminiscing about other lazy days at Muckamore, Downpatrick and et al, but it doesn’t remove the affection I fondly recall with many dear friends in the score-box, past and present.
If we have to advertise to get scorers these days I feel the characters must be disappearing and that’s very sad.