Teams: Yorkshire (1963), Somerset (1966-1971)
1000 runs in a season: 2
Most runs in a season: 1246 (av. 27.68), in 1970
Best batting average in a season: 28.14 (760 runs), in 1971 (final season)
100 wickets in a season: none
Most wickets in a season: 7 (av. 16.28), in 1967
Best bowling average in a season: 16.28 (7 wkts), in 1967
Most catches in a season: 23, in 1970
Highest score: 131, Somerset v Northamptonshire, at Northampton, 1969
Best bowling: 3/51, Somerset v Essex, at Yeovil, 1967
Tony Clarkson, currently a first-class umpire, was an opening batsman who also bowled off-breaks, and played for his native Yorkshire and Somerset. He was born and grew up at Killinghall, near Harrogate, where he still lives. His father was a league professional for Rothwell in the Leeds League before the Second World War, while his uncles also played the game.
Tony remembers at the age of nine or ten going to Boroughbridge with his father and Maurice Leyland, a friend of his father, to watch a junior match as Leyland wanted a look at a promising youngster. His first experiences as a player came for his grammar school and for the Killinghall team in the Nidderdale League, which he first represented at the age of 11. At 15 he progressed to the Harrogate team. He recalls his father helping him in the basics of the game, but was not formally coached until he went to the Harrogate Yorkshire nets at the age of 14 or 15.
So quickly did he progress that in his second season for Harrogate he was opening both batting and bowling for the club. In his years with the town side he scored several centuries, remembering in particular one against Scarborough, who fielded two renowned bowlers in Geoff Dennis, father of the Yorkshire and Glamorgan pace bowler Simon, and Bill Foord, who played occasionally for Yorkshire and was actually offered a contract by the county at one stage, but as a teacher decided it was not worth his while to play full-time.
The county kept an eye on Tony after his first appearances in the Yorkshire nets, and after more success in club cricket he made his debut for Yorkshire Seconds in 1958, playing for them until 1964 and receiving his cap, he thinks, in 1961 or 1962. However, his only appearances for the Yorkshire first team were in matches in 1963 where the county’s Test players were unavailable.
An operation for appendicitis at the age of about 19 persuaded him to change from bowling seamers to off-breaks. “I realized I could turn it,” he said, “so I thought after the operation it would be easier for me.” Consequently he made his first-class debut at Bristol as a stand-in for Ray Illingworth.
He averaged only 11 in his six first-class matches for Yorkshire, his highest score being 30 against Worcestershire in Bradford, a valuable innings in the middle order on an awkward pitch.
Tony had left school in 1957, but there was no immediate chance of professional cricket in those days, as Yorkshire did not have a staff but paid match fees, with capped players being given a retainer during the winter. Tony went into civil engineering and stayed in that professional for most of his working life. When he went to Somerset he got a job in the guildhall at Bath as an engineering assistant, which became his winter occupation while he played for the county during the summer. After his time there he returned to Harrogate and worked for the water company until his retirement in 1991.
Tony’s main memory of his few matches for Yorkshire, and his main memory of his debut against Gloucestershire, was taking two wickets with his off-breaks, two class batsmen in Martin Young and Arthur Milton. He also remembers a remarkable match at Headingley against Middlesex, where the visitors were bowled out for 47 in their first innings, only to score 251 for four, by far the highest total of the match, to win in the end. Tony took two of those wickets, but scored only 13 and 2.
Yorkshire, county champions for most of the years between 1959 and 1968, had a strong, settled side, and Tony was unable to get the assurances he needed about a career in cricket from the county. He had been a regular second-team player for several years, had been capped by them, and believes that apart from Mike Fearnley he was now their senior player. But his dilemma was that by now he needed to make a choice between making a career outside the game or concentrating on cricket.
When the county was not prepared to give him those assurances, he took the decision to pack up and move south to Torquay. There he was spotted by scouts from both Somerset and Gloucestershire, and both counties offered him a contract. He took the Somerset offer because of assurances that he would be given a lot of bowling, while Gloucestershire were rich in spin; in the event, due he says to ‘certain player politics’, he did not bowl as much as he had expected.
The bonus, though, was that after a season at number five, he moved up to open the innings, the specialist position he wanted, taking the place of Graham Atkinson who moved up to Lancashire. When the Sunday League began in 1969, he became the first English player to score a century in the competition, following Somerset’s overseas player, Greg Chappell. The best weekend in his cricketing life, he says, was at Northampton, where he ‘scored 40-odd (actually 25) on the Saturday, a hundred in the Sunday League, fielded on Monday and then on Tuesday scored 131’. This was his maiden first-class century, another (105) coming the following season against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
Tony’s career ended rather prematurely, as after the 1971 season the county decided to have a clear-out of a number of players, including Tony. He had just enjoyed his best season with the bat, averaging 28, but had critically lost form in August. He was not offered a contract, but several players intervened on his behalf and he was finally reinstated. This procedure took a couple of months, and in the meantime he had had a job offer from Harrogate. He considered the options long and hard, but eventually decided that at his stage of life it would be better for himself and his family if he took the job and returned to league cricket in preference to the county game.
So, after being reinstated by Somerset, Tony resigned, a turnabout he found most satisfying, and returned to Yorkshire. He played for several clubs as a professional until 1991, when he was 51. He had five very successful years in the North Yorkshire-South Durham league, he recalls, scoring more than 1000 runs, not a common feat, in each of his five years there. In the Bradford League, playing for Windhill, he was at one time the second-highest aggregate run-scorer in their history, second to Vinoo Mankad. Several times also he received double collections, for both batting and bowling performances in the same match.
Tony actually became, it is believed, the first player ever who played for Yorkshire, left the county to play for another, and then returned to play for Yorkshire again, although this was not in a first-class match. It took place in a one-day match at Harrogate, shortly after he had left Somerset. Barrie Leadbeater had been called away as his father was dying, and a replacement was urgently needed. “I lived near the ground, so Chris Old and Geoff Cope asked me if I could get my kit and come and play,” he says. “Funnily enough, it was against Somerset and I think I got 30-odd.”
In 1991 he finally closed his cricketing career, and also retired from his job in Harrogate on a voluntary severance package, proceeding to run his own business involving architectural work. At the same time, he applied to go on to the first-class umpires’ list. He was on the reserve list for four years, and in 1996 was promoted to the county circuit.
As a batsman, Tony admits that he was more adventurous at number five than when opening the batting, as the uncovered pitches of those days and the quality seamers taking the new ball meant that openers had to dig in and be very wary. He had no particular preference for the front or back foot; eschewing the hook and cut, he scored most of his runs from drives or pulls.
Like most former players, he believes the game has changed a great deal since he became a player. “The ground fielding nowadays is far superior to what it used to be,” he says. “The catching is no better. The batting is different because they are playing on completely different pitches; all I knew in county cricket was uncovered pitches. Unfortunately the game is deteriorating as what I would call a gentleman’s sport. Cheating is rife, which to me means that the players don’t respect each other. Some of them who nick the ball, and who don’t just nick it but hit the cover off the ball, will stand and look at you – it’s most embarrassing.
“Cricket has been good to me and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve met loads and loads of good and interesting people, and I’d have been a poorer man without the game.”
(Article: Copyright © 2004 John Ward)