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Harlow CC's Seasons from the Past – Part II

©Harlow CC

The second of our series looking back at the club’s history, on and off the field, takes us to 1971.

These were turbulent times around the world and also rather closer to home with Marigolds under threat, hockey playing interlopers descending and our players taking their first tentative steps into competitive league cricket.

It was also a time when some true legends of the club wore the baggy green of Harlow. Not only were the likes of Ray Day, Peter Prodger, Lew Whitby, Bob Waller and Michael Burdekin very fine cricketers with significant playing longevity, they also made a huge contribution to its running and long-term survival off the field.

I suspect how one views the decade of the 1970’s depends rather on your age at the time. For my generation of 60’s baby boomers it was on the whole pretty good fun with the joys of orange Trophy footballs, Stuart Sturridge bats, space hoppers and Rayleigh Chopper bikes. For the grown-ups it was a turbulent time of industrial disputes, terrorism, global conflict, a new currency and a new dawn in the relationship with our European neighbours.

Whilst Richard Nixon was, in his own uniquely dishonest way, attempting to untangle the United States from its disaster in Vietnam, the British government, under Edward Heath, was trying to suppress violent uprising in Northern Ireland by deploying ever increasing volumes of military resources to the province leading to escalation on both sides. Large scale industrial disputes and strikes were to blight the decade with the Postal workers first off the start line no doubt attempting to balance wages in a climate of sky-high inflation pushing 10% a year. Meanwhile, a new young Education Minister, named Margaret Thatcher, pushed through measures to end free milk in schools every day. Everyone lived under the spectre of the global cold war with the Soviet Union.

Conflict was not simply restricted to the English-speaking world. Tragically, the foundation of Bangladesh as a new state in 1971 lead to a catastrophic Indo-Pakistan war as the tensions of post WW2 re-organisation of the world map failed to secure a long-term peace.

The UK dispensed with the old pound and schillings replaced with the decimal currency we enjoy today in 1971 and parliament agreed to join key European neighbours in the form of the EEC leading to almost fifty years of unrivalled financial security until…….oh let’s just leave this here without mentioning the B word shall we.

On a more positive front Deep Purple were in full artistic swing whilst Michael Caine starred in ‘Get Carter’ and the brilliant Stanley Kubrick stunned the world with his controversial offering ‘A Clockwork Orange’.

In sport, (turn away now Dave Whelhams et al), Arsenal won the league and FA Cup double with the league title clinched at none other than White Hart Lane – ouch!!! Whilst Chelsea beat Real Madrid in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup. Surrey won the County Championship, whilst England having stunned the Aussies down under in the winter Ashes returned home in triumph only to lose a test series at home to India for the first time in their history. They did slightly manage to redeem themselves with a tight 1-0 victory over Pakistan in a late summer three match test series.

The turbulence of the time also buffeted our own club. As Harlow grew as a new town significant pressure came to bear on the club to leave its ancestral home in Chippingfield and engage in a merger with rival upstarts Stort CC (since rebranded as Harlow Town). The influential Harlow Development Committee had pursued a policy of drawing all the major sports clubs in the area into one central athletic epicentre at the site of the former Sports Centre. The towns football club and Stort themselves were already in residence at the old site with the members of the latter voting to approach Harlow CC for the purposes of a merger which would see the end of cricket as we knew it at Marigolds. Thankfully, our 1971 predecessors rejected the proposal out of sight by a comprehensive margin of 25 votes to 1.

It’s a sobering thought to consider that the club was one vote away from effectively going out of existence and the magnificent legacy of ground and clubhouse enjoyed today by us all would not exist if the people in the room that night had elected to go in a different direction. We should be eternally grateful for their foresight. One person we do know present that night was Alan Howick. Elected the new club secretary at the meeting I can rest assure you he wasn’t the ONE who voted for the merger!!!

However, with only two adult sides on Saturdays and one on Sunday’s (no Colts at all in those days) finances were tight and no doubt this was a major factor in agreeing to allow Harlow Hockey Club access to our hallowed turf during the winter months. It was the start of a difficult and problematic relationship that lasted around ten years before enough was finally enough and the ‘cuckoo in the nest’ as one committee member was to describe them finally flew off to play on AstroTurf elsewhere.

The formation of the Essex Senior League saw regular league cricket for the first time in the county with both Harlow 1’s and 2’s members of the inaugural competition. At this stage league fixtures occupied around two thirds of the available matchdays with the remaining left for friendlies against local sides of a similar standard. The First XI boasted a new captain in Michael Burdekin but the side contained bags of experience with the likes of Lew Whitby, Peter Prodger, Ray Day and Bob Waller regulars in the side for over a decade.

Although 14 years had passed from our first look back to the 1957 season the style of cricket appeared to have changed very little with low scoring games and some fairly turgid scoring rates. In fairness to the batsmen of the day Marigolds did not have a dedicated groundsman with some of the players frequently turning their hand at rolling and mowing the strip.

So, it was that Marigolds witnessed the first ever league cricket involving the ‘baggy greens’ on 1st May 1971 as our First XI entertained visitors Braintree CC. It was a far from auspicious start. Peter Prodger, arguably Harlow’s star batsman, was bowled by the first ball of the second over for a duck and immediately followed next ball by Trott batting at 3. Nought for 2 swiftly became 20-4 and only 21 from Lionel Lambert dragged Harlow to a disappointing 70 all out. Never out the game with the likes of Day and Waller in the side Harlow must have maintained a thread of hope at the break but this was swiftly extinguished by Braintree openers Hopkins & Gould who added 44 for the first wicket leading to a straight forward 6 wicket victory.

Following Saturday saw a huge opportunity to get the season going in the right direction against wannabe mergers Stort CC. A five-wicket haul from skipper Burdekin ensured Stort were restricted to a par 133 all out. With Peter Prodger at the crease, with the score on 49-1, we were in the ascendancy until Stort’s G. Froud sparked a collapse with his own five wicket spell as we lost by 25 runs.

An outstanding 72 from Peter Prodger ensured a draw at Epping before another (friendly) defeat to Clayhall despite Ray Day taking 6-62. It wasn’t until early June and the return fixture against Braintree that a corner appears to have been turned in the side’s form. Alf Mealing made 52 and opener Thurston 48 as we posted by far our best total of the season 189-9. The outstanding Ray Day was at the height of his powers grabbing six wickets leaving Braintree desperately holding on for a draw something they succeeding in doing with the final pair blocking out the last couple of overs.

On 3rd July 1971 we travelled to Saffron Waldon having been soundly beaten three weeks earlier. Peter Prodger top scored with 27 out of our first innings 123-9 in 49.3 overs (I told you it was hardly Jos Buttler stuff in those days). Handicapped by the absence of leading bowler Ray Day, captain Burdekin turned to Bob Waller who stepped up magnificently supported by the all-round talents of Peter Prodger. Waller bowled 22 overs unchanged finishing with a match analysis of 22 overs, 8 maidens, 6-26. Prodger added 3-31 but alas that final wicket eluded us yet again as SWCC closed on 88-9 for a fortunate draw.

That first ever league victory seemed to be getting closer by the week and finally at the ninth time of asking it arrived on 10th July at Marigolds as Harlow defended a low first innings total of 103 (in no small measure only reached thanks to a half century by Lew Whitby). No heroics from Waller or Day were needed as the captain twirled his way to 4-10 in 10 overs finding support coming from the direction of Peter Prodger once more as the former skipper claimed another three-wicket haul to skittle visitors Witham for 71.

Momentum was maintained in the friendly victory over Sawston notable for a brilliant innings of 112 from Peter Prodger opening the batting – the only century of the entire season. Having got the taste for winning the boys couldn’t stop as they overcame Old Parks the following week in a league fixture with Prodger again amongst the runs (74) supported by thirties from Trott and Thurston. Burdekin took 6-22 in 15 overs to seal maximum points.

Seven days later and Harlow won a cliff-hanger of a local derby against Epping. Prodger, Brown & Trott and the top of the order all made 40’s with Lew Whitby adding an unbeaten 32 as we posted an imposing 179-4. Epping looked very well set at 120-3 with Day unusually expensive despite an early wicket. Once again, the skipper led from the front bowling 19 overs and knocking over the visitors middle and lower order taking 4-40 aided by a Prodger brace. With Epping in sight of victory with only four needed, fast bowler Day was asked to break the final wicket pair of Wood and Thompson, a task he completed by shattering the stumps of the number 11 for a duck and classic 3 run win.

This was the high point of a generally frustrating season as the remaining fixtures were drawn or rained off with the odd narrow defeat until on a dull and cold late September afternoon we ended the season by hammering Hoffmans by nine wickets in a friendly. Harlow opener Keith Brown making a rare appearance clearly decided he was going to show his worth as he sought to single handedly chase down the 89 to win off his own bat. He succeeded in making a fine 60 not out to at least see the close of a significant season for the club, both on and off the field, on a more satisfactory note.

Peter Prodger finished as the leading run scorer with 542 in all fixtures at an average of 38.7 which in the context of the cricket of the time was an outstanding return. Lew Whitby made 407 at 25.4. Ray Day led the bowling department with a superb 47 wickets with Bob Waller finishing on 29 and Michael Burdekin 27. Sadly, no records survive relating to any of the Second XI fixtures.

Once again, we delve into the decades of knowledge of Club President Alan Howick for his recollections of the leading figures of the time.

“This was a very special group of men. Not only did that team contain some outstanding cricketers but they also were very influential in the running of the club. I made some lifelong friendships from that era and there is little doubt several of them are true legends of Harlow Cricket Club.”

“Ray Day was one of the best bowlers in the history of the club. He was extremely quick with a skiddy style. He was incredibly competitive and under his captaincy in the 1970’s we came very close to winning the league but lost out on batting bonus points due to often opting to bowl first knocking over the opposition cheaply. He skippered our team in the 1978 Keith Boyce Benefit Match. Ray now lives in Marlborough and we keep in occasional touch. He is a very good friend of both myself and the cricket club”.

“Bob Waller was a great bloke. He joined the club in the early 70’s having played for Bill Sorenson’s Sunday XI at Johnson Matthey. He bowled right arm over, quick cutters sometimes delivered out the back of the hand. He teamed up with Cliff Clark and Terry Smith to make a good attack I recall. Bob wasn’t known for his batting and could hardly be described as aggressive with the bat. In fact, we would cheer if he managed to get the ball off the square! Bob was a tremendous gully fielder and after a game was never known to refuse a beer. Another really good guy who still lives locally”

“Burdie (Burdekin) was a great spinner of a ball. I saw him turn it sideways on occasions, especially at Matching Green. There was no point in fielding in front of the batsman when he was bowling as everything ended up square or behind the keeper. I fielded at mid-off but that was only so someone could throw the ball back to him”

“Mike was a really nice guy and clubman”

It says a lot about the man that despite being a First XI player at the time, when the Club Fixture Secretary resigned suddenly he volunteered to take on the responsibility.

The Prodger name is woven through the history of the club. Without doubt one of the most influential families to be connected to Harlow CC. Once again, I’m indebted to President Alan Howick, aided by Simon Prodger, to put together the following highlights of Peter’s career.

Peter Prodger played senior cricket in Africa, being a member and captain of Rift Valley CC in Kenya. He presented East Africa and was a regular player for the Kenya Kongonis and featured in Wisden’s Almanack for the degree of success he achieved.

Peter played against the first ever touring MCC side to East Africa in 1957. Playing for Kenya Kongonis he scored a half century in the first innings and proceeded to win the match with a century in the second. In the visiting side were six future MCC Presidents, as well as future county and international cricketers including MJK Smith who eventually skippered England.

Peter met and fell in love with a Sawbridgeworth girl (Myrtle Wilce-Taylor) whilst in Africa and he moved to the UK with their first child, Simon. He immediately joined Harlow CC as an exceptional opening batsman. Peter was also a very useful right arm spin or medium pace bowler. In 1961 Peter captained Harlow First XI and was a leading mainstay of the side for two decades before retiring in the mid 1980’s.

He carried on his interest in the club thereafter and became President in 1987 until 1992 when he was succeeded by his wife, Myrtle who held the position for 10 years.

Myrtle and Peter’s three sons also played for Harlow CC with distinction at various intervals. Michael Prodger being the longest serving for some 30 years or so. Various Presidents matches saw father and sons take the field together. Simon Prodger also played for Stort CC, MCC and Watford Town CC. He maintains a close affection for our club and is currently CEO of the National Cricket Conference which includes the Club Cricket Conference maintaining the important Prodger cricketing dynasty.

The cover photograph is the closest we could find to 1971. Includes many of the leading lights of the 1971 side with the notable exception of Peter Prodger but the added bonus of a young, pensive Howick.

Episode 3 in our series will see us leap forward once again as we examine the 1988 First XI season. Leading figures of the time include the names Baulcomb, Clark and Rist as our side enjoyed a good season.

Andy Yeats
(Contributions and historical background supplied by Mr Alan Howick & Mr Simon Prodger – many thanks to both)

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