The Snaps of My Years

As I prepare to finish my playing career with Rayleigh, I look back on my time at the club and share my perspective on my playing days here. There are players that have been here longer than me and they will probably be able to write a more complete history of the club or could tell the story from a First XI point of view, but after having played 20 seasons at Rayleigh, I've been here through what could be seen as a special era for the club.

Sitting at work one day in 1988 having recently returned to Essex after university, I decided to ring Rochford council to see if they had any contacts for cricket clubs in the area. I had never played the game seriously before, only a pretty poor standard of school cricket, but fancied taking the game up. I got a list of names and rang the first one — it was John Wright, who said that Rayleigh were looking for players and he'd pass my number on to the captain. Little did I know what that one chance call would lead to.

I got a call from the First XI captain, Tim Ball, that week. On the Saturday I was picked up from The Traveller's Rest car park with my minimalist kit of white T-shirt, my dad's old cricket boots and one of those old-school pink boxes and was whisked off the a place I'd never even heard of before, Roxwell. I vaguely remember meeting the rest of the team at the ground — Andy James is the only one I can recall. We fielded first and I was foolishly placed at first slip, but my debut went well with a slip catch and a run out with a direct hit. Unfortunately, I soon found out the reality of playing Division Two cricket when I was bowled second ball without scoring. It was a good game though and we narrowly lost by 4 runs.

I was in the Seconds the next week and the full extent of the state of the club was starting to become clear; Rayleigh were desperately short of players. A few of those survivors still playing today were a product of the RCC colts at the time — Andy Thurogood, Andy James, John Wright, Tony Catling and Brad Walker. I think we had eleven players in my first Second XI game at Rankins, although it was never guaranteed. We fielded and had 245 for 4 scored against us in the 40 overs the lower divisions had back then. We managed 87 all out, of which I contributed 8, losing by 158 runs. This was something that I and the rest of the team was to get used to as the Seconds went into free-fall.

I started playing Sunday cricket too, but results weren't much better. By the last week of the league season I had played in 12 successive defeats. In that last week in a vain bid to avoid relegation, the club cancelled the First XI fixture having less than 20 people available and put out a strong Second team against Hullbridge II, probably the only team worse than we were. It worked and we bowled them out for just 22, winning by 9 wickets. Our devious plans were foiled though as this was against league rules and we relegated anyway along with Hullbridge. My season ended with a first ball LBW at Navestock and despite scoring 68 runs at an average of 4.0, I was hooked on cricket.

The next season, there was a split at the club as the Third team went off to form their own outfit, the now defunct North Shoebury, leading to even less players being available. The first match back was a bit of a wake-up call — we were rolled over by Fairview for just 17 runs, where I somehow top-scored with 7. I was then introduced to this old tradition called a 'Beer Match' although to this day I still don't know where the beer comes into it.

We lost all our league matches that year except for one win, again against Hullbridge II. The matches seemed to consist of a similar pattern — Tony Lambert would open, score a measured 50 whilst the rest of us strove just to get a few runs. Getting into double figures seemed like a major achievement back then. We were relegated again and that season I had played in 20 defeats, 1 draw and 1 win. I averaged 4.4, so my career was on the up!

The Rawreth track didn't help matters. For those recent players spoiled by playing on the excellent wickets we now have, the Rawreth Lane wicket was notoriously low and being bowled by a pea-roller was not an unusual occurrence. After matches we used to drink in the Rayleigh Social Club up at Rayleigh Mount, I remember the Sunday after-match fines committee, where fines were levied for good or bad play, the proceeds going toward the drinks tab at the end of season party at Navestock. In later years we moved onto drinking at the Carpenters Arms until one night of taking half an hour to get served led us to making the switch to The Barge in Battlesbridge. The Barge soon became a fixture in the RCC social scene, as teams would be greeted as they returned from their travels and stories of the matches would be told (in the pre-mobile phone era).

1990 wasn't that much better than the previous season — one win in the league against Woodham Mortimer II plus a few Sunday wins. The low point was a 193-run thrashing by Corringham Firsts; they scored 308 for 4 and we only managed 115 all out. Life back then in the basement of the Mid-Essex League wasn't much fun — the league was restructuring and introducing new teams into the bottom division, leading to some pretty one-sided matches for us. We suffered at the hands of Corringham, Oldchurch, Bluehouse, Aythorpe Roding and Great Wakering to name but a few.

In 1991 I remember Mike Griffiths being in charge of the Seconds and recording a rare win at Rankins by 9 runs after posting just 105 all out. We'd also beaten Galleywood III but this didn't stop us being relegated into the newly-formed Division 9.

By 1992 the club had started to strengthen with new arrivals such as Brian Dawbarn, Simon Harwood, Terry Tofts, Steve Adams, Matt Barnes, Mike Griffiths, Richie Dawbarn and Duncan Ferguson joining over the previous few years. From our lowest point, a renaissance started with Brian at the helm. Basically, matches now consisted of Steve Adams getting all the runs and Terry Tofts terrorising the opposition batsmen. In that year we finished second in the division and were promoted to Division 8, the bad times were seemingly over.

Back then we didn't have a youth policy and that was one of the reasons for our decline. Richard 'Don't Call Me Ricky' Dawbarn was the youth and he seemed to win the Young Player of the Year award annually despite being in his mid-twenties.

Brian, buoyed by his success with the 2s, got the First XI job in 1993 and Nigel Jones took over the Seconds. We finished mid-table in a disappointing season, but it was a good year for me personally as I recorded my first fifty with 53 not out at Oldchurch Park against Goresbrook on an August Bank Holiday Monday - obviously we had nothing better to do in those days. Phil Wolff had returned to the club from Stock and together we put on a partnership of 182 in a total of 194 for 5 after being about 4 for 10.

Brad Walker took over the 2s in 1994 and we went on to win Division 8 - good times were certainly returning to RCC. That season also saw the return of the Bath Tour. The tours were legendary with the older Rayleigh players and that year the club returned to the grounds of Marshfield, Hampset and Box. I can't remember too much about that tour, I do remember turning up to the Bath hotel with Colin Sheehan, both of us straight from Glastonbury and not looking (or smelling) our best.

In 1995 the Seconds finished as runners-up, moving up to Division 6. Willie Leadbeater had rejoined the club after a stint with Springfield and along with Paul Dudmish formed a formidable opening partnership for the 1s. However, that year Willie tore his Achilles tendon on the England tour of New Zealand and missed the season. On tour that season, I witnessed the best batting display by a Rayleigh batsman at the time as John Wright scored 158 not out at Hampset, a most memorable innings.

I took over the captaincy of the Sunday XI in 1996 and the club had an exceptional season with the bat. Willie scored over 2,000 runs, with myself, Paul Dudmish and John Wright both passing 1,000 runs. The weather and cricket was fantastic that year and, for me, it was the best Rayleigh season I can remember. Somehow I managed to squeeze in 48 matches that year. The Seconds consolidated in Division 6 for the next four seasons whilst it was the turn of the Firsts to taste success under Phil Stoney in 1998, winning Division 3. The Thirds joined the league in that year; the club was going from strength to strength.

The club's fortunes down-turned in 2000, with the Firsts, Seconds and Thirds all being relegated. With only five league wins between all three teams it's hard to say why Rayleigh just did not perform that year, but for the next few years things were pretty lean, with the Firsts getting relegated into Division 4 in 2002 and the Seconds constantly battling against relegation.

Going into the new Millennium, Rayleigh has become a different club, with a new ground, new successes, six Saturday XIs, a far cry from the club that struggled to put just two sides out and lost most weeks. I started the RCC Website in 2000 and the more recent history of the club can no doubt be found within the site pages.

They don't call me Statto for nothing - I leave the club having played 657 matches, scoring 11,668 runs, four hundreds and managed to complete my 50th fifty in my penultimate match against North Weald. In those games I've seen some memorable individual performances - this is by no means a complete list but those incidents that have stuck in my mind for one reason or another;

That 158 not out by John Wright on tour in 1995; Andy Thurogood spilling a caught and bowled against Sundown Specials that would have given him 100 wickets for the season (a major achievement seeing as these days fifty wickets a season is as good as it gets); Tony Catling's savage attack on International in 1999, scoring 151 in 68 balls; Matthew Nobes taking 9 for 29 against Wickham Bishops in 2003; Phil Wolff and Tony Catling (batting one handed) putting on 88 for the last wicket at Billericay in 1995; Ronnie Allen taking a skyer at fine leg like a rabbit in the headlights off Andy James to beat Great Wakering by 1 run in 1996; Tim Rees demolishing Burnham Sports II with 7 for 3, bowling them out for just 19 in 2004; Nigel 'The Hoover' Jones batting like a man possessed to hit 101 not out against Sandon in 2000; Willie's 220 against Broomfield II in 2006; Danny White's 93 off 56 balls against Old Westcliffians in 2003.

My personal highlights were opening the batting at The Oval at about 8:30am on a baking hot morning in a six-a-side tournament in 2001, putting on 188 with my long-suffering opening partner Simon Harwood against Canvey Island in 2002, my first ton in 2000, 131 not out for the Sunday XI against Wickham Bishops in 2003 and winning the Division 10 title with the Thirds 2006.

There have certainly been many highs and lows over the last 20 seasons and I feel fortunate to have been part of what has gone on at Rayleigh Cricket Club in that time.

All the best for the future.

John Suckling

As I prepare to finish my playing career with Rayleigh, I look back on my time at the club and share my perspective on my playing days here. There are players that have been here longer than me and they will probably be able to write a more complete history of the club or could tell the story from a First XI point of view, but after having played 20 seasons at Rayleigh, I've been here through what could be seen as a special era for the club.

Sitting at work one day in 1988 having recently returned to Essex after university, I decided to ring Rochford council to see if they had any contacts for cricket clubs in the area. I had never played the game seriously before, only a pretty poor standard of school cricket, but fancied taking the game up. I got a list of names and rang the first one — it was John Wright, who said that Rayleigh were looking for players and he'd pass my number on to the captain. Little did I know what that one chance call would lead to.

I got a call from the First XI captain, Tim Ball, that week. On the Saturday I was picked up from The Traveller's Rest car park with my minimalist kit of white T-shirt, my dad's old cricket boots and one of those old-school pink boxes and was whisked off the a place I'd never even heard of before, Roxwell. I vaguely remember meeting the rest of the team at the ground — Andy James is the only one I can recall. We fielded first and I was foolishly placed at first slip, but my debut went well with a slip catch and a run out with a direct hit. Unfortunately, I soon found out the reality of playing Division Two cricket when I was bowled second ball without scoring. It was a good game though and we narrowly lost by 4 runs.

I was in the Seconds the next week and the full extent of the state of the club was starting to become clear; Rayleigh were desperately short of players. A few of those survivors still playing today were a product of the RCC colts at the time — Andy Thurogood, Andy James, John Wright, Tony Catling and Brad Walker. I think we had eleven players in my first Second XI game at Rankins, although it was never guaranteed. We fielded and had 245 for 4 scored against us in the 40 overs the lower divisions had back then. We managed 87 all out, of which I contributed 8, losing by 158 runs. This was something that I and the rest of the team was to get used to as the Seconds went into free-fall.

I started playing Sunday cricket too, but results weren't much better. By the last week of the league season I had played in 12 successive defeats. In that last week in a vain bid to avoid relegation, the club cancelled the First XI fixture having less than 20 people available and put out a strong Second team against Hullbridge II, probably the only team worse than we were. It worked and we bowled them out for just 22, winning by 9 wickets. Our devious plans were foiled though as this was against league rules and we relegated anyway along with Hullbridge. My season ended with a first ball LBW at Navestock and despite scoring 68 runs at an average of 4.0, I was hooked on cricket.

The next season, there was a split at the club as the Third team went off to form their own outfit, the now defunct North Shoebury, leading to even less players being available. The first match back was a bit of a wake-up call — we were rolled over by Fairview for just 17 runs, where I somehow top-scored with 7. I was then introduced to this old tradition called a 'Beer Match' although to this day I still don't know where the beer comes into it.

We lost all our league matches that year except for one win, again against Hullbridge II. The matches seemed to consist of a similar pattern — Tony Lambert would open, score a measured 50 whilst the rest of us strove just to get a few runs. Getting into double figures seemed like a major achievement back then. We were relegated again and that season I had played in 20 defeats, 1 draw and 1 win. I averaged 4.4, so my career was on the up!

The Rawreth track didn't help matters. For those recent players spoiled by playing on the excellent wickets we now have, the Rawreth Lane wicket was notoriously low and being bowled by a pea-roller was not an unusual occurrence. After matches we used to drink in the Rayleigh Social Club up at Rayleigh Mount, I remember the Sunday after-match fines committee, where fines were levied for good or bad play, the proceeds going toward the drinks tab at the end of season party at Navestock. In later years we moved onto drinking at the Carpenters Arms until one night of taking half an hour to get served led us to making the switch to The Barge in Battlesbridge. The Barge soon became a fixture in the RCC social scene, as teams would be greeted as they returned from their travels and stories of the matches would be told (in the pre-mobile phone era).

1990 wasn't that much better than the previous season — one win in the league against Woodham Mortimer II plus a few Sunday wins. The low point was a 193-run thrashing by Corringham Firsts; they scored 308 for 4 and we only managed 115 all out. Life back then in the basement of the Mid-Essex League wasn't much fun — the league was restructuring and introducing new teams into the bottom division, leading to some pretty one-sided matches for us. We suffered at the hands of Corringham, Oldchurch, Bluehouse, Aythorpe Roding and Great Wakering to name but a few.

In 1991 I remember Mike Griffiths being in charge of the Seconds and recording a rare win at Rankins by 9 runs after posting just 105 all out. We'd also beaten Galleywood III but this didn't stop us being relegated into the newly-formed Division 9.

By 1992 the club had started to strengthen with new arrivals such as Brian Dawbarn, Simon Harwood, Terry Tofts, Steve Adams, Matt Barnes, Mike Griffiths, Richie Dawbarn and Duncan Ferguson joining over the previous few years. From our lowest point, a renaissance started with Brian at the helm. Basically, matches now consisted of Steve Adams getting all the runs and Terry Tofts terrorising the opposition batsmen. In that year we finished second in the division and were promoted to Division 8, the bad times were seemingly over.

Back then we didn't have a youth policy and that was one of the reasons for our decline. Richard 'Don't Call Me Ricky' Dawbarn was the youth and he seemed to win the Young Player of the Year award annually despite being in his mid-twenties.

Brian, buoyed by his success with the 2s, got the First XI job in 1993 and Nigel Jones took over the Seconds. We finished mid-table in a disappointing season, but it was a good year for me personally as I recorded my first fifty with 53 not out at Oldchurch Park against Goresbrook on an August Bank Holiday Monday - obviously we had nothing better to do in those days. Phil Wolff had returned to the club from Stock and together we put on a partnership of 182 in a total of 194 for 5 after being about 4 for 10.

Brad Walker took over the 2s in 1994 and we went on to win Division 8 - good times were certainly returning to RCC. That season also saw the return of the Bath Tour. The tours were legendary with the older Rayleigh players and that year the club returned to the grounds of Marshfield, Hampset and Box. I can't remember too much about that tour, I do remember turning up to the Bath hotel with Colin Sheehan, both of us straight from Glastonbury and not looking (or smelling) our best.

In 1995 the Seconds finished as runners-up, moving up to Division 6. Willie Leadbeater had rejoined the club after a stint with Springfield and along with Paul Dudmish formed a formidable opening partnership for the 1s. However, that year Willie tore his Achilles tendon on the England tour of New Zealand and missed the season. On tour that season, I witnessed the best batting display by a Rayleigh batsman at the time as John Wright scored 158 not out at Hampset, a most memorable innings.

I took over the captaincy of the Sunday XI in 1996 and the club had an exceptional season with the bat. Willie scored over 2,000 runs, with myself, Paul Dudmish and John Wright both passing 1,000 runs. The weather and cricket was fantastic that year and, for me, it was the best Rayleigh season I can remember. Somehow I managed to squeeze in 48 matches that year. The Seconds consolidated in Division 6 for the next four seasons whilst it was the turn of the Firsts to taste success under Phil Stoney in 1998, winning Division 3. The Thirds joined the league in that year; the club was going from strength to strength.

The club's fortunes down-turned in 2000, with the Firsts, Seconds and Thirds all being relegated. With only five league wins between all three teams it's hard to say why Rayleigh just did not perform that year, but for the next few years things were pretty lean, with the Firsts getting relegated into Division 4 in 2002 and the Seconds constantly battling against relegation.

Going into the new Millennium, Rayleigh has become a different club, with a new ground, new successes, six Saturday XIs, a far cry from the club that struggled to put just two sides out and lost most weeks. I started the RCC Website in 2000 and the more recent history of the club can no doubt be found within the site pages.

They don't call me Statto for nothing - I leave the club having played 657 matches, scoring 11,668 runs, four hundreds and managed to complete my 50th fifty in my penultimate match against North Weald. In those games I've seen some memorable individual performances - this is by no means a complete list but those incidents that have stuck in my mind for one reason or another;

That 158 not out by John Wright on tour in 1995; Andy Thurogood spilling a caught and bowled against Sundown Specials that would have given him 100 wickets for the season (a major achievement seeing as these days fifty wickets a season is as good as it gets); Tony Catling's savage attack on International in 1999, scoring 151 in 68 balls; Matthew Nobes taking 9 for 29 against Wickham Bishops in 2003; Phil Wolff and Tony Catling (batting one handed) putting on 88 for the last wicket at Billericay in 1995; Ronnie Allen taking a skyer at fine leg like a rabbit in the headlights off Andy James to beat Great Wakering by 1 run in 1996; Tim Rees demolishing Burnham Sports II with 7 for 3, bowling them out for just 19 in 2004; Nigel 'The Hoover' Jones batting like a man possessed to hit 101 not out against Sandon in 2000; Willie's 220 against Broomfield II in 2006; Danny White's 93 off 56 balls against Old Westcliffians in 2003.

My personal highlights were opening the batting at The Oval at about 8:30am on a baking hot morning in a six-a-side tournament in 2001, putting on 188 with my long-suffering opening partner Simon Harwood against Canvey Island in 2002, my first ton in 2000, 131 not out for the Sunday XI against Wickham Bishops in 2003 and winning the Division 10 title with the Thirds 2006.

There have certainly been many highs and lows over the last 20 seasons and I feel fortunate to have been part of what has gone on at Rayleigh Cricket Club in that time.

All the best for the future,

John Suckling