1970 saw Richmond’s cricketers enjoying the spacious and modern new pavilion at Old Deer Park for the first time. In the same season, they also participated in an informal Middlesex League, introduced into Middlesex club cricket following the formation of the Surrey Championship a year earlier.
The rationale behind this experiment was to bring 16 Middlesex clubs together in a competition at 1st XI level without causing major disruption to traditional fixtures. Clubs therefore played a different number of ‘counting’ matches each. With 6 points for a win, 3 for the winning draw and 1 for a losing draw, the final table was determined by the average number of points per game based only on games between the participating clubs. Wembley played 18, Teddington just 5. Richmond finished in joint 2nd place, playing 13 games and going unbeaten all season. However, despite 8 wins, it was the 4 losing draws which prevented Richmond from overhauling Hornsey for the informal title.
It’s fair to say that this experimental season was not without controversy with many traditionalists bemoaning the ‘professionalism’ that League cricket could produce. The local newspaper report for Richmond’s match against eventual league winners, Hornsey, was headlined “Match was ruined by craze for professionalism”. Set 178 in 175 minutes, Hornsey, reputedly the strongest batting side in the county, shut up shop when 3 middle-order wickets fell in rapid succession. The report was unequivocal in its condemnation of this new competition: “One more Saturday ruined by the modern and depressing craze for turning every game into a professional exercise”.
Despite not being universally popular, League cricket was here to stay as club cricketers across the county accepted that League cricket was the future. All that is except Hampstead who steadfastly refused to have anything to do with it despite being the National Club Knockout winners in 1969!
So, in 1972, the Middlesex County Cricket League was officially launched with 16 clubs playing each other once each season. All matches were win, lose or draw with 10 points to be awarded for a win and 4 for a winning draw, to encourage more positive cricket. A 2nd XI league ran in parallel offering a simple home and away schedule.
Whilst league cricket had its opponents, there is no doubt that it helped to attract new cricketers to the club. In 1970, Richmond fielded a 4th XI (originally named the Third Half Day XI) for the first time. By 1972, this side, now named the Gentlemen of Richmond, played 12 matches and the averages for the season show that 50 players batted more than 10 times in the season.
Over the course of the decade, Richmond enjoyed mixed fortunes as a league side. Having finished a respectable 7th in 1972, the following season saw the club finish bottom of the table for the only time under the original one division structure. However, for the last 5 seasons of the decade, Richmond were to become firmly established as one of the county’s leading sides with successive Top 5 finishes.
The 2nd XI was more successful, consistently finishing nearer the top of the table than the bottom of it but the side never quite got over the line to take the title.
1977 saw the launch of a 3rd XI League but, just like the informal 1st XI competition at the start of the decade, this was based on an average number of points per game as many clubs did not want to disrupt traditional fixture lists for the sake of league competition. Thus, in the first year, Richmond 3’s finished 3rd but had only played 8 matches. In 1978, this became 10 matches but the following season, it was 8 again. It was not until 1991 that the 3rd XI League exactly mirrored the 1st and 2nd XI leagues and offered a full list of matches between all clubs.
The Seventies saw another significant development for Richmond with the formation of a Junior section – the Colts. In its earliest years, Richmond’s Colts were very much driven by two men – Francis Neate Senior and Hugh Goldie - primarily because of their vested interest in, respectively a grandson and a son of similar age. Nets were on a Monday evening and the club entered 1 side in each of the Middlesex Under 13, Under 15 and Under 17 competitions. The Colts were relatively few in number and many players participated at every age-group level. Longer matches were organised in the summer holidays to capture the youngsters who were away at boarding school and increasingly youngsters found their way into the adult sides. It should be remembered that, in those days, 3 sides every Saturday and Sunday were very much the norm and many a young Richmond cricketer cut his teeth in the character-building environment of adult cricket. This led to some ‘interesting’ conversations as mothers would arrive to collect young sons from Richmond’s bar only to find that their offspring had been partaking of the many jugs of beer that were very much order of the day after every match!
Another significant development in the Seventies was Richmond’s now infamous Tour to the Cotswolds. Richmond on tour will be the subject of a future chapter in the club’s history so not much should be said at this time except that the club has maintained this tradition of touring every year since. At the end of the decade, Richmond also organised its first overseas tour – a trip to Sri Lanka.
So, the Seventies came and went. It was, perhaps, the decade that more than any other shaped Richmond into the club that we know now. It saw some outstanding cricketers join the club as well as some who would go on to be Richmond stalwarts for many years. Players like James Gordon-Lennox, Mike Lindley, Martyn Stear, Mano Ponniah, Mike Cronkshaw, Nick Demery, Robin Pearson, Tim Braine and Laurie Allan to name but a few - and perhaps two of the greatest Richmond players of all time – David Heyn and Peter Ray.
For your correspondent, the Seventies was something of a ‘coming of age’ period. After an adult debut aged 11 in 1972 (Vauxhall Motors away in Luton on a grey Sunday), in 1975 he batted more than 30 times in adult cricket (despite playing a full season at St Paul’s). In the long hot summer of 1976, he made his 1st XI League debut. By the end of the decade, aged 18, he was the 1st XI’s regular wicketkeeper and a member of Middlesex’s professional playing staff. Along the way, he had learnt much about cricket, beer and life from spending pretty much every Saturday and Sunday with Richmond’s adult cricketers, absorbing lessons on and off the field that have remained with him ever since.
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