By the end of the Seventies, Richmond was established as one of the strongest clubs in the Middlesex League but trophies had eluded our sides. That was to change over the course of the 80’s and, as the decade drew to a close, the 1st XI was to win the League title for the first time. In the same season – 1989 - the 3rd XI was also victorious whilst the 2nd XI finished in as runners-up. It was a memorable season in many ways.
Whilst the 1’s finished the decade as champions of Middlesex, the 2nd XI was the side which broke Richmond’s duck and went on to enjoy the greatest success during the 80’s. After finishing 3rd and 4th in 1980 and 1981, Terry Harris’s side took the title for the first time and by the narrowest of margins (1 point) in 1982. The following season they were champions again, this time by a margin of 5 points. The side’s strength was primarily its bowling, with Laurie Allan’s mixture of slow drift and leg-spin taking 56 wickets at an average of 14.04, being the dominant feature of the season. The following season, Allan missed a number of matches but others stepped up to take his place. When he returned, he was again a match-winner but the success of the team was down to the performances of many.
As has happened since, this was a period when the strength of the club was very much at 2nd and 3rd XI level. David Heyn played little cricket after giving up the captaincy at the end of the 1980 season and the 1st XI struggled to recruit players of genuine top-tier quality, although the arrival of John Claughton from Warwickshire was a boost. Harris, great captain that he was, was also a master of convincing the selection committee that certain players were excellent 2’s cricketers but not quite good enough for the higher level.
However, many very good players did join Richmond in the 80’s with many going on to be great Richmond men on and off the field. Characters like Arthur Speake (Archie), Mark Austin, David Tune, John Woollhead, Phil Lazenby and Al Simpson had all joined by 1983 and all added immeasurably to the overall strength of the club. This was a period of full fixture lists on Saturdays and Sunday (with at least 3 full sides on both days), of midweek cup cricket and increasing numbers on tour. Whilst there was no 4th XI League cricket, Richmond’s Gents had a full fixture list and on occasions the Club even fielded 5 sides – a rarity among Middlesex Clubs.
In 1985, Dai Thomas became the 3rd generation of the Neate family to captain the Whole Day XI. During his first season, Trevor Brown joined the club and was to go on to be the most consistent 1st XI batsman of his generation for the next decade. Nigel Ross, formerly of Middlesex CCC, also joined having successfully regenerated East Molesey CC whilst your correspondent decided to return to the Club after spending the 1984 season playing League cricket in Hampshire where he was a member of the County Club’s playing staff. The club also recruited an overseas player for the first time with Dave “Lenny” Coppock arriving from Sydney to deliver some pace to the bowling attack. Memorably, during Coppock's first match, it snowed, something the young Australian had not witnessed before!
Thomas’s first season was frustrating as the side dominated 10 of their matches but only managed to win 3 games whilst recording 7 winning draws to finish 7th in the table. There were good cup runs as well – a last ball 6 seeing Richmond lose to Finchley in the Regional Final of the National Knockout illustrating the side’s progress.
The following year the side had an equally frustrating League season but reached the Quarter Finals of the National Knockout losing by just 4 runs away at Weston Super Mare. Despite missing Peter Ray through illness, Richmond's seamers were well on top when some unwelcome drizzle during the home side’s innings significantly affected the swing that they had employed. Skipper Thomas’s unbeaten hundred was not quite enough in reply. The Somerset club went on to reach Lord’s and it lingers for many as an opportunity for national success missed.
In the winter of 1987, Thomas decided to move to Hong Kong and so your correspondent, having finished his professional career, became Captain of the Whole Day XI, a position he was to hold for the next 8 seasons. Andrew Jones, a genuinely quick bowler who had played for Somerset, was recruited – he was netting at Lord’s with Uxbridge but was persuaded to come for a drink at the Red Cow. Another recruit was Rupert Cox, a young professional with Hampshire whose grandfather had been a regular Richmond player in the 1930’s. With Middlesex's Michael Roseberry also on board, the side was stronger but League performances remained frustratingly average with Richmond continuing to fail to press home the advantage in many games. Meanwhile, the 2nd XI, still under the captaincy of Terry Harris, were more ruthless and ran out convincing League winners for the 3rd time in 6 seasons.
In 1988, Dean Waugh, younger brother of Steve and Mark, was recruited as Richmond’s overseas player and he was to have a stunning League season recording 726 runs from 14 innings at an average of 60 and scoring 5 League centuries. Peter Ray, by now aged 52, was very much the leading light with the ball although the arrival of Mike Clare, who had opened the bowling for Natal, midway through the season gave Richmond real pace at both ends. Performance however remained inconsistent – with wins remaining hard to come by – and the side languished in mid-table. The 2’s also had a disappointing season but the 3’s, with Chris Cooper dominating the batting, finished in 2nd place.
Going into the last season of the decade, it was widely predicted that the 2nd XI would give Richmond its best chance of silverware. The 1’s overseas player was a 17 year old batsman-wicketkeeper from Lismore in New South Wales and, in truth, it was felt that he would not be an adequate replacement for Waugh, despite his impressive junior record of achievement. However, with the addition of two seamers, Jim White and Jon Perry, a recent Cambridge Blue of the Atherton era, as well as a spin partner for Ray, Nick Morrill, the side had a balance to it that gave some hope that the side would be competitive. The arrival of former England cricketer, Graham Roope, also seemed to strengthen the side but his Richmond career was to be short-lived as he was soon offered money to go and play in the northern leagues. Roope's early departure gave an opportunity to Aalok Soni and as the season progressed, he was to become a key player with bat and ball.
Ever the optimist, the 1st XI captain had placed a bet with the League’s bookmaker before the season started taking odds of 8 to 1 on a Richmond title. Most, if not all, thought him foolish but as the season went on, the side grew in confidence. Brown scored 7 half-centuries whilst the young Aussie, who was scoring runs for fun at all levels (including Old Actonians Under 17’s), became an increasingly important player. If Brown (693 league runs) and Gilchrist (522) led the way with the bat, it was 53 year old Peter Ray who was the real hero of the season taking 49 wickets at an average of 12.29. With Jones taking 28 and Morrill proving an excellent partner to Ray with 22, Richmond went through the season unbeaten and were only outplayed in 4 matches.
On the final day of the season, with Ray away on holiday because he had failed to advise his wife that the expansion of the League from 16 clubs to 18 would extend the season by a week, Richmond travelled to Southgate, 2 points behind Teddington and 2 ahead of the home side. Richmond bowled and fielded superbly to dismiss our hosts for 136. Meanwhile, Teddington, perhaps due to excessive celebrations following their National Knockout win at Lords the day before, were struggling at Brondesbury. In those days, there were no online scores and we had one mobile phone in the side and that was firmly fixed in Nick Morrill's car. As Richmond edged towards the target, it was not known if a winning draw or a win would be required. But with one over to go and Richmond down and 6 short of victory, a cry of delight went up from the car park – Teddington had lost and Richmond just needed to defend the final over of the day to secure the title and become Champions of Middlesex for the first time! Great celebrations followed well into the night, with a memorable and very late curry at Mr Roy’s to round off the party. The Captain also collected his winnings with great delight. The next day, the 3rd XI also won to secure their first Middlesex League title and a truly memorable league season had come to an end with another extensive club celebration.
And so, the 80’s came and went – a happy and enjoyable decade for Richmond both on and off the field. A weekly Club newsletter produced by Laurie Allan had really brought all sections of the club together. The Club’s tour was now taking on legendary status and Richmond entered the 90’s on the crest of a wave.