Remembering Geoff Cole with tales of runs, wickets, great nights… and Ted Heath

Players and officials of Littlehampton, Clapham and Patching Cricket Club are mourning the death of Geoff Cole, who played for them for 40 years. Here, Tim Peters pays tribute...
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The bland figures on Play Cricket are incomplete as so many games going back in time are not recorded. Geoff’s recorded statistics, though, are outstanding – 723 games for Littlehampton, Clapham and Patching; 35,237 runs at an average of 53.4 with 115 centuries, and 540 wickets at 14.83 and 335 catches.

When Geoff first joined Clapham in 1983, he was a serious athlete. He was in the top five squash players in Sussex for a number of years and was a paid pro in the Surrey and Essex leagues as well as playing for the West Worthing Club.

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Originally a fast bowler, he was determined to make himself into a batsman too. On a Saturday, Geoff would play squash in the morning and then bowl a long spell with the new ball and open the batting, normally carrying on for most of the innings. At this point Geoff was a teetotaller and would leave his teammates in the pub while he went for a run on the beach.

Geoff Cole | Contributed pictureGeoff Cole | Contributed picture
Geoff Cole | Contributed picture

His batting philosophy, which seems somewhat dated now in the T20 age, was that you couldn’t score runs when you were sat in the pavilion. No chances were taken until he had the pace of the pitch and the measure of the bowlers. Years of playing squash encouraged Geoff to play straight and he worked his game around the straight drive.

Where he was absolutely outstanding was in his shot selection. He wasn’t going to play shots like the pull which he couldn’t play and also held more danger if the ball kept low.

Despite all those runs, wickets and catches, the thing that those who knew Geoff and played with him will remember him for was his generosity of spirit. If there was a colt playing in the team, he would single them out to carry his bag for him and he would pay their match fee. He didn’t want to carry his bag and he wanted to help that young person out – the seal of approval from the senior pro.

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Geoff had a serious accident when he managed to fall off his ladder and break most of the bones in his body (never mind his head). I am not sure why he hadn’t paid one of the Colts to clear out his drains instead. He was airlifted to London by the air ambulance (whose charity he was subsequently a fervent supporter of) and was super-glued back together again. His first words when he came round were: “Tell the lads I don’t think I will be able to play on Saturday.”

After his accident, he became much more involved in the running of the club. His spell as fixture secretary was particularly memorable as he turned Sunday cricket into a cordon bleu tour of the Sussex countryside. As always, Geoff was first at the bar buying the wine and making sure that no one was capable of playing the scheduled cricket match later that afternoon.

On June 8, 1991, Clapham lined up against Middleton in a friendly. Geoff recorded the amazing feat of top-scoring for both sides. The scorebook is lost and the game not on Playcricket. After Clapham racked up something like 200, to much hilarity, Geoff took the keeping gloves and let through two byes in their total off six all out (a young Justin Scott was in the Middleton side that day).

July 14, 1996, saw Geoff score his 50th hundred for Clapham, away at Amberley. I have to admit that the celebrations were of a high level. We arrived back at the Coach and Horses in Worthing where the landlord kindly kept the small bar at the back for us every Saturday and Sunday during the season.

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On arrival ‘Jimmy’ Melia peered through the bar and informed me that Ted Heath was already ensconced in the back bar. I informed him that although I was drunk, I wasn’t that drunk. However, as we wandered round to the snug we found Mr Heath with an MI5 bodyguard on each side of him. He was celebrating his 80th birthday and had stopped off for a drink on his way home to Salisbury from the opera at Glynde. He was insistent that we should join him.

A memorable hour ensued until Anthony Waton informed Mr Heath that he had his copy of the Sunday Times in the car with an article about his birthday in it. Would Mr Heath sign it for him please? As Anthony got up, one of the MI5 gentlemen drew back his jacket to reveal a firearm. Anthony sat down sharply! The headline that week in the Gazette and Herald: Heath drops in to salute Cole’s 50th century

When Clapham finally had to admit defeat in keeping going at the turn of the century and merged with Littlehampton, Geoff was already in his 40s. He scored plenty of runs and made his way up to the first team who were playing in the Sussex Premier League. After facing Carl Simon at Nomads, he concluded that maybe it was about time he acquired a helmet.

The wickets and bowlers were quicker than he had faced previously (Paul Wilson, who is now an elite international umpire and a fast bowler who played for Australia, broke Geoff’s arm when playing against Brighton and Hove), but he became a rock at the top of the LCPCC batting line-up.

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Our last game together for LCPCC after 35 seasons was at Blackstone against Findon in the final league game of the third team season. We batted together for an hour. Geoff was the only one who knew that this was my last game. I had planned to just slip away. No such luxury. Geoff announced my retirement after the game and invited everyone for a night of celebration at the Gun Inn in Findon. Typical of the man.

Geoff’s partner Sharon died suddenly at the start of the year. She was a huge part of him, his business partner as well as his life partner. He missed her terribly. Sharon didn’t have a funeral and from what I know, it is unlikely that Geoff will have a funeral either.

With the outpouring of love subsequent to his death, it is clear that opponents and old teammates from Clapham, Sussex Seniors, and our Worthing evening league team The George (also Worthing Nomads and Worthing Tree Surgeons) as well as Littlehampton members want to pay their respects and celebrate his life. The plan is to have an evening at the Littlehampton Cricket Club pavilion. We won’t let him slip away unnoticed...