‘Mr Worthing sport’ is still going strong at 80

Laurie Claydon
Laurie Claydon

WHEN Laurie Claydon finished his RAF National Service, he was at something of a loss how to fill in his spare time.

But already a few years earlier, in 1949, a chance meeting with an old school friend at a Rotary Ground cricket match in Worthing literally changed his life. It sparked one of the most remarkable careers in cricket and football administration that there can ever have been.

In 1952 he rejoined his friends from the Northbrook Road area. They had previously played for Northbrook CC in the Worthing Youth Cricket League and football for Wigmore Minors and it was time to think about playing those sports at adult level. And so, Northbrook OB were formed to play in the Worthing Football League and later, the newly-formed Worthing Evening Cricket League.

On Sunday, Laurie celebrated his 80th birthday and the career of “Mr Worthing sport” shows no signs of coming to an end, especially as Northbrook OB still field two teams in the Worthing Football League – 60 years after they began.

Laurie, who retired after 39 years with one of the leading banks, enjoyed a family lunch on Sunday and no doubt reflected on what might have happened if he had not decided to pop down to the Rotary Ground all those years ago.

It began conventionally enough, and Laurie admits he was not particularly gifted at either sport. “Basically, I just played when needed,” he said.

One of his proudest moments came in Northbrook’s first league football match. His side beat Goring Reserves 2-0 on Saturday, September 13, 1952, and Laurie scored the very first goal. He is chairman of Northbrook OB Football Club and has been secretary and treasurer for 58 of their 60 years to say nothing of running the line at matches for 30 years.

For 10 years, 1953-62, he played Saturday cricket for Chippingdale, but a back injury ended all that and the administrative side of the sports, already underway, gathered pace.

A list of Laurie’s posts and the length of time he has held most of them, could make anyone’s head swim, and to start with football, he joined the Worthing League management committee in 1954 and has been fixture secretary from 1963 to date. He became secretary for 11 seasons, starting in 1974 when the previous incumbent Ernie Walmsley died, and served again from 1999-2001.

He has been on the Brighton, Hove and Worthing FA committee since 1964 and on that of the Sussex County FA since 1974.

Turning to cricket, Northbrook played friendlies for a while and then joined the Evening League in 1954. He was secretary, treasurer and umpire from the start until Northbrook disbanded in 1990. He did the fixtures from 1956 until the league folded last year.

As an umpire and linesman, Laurie was always scrupulously fair and I can personally testify to that. I enjoyed several seasons with Northbrook and trying to wrench a positive lbw decision out of Laurie was almost impossible. Also, I had the honour of playing in Northbrook’s final league match.

“We had a great start to the Evening League, with five titles and two KO Cups in the first six seasons. But after that, only the Division II title in 1973,” said Laurie.

As if all that was not enough, Laurie was persuaded to join the Sussex Invitation Cricket League when it began in 1979 and but for the first season, has arranged all the fixtures there as well.

He handles up to 140 teams – cricket and football – and all on paper. He has never had a computer, but catching him out incorrect on any point of record or statistic would constitute a collector’s item.

Laurie’s wife Audrey has always given him great support and son Neale and daughters Gillian and Alison have been Northbrook cricket scorers and his other daughter Sandra married footballer/cricketer Duncan Waitland.

He received a long-service award from the Football Association in 2002 and was honoured last July when he and Audrey, who celebrated their golden wedding in 2008, went to a Buckingham Palace garden party and friends paid for a chauffeur-driven limo there and back. Friends have also tried to get him appointed MBE without success – who would deserve it more?

Was there any thought of giving it up at 80. “Why should I? I have to do something to keep myself occupied.”