#5 Phil Smith’s interview with Bill Griffin

Bill Griffin has spent his entire life in and around the Cotswolds and the vast majority of it has been heavily involved in the game of cricket. While he has diversified a little in recent times, no-one will disagree that J.W.Griffin is, indeed,

A Cricketing Man

Bill first played cricket for his village team, Andoversford CC, 61 years ago in 1959.  At the time, cricket was not permitted to be played on Sundays, so in addition to the regular Saturday afternoon matches, it was a special treat for most of the area’s teams to be able to play on the summer’s two bank holiday Mondays, which in those days were at Whitsun and the first Monday in August.

“Andoversford had regular fixtures against Winchcombe on the two Mondays in question and so on a glorious summer day in August 1961, I found myself at Winchcombe playing in the same team as my father, in what transpired to be the last season of his club career – and the only occasion that we ever batted together,” Bill recalls. “Chasing a sizeable Winchcombe total, the Andoversford batting had collapsed, so I was going out to the middle in my then customary No 11 position in front of a good number of spectators (Winchcombe was one of the first clubs at that time to have a little bar in their pavilion, which proved to be quite an attraction on a hot BH Monday). Father and I managed to put on 65 runs for the last wicket, the biggest partnership of the innings, and came off the field to a very warm round of applause, before being met on the pavilion steps by the President of the Winchcombe club, Mr T.W. Graveney, who congratulated us both on our performance. Can you imagine how a 14-year old boy felt on being congratulated by such a renowned cricketer, not realising at the time that I would get to know Tom rather well in later years?” 

Bill names his coach at Westwood Grammar School in Northleach as his biggest influence in cricket. “Richard Harding found just the right balance between wanting the players to enjoy the game, while at the same time encouraging a keen winning mentality. The matches against Chipping Campden School (‘the battle of the wool towns’) were particularly memorable and very competitive.

“By the start of the following season, I had learnt how to bowl overarm (clearly, I was a late developer) and my involvement in the team became considerably more significant, while further good news arrived when we learned that we were going to be able to play regularly on Sundays too. A year later, I claimed hat-tricks in two successive matches and in 1964 I announced my debut for Gloucestershire Schools (equivalent to the County U19s today) with a match-winning bowling performance against Hampshire. I was an ever-present in the county team for the next two seasons and was thrilled to be appointed captain in the latter year. As a result, I was invited to the County Ground in Bristol for trials with Gloucestershire, but politely declined the offer, opting to pursue my intended architectural career instead.”

By now, Andoversford had a strong and successful team, reaching the final of the Cheltenham District Evening KO Cup twice in three years, but they had to settle for the runners-up medals on both occasions. “In the first final we were beaten by the United Services Club, a team put together specifically for the midweek cricket cups. The second final was against another branded team, Willows CC, which featured the ex-Gloucestershire batsman, David Brown, in their ranks.” Bill’s reluctance to speak ill of anyone now comes to the fore.  “I remember getting him out for not very many and I remember too that he expressed his disappointment at being dismissed by someone he believed to be a rookie bowler. It wasn’t a problem, though.” 

Turning out for his village team in both longer weekend matches and limited over midweek fixtures had been immensely enjoyable, but it was almost time for Bill to move on to pastures new.

“In 1971, Gill and I purchased a building plot in the Duntisbourne valley, resulting in my upping cricketing sticks and leaving Andoversford for Birdlip & Brimpsfield, as the ground was much easier to get to from our new home. Birdlip played in the Stroud District League and the standard of the game in their first division was high, so it wasn’t necessary to travel too far for good, competitive cricket.”

Ten years later, the Birdlip club was gifted a piece of land in the village adjacent to the primary school on which to build its own ground, having previously played at Highgate Farm just off the A417, about one and a half miles outside the village. Bill designed and project managed the new development and with so many of the club’s other players also working in the construction industry, the entire build was achieved by a great off-field DIY team effort. After two years in the making, the club commenced playing at their new ground in 1983, although the pavilion was not fully completed until 1985. The building was formerly opened the following year by the BBC cricket presenter, Peter West, who had moved to the Duntisbournes the year before, and a man who Bill had got to know very well. “We first met while I was out walking the dog. He was a real gentleman with a massive amount of knowledge of both cricket and rugby. What really struck me though was how very down to earth he always was.”

By 1986, Bill’s body had sadly succumbed to the rigours of 25 seasons of quick bowling and he suddenly found himself unable to continue playing. He wanted to stay involved in the game however, and so began donning ‘the coat’ for some of Birdlip’s matches and quickly realised that there was much he did not know about the vagaries of cricket law. By good fortune, the recently formed Cirencester & District Association of Cricket Umpires (no Scorers in their title initially) was running a training course in the winter months, which he decided to sign up for. “The venue was a room at the old Cirencester Town football ground on the Tetbury Road junction which, like many of the training venues of the day, probably wasn’t the most salubrious of places to begin your umpiring journey.

“It was here that I first met David Rees, who was travelling up from Chipping Sodbury each week to deliver the course and who effectively became my mentor. I was fortunate to pass the very exacting ACU written exam (still no Scorers in the national body’s title) and after two years of officiating, I passed their oral exam too and was admitted as a full member. 

“1987 saw me umpiring in Cirencester District League cricket, standing with another trained colleague on each occasion and I found this to be much more satisfying and desirable than doing the job for my club, whose teams were full of people I had played with back in the day.”

The following year, Bill also joined the recently formed Gloucestershire Association of Cricket Umpires as they were then known and he added to his schedule by taking a few appointments with them too.

During the autumn of 1990, David Rees contacted Bill, asking if he would assist him in delivering the umpire training courses in Cirencester. “I was initially apprehensive at the prospect as I had no previous teaching experience, but David assured me that he would help and support me and initially gave me some of the simpler laws to present. I spent the next couple of winters with David developing my teaching skills, before I was left to run some weeks of the course on my own. At this time, David also gave me a lot of guidance as to how best to construct and formulate courses so that there was a high interest level and a balanced structure to each week’s programme, which always sought to build on the subject matter already presented.”

At that time, Bill also joined up with Basil Smith, the then very accomplished Training Officer with GACU (no scorers yet either) and began to assist him in delivering his courses, thus providing him with more valuable experience on the tutoring front. “Basil really knew his stuff and was extremely thorough in everything he did. Standing with him, particularly in U17 and U19 County matches was a pleasure; he was a great team man,” reflects Bill.

A couple of years later, Stan Bennett took over from Basil as the County Association’s Training Officer and there commenced an incredibly exciting partnership lasting some 18 years, over which time the course content, presentation equipment and teaching skills all developed significantly. “It was Stan who really encouraged me to try to dovetail all the bits of cricket law together,” says Bill. “Complete the jigsaw. If you understand the logic, you’ll understand the law.”

Returning to umpiring itself and in the early 1990s, Bill started receiving appointments to higher standard cricket from GACUS, resulting in him standing in the Western League. “I also received appointments in North Wiltshire on behalf of the Bristol Association and my burgeoning schedule brought me in touch with a number of first-class cricketers, including those from Glamorgan, who played for the South Wales-based teams. To witness their skills from close quarters was always a privilege and it was also a joy to stand in county age-group cricket, particularly in multi-day U17 and U19 matches and see the most-talented young cricketers playing, a good number of whom went on to enjoy successful first-class careers.”

Bill recollects one particularly memorable county age group match he stood in at Rendcomb College, when Gloucestershire played Avon in an U15s fixture. “The match was being played on the College’s upper ground with a 13.30 start, while on the lower ground a 1-day England Schools v Wales Schools U19 match, which had begun at 11.00, was taking place. There were several hundred people watching the main encounter and when this game stopped for lunch, I asked the umpires how it was going. ‘Ah, these lads must think they are playing in a 5-day test,’ came the rather downbeat reply. 

“Meanwhile, I had noted within the Avon team that there was a Colin Milburn lookalike and a player who was an absolute doppelganger for David Gower. Avon batted first with the Colin Milburn lookalike opening the batting, and it wasn’t long before the other opener was dismissed and in came the David Gower lookalike. These two proceeded to bat in exact comparable styles to their better-known likenesses, with many boundary fours and several big sixes being scored. I then started to realise that our match was now being watched by many of the spectators who had originally come to view the England v Wales game. These two lads put on 177 for the 2nd wicket with the most exhilarating display of batting you could ever wish to see and both were well applauded off the field at the end of their respective innings. 

“Meanwhile, the England v Wales game continued in a somewhat low-key fashion, with only a handful of spectators remaining to witness the closing stages. If you ever get the chance to look in the Rendcomb College pavilion, you will see a framed team card with the names of the England and Wales teams’ players who took to the field that day. Four of those England U19 lads went on to represent their country at full international level, though one of those did so at football, not cricket. Michael Atherton, whose batting may have been responsible for the umpires’ less than enthusiastic lunchtime riposte, Gareth Batty and Freddie Flintoff were the future England cricketers, while Phil Neville was the cricketer-cum-footballer who was showcasing his batting and quick bowling skills that day. My only regret is that I didn’t note down the names of the two Avon U15 players, as it would have been good to follow their futures in the game and see where they finished up.”

On another occasion, Bill recalls Gloucestershire U19s setting Essex 333 to win in a 2-day match at the Archdeacon Meadow ground in Gloucester and losing by 9 wickets. A huge 1st wicket partnership between Johnny Hayes (son of Frank) and Stephen Peters, who went on to have a successful first-class career with his home-town county, Worcestershire and Northants, giving Essex their resounding victory. 

In 2004, Bill was able to take early retirement and began watching Gloucestershire play on a regular basis rather than just intermittently, as had been the case up until then. His new-found pastime led to him watching many of the team’s away matches in addition to his regular visits to Nevil Road. At the same time, Bill’s interest in horse racing took on a whole new meaning when he became a shareholder in a national hunt racehorse called ‘Bob’s Temptation’. While Bill describes the result of his initial foray into the equine world as ‘An average mount’, his interest was well and truly piqued and horse racing became Bill’s main winter sport, meaning his travels around the country to wherever the horse was running extended his nationwide UK odyssey to a twelve-months-a-year sporting tour.

“Over the past sixteen years, my involvement with horse racing has increased to the extent that I currently have shares in seven horses and during that time we have been very fortunate to have had many of the top jockeys ride for us. You can be pleasantly surprised by the journeys that successful horses can take you on and amongst the many courses that I have visited as an owner, the most memorable times are being at Aintree on the Friday of a Grand National meeting, at Epsom Downs on a beautiful summer’s evening, having a runner in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival (the race before the Gold Cup itself) and being at Cartmel in the glorious setting of the southern Lake District, where you can savour the atmosphere of holidaymakers enjoying racing on a bank holiday Monday. In my experience, there is no greater thrill in sport than watching your horse in contention to win in the closing stages of a race.”

Back to the umpiring and 2009 brought the curtain down on Bill’s days in the middle.  “Unfortunately, the strains and stresses that I had put my body through during my playing days were causing me problems in standing for long periods, so I took the reluctant decision to stand down from umpiring at the end of that season. Thankfully though, I could still stay in touch with umpiring by continuing with the very satisfying role of training others to become cricket officials and to take on what was then a relatively new initiative of being a boundary-edge observer. 

“When Stan Bennett stood down as Umpire Training Officer in 2011, I took up the challenge of following in his footsteps. I was very aware that I needed to strengthen the tutor team and fortunately GACUS had two umpires who had vast teaching experience, namely Peter Sawyer and Bob Owen. Thankfully, both accepted the invite to become umpire tutors and these days, it is a pleasure to have the roles reversed by supporting them in delivering the various courses. It is also pleasing to leading View. Press Alt+Shift+A for accessibility hewitness at first-hand the increase in numbers of the training team, the continued progress being made in the evolving style of presentations and the focus on post-qualification development of umpire skills with the use and support of a team of talented mentors and a dedicated group of  boundary-edge observers.”

2011 also saw Bill elected to the Executive Board of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club, leading to a subsequent involvement in overseeing strategies and policy for the running of professional cricket as a business. As he had had much experience in design and management through his various roles in the construction industry, this also involved him in the major redevelopment of the County Ground in Bristol, as well as being a driving force in voluntary fundraising for various aspects of the club. The redevelopment of Nevil Road began in October 2012, with the state-of-the-art pavilion and conference facilities opening in August 2013. The inclusion of a complex of flats opposite the pavilion gave the ground more of an enclosed, ‘stadium-like’ feel, while the revenue they generated played an important role in the funding of the overall project.

Being now a non-executive director of GCCC, Bill was in the privileged position of being able to watch Gloucestershire matches from the committee rooms at away grounds as well as enjoying similarly engaging surroundings at home games, and in so doing has been privileged to meet many renowned and interesting people in the first-class game, including a good number of former players.

“To mention all the ‘stand-out’ people that I’ve met would be rather extensive, but notable amongst them is the former England wicketkeeper Alan Knott, who was on a rare trip back to the country from his home in Cyprus in support of Geraint Jones’ benefit, though I didn’t realise at the time that Geraint would join Gloucestershire the following season. Alan was a super guy who could talk about wicketkeeping and wicketkeepers all day long. He was a big fan of our own Jack Russell, accrediting Jack with setting new standards in one-day cricket by standing up to the medium pacers. 

“Another I must mention is David Allen, who became President of the county club during my period on the Executive Board and his advice and stories were very much appreciated. Learning first-hand about his experiences playing for England, particularly his famed involvement in securing a draw in the test match against the West Indies when facing Wes Hall at his fastest, with Colin Cowdrey at the other end sporting a broken wrist, was most enlightening. David also spoke fondly about playing in charity games for Old England after retiring from first-class cricket with people like Jim Parks, who I met at Arundel and of course Derek Randall, with whom there was never a dull moment. Geoff Miller was another great character and is probably still the best speaker on the after-dinner circuit. On a wet second day of a Championship match at Derby, Geoff joined the Gloucestershire committee for an extended lunch and entertained us non-stop for at least two and a half hours. Having the ability to morph from a serious England selector into a raconteur mimicking Derek Randall in sixty seconds flat is a rare talent.

“Of all those that I have met though, the greatest honour was surely to spend an entire 1-day match at the Oval in the company of Sir John Major, together with Pat Pocock, the former England off spinner and the then President of Surrey. Sir John’s evident love of the game shone through and his vast historical and current-day knowledge of cricket was fascinating to experience. As I drove out of London that evening, I was reflecting on how incredible it was that I had had such a relaxed and enjoyable time in conversation with a former prime minister of the UK.”

Bill stood down from the County Club Executive Board in 2017 and a year later was elected a life Vice-President of the Club – “A really great honour,” he smiles.

While his umpiring days are over, Bill remains extremely active in the sporting world. In addition to following his stable of racehorses around the country, he watches the county club on a regular basis and continues to help raise funds to support the GCCC academy. He is especially proud of the fact that over half the current first team squad has progressed from Owen Dawkins’ group and is hopeful that that level of advancement will continue.

Bill’s final cricketing thought, when discussing his continuing role as a member of the GACUS training team, says it all though. “I just want to help other people get the same amount of enjoyment from umpiring as I’ve had over the years, because I’ve loved every single minute of it.”

Author’s Note

Tom Graveney OBE: Gloucestershire & Worcestershire batsman who played for England in 79 test matches. Graveney scored over 50,000 first class runs, became president of the Cheltenham Cricket Society and at one point ran the Royal Oak in Prestbury. In addition to his other talents, Tom had a great memory; on meeting Bill many years later, he immediately remembered the last wicket stand at Winchcombe that had taken place way back in 1961.

Phil Neville: Lancashire and England U19 player who Freddie Flintoff once described as a ‘cricketing genius’. “Phil had to choose between Lancashire’s contract offer of £2,500 a year, or sign for Manchester United. I’m glad he chose United, otherwise I might have ended up at somewhere like Derbyshire,” was Flintoff’s rather un-PC-like reflection of his former team mate.

David Allen: Off-spinner who made 39 test appearances and played all of his 450+ first class matches for Gloucestershire. In later years, David was President of Thornbury CC and at the end of games at the Ship Field, he would wait for the umpires to grab a post-match beer before sidling over, tapping them on the shoulder and quietly asking, ‘Were they okay? Any problems at all, just let me know.’

Peter West: Attended the same school as the football commentators Barry Davies and Brian Moore. After being sacked from his first post-war job, he was stuck in another dead-end post, transmitting sports results via telegraph ticker-tape. One day however, when sitting next to the legendary test cricketer and journalist C.B. Fry in the press box at Taunton, he was able to transmit Fry’s report after the telephonist failed to turn up. Fry recommended West to the head of the BBC outside broadcasting, who immediately signed him up as a cricket commentator and the rest, as they say, is history.

Alan Knott MBE: Considered to be one of, if not the, greatest wicketkeeper-batsman of all time. Played in 95 tests for England and nearly 1,000 professional matches in total, wearing two pairs of inners with strips of plasticine across the palms in most of them. One of the few players to profit from a double overthrow in test cricket when, after pushing a single against the West indies at Headingley in 1976, eventually added seven to his score without playing another shot.

Bill Griffin: Cricketer, umpire, trainer, project manager, committee member and racehorse owner. A self-proclaimed ‘All-rounder for a fortnight’ and a universally-proclaimed ‘Cricketing Ma