Marathon innings from a man for all seasons

Rather like the clarion call of the first cuckoo, the appearance of John Chilvers on the local cricket scene is one of those surefire indicators that spring is sprung and summer is on the way.

And Eaton's hardy annual captain aims to keep it that way for a few more years yet by to adding to his remarkable 36 years at the helm.

Local sporting summers just wouldn't be the same without one-club man John, who is one of the grass roots game's great enthusiasts. With a devotion to his club that is second to none and an enyclopaedic knowledge of all things Eaton, John is one of a rare breed of cricketing characters.

If a club record eighth-wicket partnership is broken during a game you can expect John to chirpily announce it to all and sundry on the field of play.

Eaton can trace their roots back to a team called Fitness set up after the Second World War with a �50-a year Government grant to encourage former servicemen to keep fit.

After a terminal grant of �100 was paid in 1968 the club changed its name to Eaton and began playing friendlies with former Eaton CNS School pals John Chilvers and Geoff Vincent in the team.

Eaton joined the Norfolk League in its fifth season in the long, hot summer of 1976, when matches were played on Saturdays and Sundays, Chilvers taking on the Sunday captaincy duties.

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His first game in charge was a 101-run win over a Swardeston team which was dismissed for 44 after Eaton had made 145 with Simon Fudge (now club treasurer) and Nicholas Fudge (club chairman) making half-centuries.

Chilvers graciously added that Swardeston may not have been at their strongest as the league game clashed with a cup competition.

Now 59, the retired Stalham High School head teacher became Eaton's sole league captain in 1981 and is now in his 31st season. If you factor in his years as joint captain it adds up to 36 years at the helm.

A former wicket-keeper, whose best score of 92 came in a friendly against Aldborough in 1978, Chilvers still gets a kick out of captaincy and playing and has no plans to retire.

'I still get a buzz before every new season even if it's not quite as powerful as it was. I love being involved in the side, the cricketing culture and the cameraderie.

'Captaincy's given me a special set of skills, which I have enjoyed developing over many years.'

After Watton's withdrawal this season, Eaton, who played for many years at the Eaton Park 'Cage' pitch before the move to City of Norwich School in 1992, have become the Norfolk League's current second longest-serving side behind Rollesby.

Highlights of John's tenure include three promotions – in 1977 (Division Three to Two); 1983 (Division Two to One) and 1994 (Division Six to Five). They are currently fourth in Division Three.

In recent years the club has shaken off a 'Dad's Army' reputation as an ageing team has been joined by some talented young guns, many of them nurtured via the club's Sunday side which plays in the Friendly Alliance.

'I get an enormous amount of pleasure out of having contributed to the development of a lot of good young players, some of whom have moved on to stronger clubs. It's very nice to watch a good stand between Sam Butcher and Michael Barker who started in our Sunday friendly side at the age of 11.'

John is proud of the club's family-orientated nature as well as a reputation for fair play which saw them win the Norfolk League annual Spirit of Cricket Award for sportsmanship in 2007.

'Once we were able to put out a side of 11 players who were either sons of players or fathers of players,' he said.

The current league squad includes spinner David Trett (72) and his grandsons Robert Duke and Matthew Duke. A number of players have mirrored John's extroardinary devotion to the Eaton cause over the years, with left-arm spinner John Reynolds (still playing on Sundays at the age of 77), Geoff Vincent, Graham Brakenbury, Graham Best, Neil Barker and Graham Spinks some of the most familiar names on the Norfolk League cricket scene over the years. Even when players hang up their whites they never quite kick the Eaton habit.

'When people stop playing they still want to continue to be connected to the club. It seems that no one ever truly leaves,' said John, who aims to devote himself to umpiring when he has to give up playing. He said that Eaton had been glad to play a part in the success story of the Norfolk League, which is celebrating its 40th season this year.

'It has given a club like ours the opportunity to play good competitive cricket in a well-organised structure.'