His competitive streak was legendary, but it was also his natural talent and supreme fitness that enabled him to fill the right-back slot at Farnham for so long and then, with his football days over, turn his full attention to the summer game, taking many, many wickets with his guileful slow bowling and playing I’Anson Division One cricket beyond his 70th birthday.
Just last winter, Ray was in Australia playing for England Over-70s in a Test series against Australia and doing his bit with economical bowling as the tourists struggled to a 4-0 defeat. His death at 71 (the day before his 72nd birthday), less than a year later, will be difficult to comprehend for team-mates and opponents alike, such was his stamina, durability and sheer zest for the game. The many messages left on Facebook bear testimony to the high esteem in which he was held.
He was still a Frensham first-team player in the 2017 season – the oldest regular top-flight cricketer in the I’Anson – while also turning out for Surrey and England Over-60s. In 2016, he helped England Over-70s to a series victory against the visiting Australian side.
Ray Clarke, a true son of Frensham village, was playing men’s football and cricket soon after leaving Key Cross School at Tilford. Like many of his contemporaries, he was determined to play both sports but had to settle for short cricket seasons, with football biting deep into both ends of the summer.
He played to win in both sports – a genuinely tough customer on the pitch, but disarmingly friendly and convivial once the game was over. He had no time for insincerity, false modesty or arrogance; said what he thought – often bluntly – and had strong views on how things ought to be done. In short, he had integrity – something that stood Frensham in good stead during the many years he served as club captain.
He had a lively sense of humour – a devil with a bottle of shampoo in the showers – but also had the capacity to laugh at himself. He could give a batsman a verbal working over, flatten an opposing forward with a crunching tackle – but never complained when he was on the receiving end of the same treatment.
During his 20-plus years with Farnham Town, he played in the sides that dominated the Surrey Senior League in the late 1960s. He held the right-back position when Town made an ambitious move into the Spartan League in 1971. He was a key member of the team that won the London Spartan League Challenge Cup in 1979 – this still ranks as the club’s highest honour – and continued playing when Farnham joined the Combined Counties League in 1980.
A hard-tackling defender with a fine tactical brain, Clarke also liked to get forward, but any attempt to cross the halfway line by his opposing left-back was likely to be repulsed – robustly.
Ray was virtually a one-club footballer, although he played briefly for Wrecclesham and Hale Athletic near the end of his career.
As a cricketer, he was very much the all-rounder in his younger days and batted well up the order, particularly adept at using his feet against the spinners. He scored a lot of runs but settled for being a specialist slow bowler as a crop of talented youngsters came through in the late 1980s.
Frensham were serial I’Anson champions from 1985 onward and their success had much to do with the prolific wicket-taking of leg-spinner John Storey and the hard-to-categorise Ray Clarke. The club combined youth and experience to great effect. Six of the experienced players were Storey, Clarke, Trevor Jeffery, Sheoghan Dickinson, John Turbard and, later, Graham Senior. All six, alas, are no longer with us.
Ray Clarke, a self-employed builder and a devoted family man, if anything improved with age and was still troubling the best I’Anson batsmen after 50 years in the competition. He cared little for statistics – he kept no record of his own achievements – but he is surely Frensham’s leading wicket-taker.
He was unique as an I’Anson bowler, for his skill and longevity, and also gave memorable performances in the National Village Cup and annual Surrey Leagues Tournament at The Oval, as well as on Frensham’s regular tours of Holland.
When Frensham CC branched out and put on the first of a series of pantomimes, Ray belied his hard-man image by playing Prince Charming in Cinderella and giving a fine rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’.
Frensham Cricket Club have released their own tribute to Ray Clarke:
‘Ray was born in Frensham and played cricket for the village team all his life. Various attempts to drop him from the first team for younger players always failed. He was just too good. His bowling seemed innocuous, slow without any obvious trickery. Yet the looping deliveries concealed a wide range of subtle variations, all delivered with incredible control. Ray combined this skill with a formidably intense competitive streak. No cause was ever lost with Ray in the team. The idea of opponents fearing a slow bowling septuagenarian seems preposterous, but Ray’s intense fighting spirit meant this was the case throughout the I’Anson clubs.
His deep modesty meant that Ray’s skills were confined to village cricket for most of his life. That all changed when he turned out for the I’Anson representative team in the annual Surrey Leagues Tournament at The Oval and almost single-handedly beat the Surrey Championship Premiership team with an astonishing four wickets in one over, including a hat-trick. Now ‘discovered’ at the age of 66, Ray went on to represent Surrey Over-60s and was duly selected to represent England Over-70s. As recently as March, Ray was playing against the Australians in Brisbane.
As much as we will miss his exploits on the pitch, it is Ray’s commitment and sense of fun off the pitch that are irreplaceable. He always insisted the team stayed after the match and share a drink and a chat with the opposition. He was as generous and chivalrous off the pitch as he was competitive on it. He saw that as an essential part of the great game we play; a sense of camaraderie without which the day’s cricket was incomplete. And everyone loved him for it, even though he had usually made the opposing players look a bit daft on the field. Self-effacing and with a wicked sense of humour, the post-match analysis was never dull with Ray Clarke around.
As well as winning the I’Anson Division One three times as skipper in the 1990s, Ray set the tone at Frensham Cricket Club during many years as club captain. Encouraging players; organising work parties; ensuring that bad behaviour was disciplined; helping with social events. Ray was ever present.
He always extended a warm, natural welcome to any spectator or passer-by at Hollowdene, though often in the hope they were a prolific opening batsman or fearsome fast bowler whom we could recruit. He offered firm but fair support for youngsters graduating to the first team and usually managed to contain his fury when one of them dropped a catch off his bowling – just.
We send Ray’s wife, Lorna, and family our deepest condolences. He will forever be deeply loved by all at Frensham Cricket Club and in the wider cricket world. Canny bowler; formidable competitor; wonderful friend. Rest in peace, Ray Clarke.’
Graham Collyer, former long-serving I’Anson secretary, who recently enjoyed a trip down memory lane with Ray, added: “He is going to be missed in so many ways, and the local cricketing community should be especially proud of the fact that one of its number was selected to play for England when he was over 70. What a record!
“We had a laugh when he talked about the Beldham sign being unveiled by Graham Thorpe at Wrecclesham’s ground. ‘I could have done that as an England player,’ said Ray, to which I added that Silver Billy Beldham was born in Wrecclesham Street, meaning that three England players had come from that one stretch of road.”
Current I’Anson secretary Gill Rooney said: “Ray played I’Anson cricket all his cricketing life and embodied everything that was good about our game.”
Ray Clarke leaves his wife, Lorna, daughters Sara and Helen, and grandchildren Eva, Amalie, Toby and Cameron.