A Tribute To John Towner by Kevin Dixon



John Towner loved cricket. Playing, umpiring and running a club were his passions which he fulfilled over many long summers. In his early cricketing days he formed Sandrock Cricket Club, before moving to Westfield Bohemians. Dave Thomas recounts a game for Westfield where the team was bowled out for only 11 runs, with John the only batsmen to score any runs. I am sure he reminded them of this on many occasions. In 1993 he joined Bodiam Cricket Club and over the coming years took over the running and administration of the club, and was still involved in organising us (or telling Karen how to organise us) until a few weeks ago. Under his stewardship Bodiam were transformed from an average village side, to one of the stronger sides playing Sunday friendly cricket. In assembling this team, I think that John really missed his true vocation in life. He could have been a successful football agent, wheeling and dealing - negotiating transfers and signings. This is because with his negotiating skills and unique charm he persuaded many players from the area to don a Bodiam shirt in pursuit of improving the playing standard of the side. He was particularly keen in snapping up good players from other clubs to play for us in the Observer Cup. 


This evening 20/20 competition is always fiercely competitive and our greatest achievements were reaching three Observer Cup Finals under John's leadership, but we just couldn't win that trophy. However it is still a great achievement for a little village side used to playing friendlies to compete with the best league players. For all his enthusiasm for cricket, John was not a good cricket spectator. Many times when not involved in playing or umpiring he would tramp around the boundary getting agitated if runs were coming off our bowling at an alarming rate, or berating dismissed batsmen who hadn't provided stout resistance. Sometimes he simply could not control his enthusiasm, and once in a memorable game in Hailsham could be heard to shout from his viewing position on the boundary several times, 'Get him off, just get him off' to an unfortunate Tony Wilson whose bowling was being carted around the ground - a catchphrase still used today across many village cricket grounds by the club's players. Watching the team play indoor cricket at Horntye Park was also troublesome for John. Always positioning himself directly behind the bowlers arm on the viewing balcony, he frequently gave advice to batsmen and umpires on their performance, and how they should be performing. Probably unbeknown to John (or possibly not), even his whispers to his fellow spectators could be heard quite clearly by the players, which occasionally provided for an entertaining exchange of views!!  


Up until last season John fielded 4 Bodiam teams in the indoor leagues, complete with a few 'guest' players from sides not competing. By playing in the top divisions of both leagues it shows how far John had taken the club, and silverware was achieved by winning the knockout cup 3 years ago. A highlight of most seasons were our cricket tours to clubs across the south, staying in hotels of often dubious quality and playing three matches over a bank holiday weekend. On an early tour Bodiam were fortunate to bowl out a weak looking NHS side for just 72 runs.The then captain Steve Seabridge decided to reverse the batting order to give the lesser batsmen an opportunity to chase down this small total. However the plan spectacularly backfired as wickets tumbled to the wily Asian spin bowlers that Steve had failed to spot in the opposition side. In this reverse batting order John had gone into bat early, and as his dismissed partners left the field he ordered their replacements back to the pavilion demanding that proper batsmen come in instead. In the event it was too late as Bodiam capitulated for just 20 runs. A tour to Hook in Hampshire provided a rare moment when John turned up late for the first game on the Friday evening, a feat that was made worse with the fact that I was there before him, changed and playing, and I am someone who is late to everything. John exacted revenge, however, at breakfast the next morning. As I arrived the whole team were reading photocopied front pages of the 'Battle Observer' with my photo on it and the headline 'New Mayor for Battle'. As I sat down he made an announcement to the whole restaurant that they should be honoured that they were dining in the presence of the Mayor of Battle, much to my embarrassment.


On another tour to Braintree in Essex, John announced that he had bought a case of beer in his car for us to enjoy during the tour. However the beer was not readily forthcoming, so one evening after the hotel bar had shut, we reconvened in the hotel lounge. A then underage Matt was dispatched to get the beer from John's car, and we proceeded to drink the contents through the small hours. Realising that John would not be best pleased that we had broken into his car, drunk his beer and encouraged his underage son to drink when he had been expressly sent to bed,  we then filled the empty bottles with water and carefully bent back the metal caps onto the bottles and returned the case to his car intact. It was only when John was about to return the 'defective' case of beer back to ASDA that Matt had to confess all our sins.


Our most ambitious tour was when we played overseas - well the Isle of Wight to be precise! We played 2 games on gloriously hot and sunny days beating the opposition easily, but even then this was not without incident. John felt that the team was more interested in sunbathing rather than watching and congratulating Tom Constable score a half century, and from his umpiring position he let us know his feelings. As captain I was worrying whether the sun was a bit too much for him, so I replaced him as umpire, which with hindsight, probably was not the best thing to do. Suffice to say that it was the only time John resigned from the club overseas, but harmony was swiftly restored soon after returning to the mainland. As a player John had a reputation as someone who simply would not give his wicket away, and was often found near the bottom of the order defending doughtily for an honourable draw, but when given the opportunity could transform into a classical batsman. 


I can remember a sunny Sunday afternoon at Sedlescombe , when given the chance to open the innings, after his normal cautious start he played some glorious shots for a fine score of 76, including a superb lofted drive into the trees for six. As a bowler his signature delivery was the 'ice-ball', a delivery subtlety disguised to be bowled very slowly, and very very high, pitching about a foot in front of the batsmen. If there was ever a setting sun behind him, then this was a very dangerous delivery, but even without the aid of blinding the batsman, it is surprising how many wickets John got by tempting an impatient batter down the wicket, who then missed it. John was also a safe pair of hands in the field but preferred not to field close to the wicket. This resulted in John disappearing into a field of sweetcorn in Ashurst, while going for a steepling boundary catch. All that could be seen of John was just a hand outstretched above the crops.


John was often described as Mr Bodiam Cricket Club, and he was the heart of the club, being its secretary, match fixture secretary, assistant grounds man, quiz captain, team selector and treasurer in all but name, and with Karen organised all the dinners and awards. He is leaving a massive hole in our club that is going to be very difficult to fill, but with Karen and Matt's help, the players and supporters are determined to carry on from where John left off. John would always like to win a game of cricket, and on the very rare occasion when Matt was bought onto bowl, would normally say 'For God's sake' and walk off  to square leg refusing to umpire while Matt was bowling - quite understandable if you have seen Matt bowl! However with his desire to win, was a desire to play the game in the right spirit, and a wish for everyone who turns up on a Sunday afternoon to get a part of the game. It is with these ideals in mind we will continue playing cricket for Bodiam on a Sunday afternoon, always remembering if it wasn't for John Towner, both us and the club probably wouldn't be there.


On behalf of Bodiam Village Cricket Club, its Officers, Players past and present, Supporters and Opposition teams everywhere-


Thanks John.