Sidmouth teams mourn passing of a wonderful sporting all-rounder -
- Credit: Archant
Cricketing friends and former rivals have been paying tribute to all-round sportsman and Sidbury businessman John Harris, who has died aged 82, writes Conrad Sutcliffe.
Harris was a full-time cricketer for Somerset in the 1950s, then a professional coach, groundsman and club player throughout the 1960s and ’70s.
He served Sidmouth CC for eight years from 1966 onwards and had a brief stint with Seaton in 1974 before moving to Exeter.
After serving an umpiring apprenticeship in Minor Counties cricket for three season, Harris became a full-time umpire with the England and Wales Cricket Board in 1983.
By the time he retired at the end of the 2000 season Harris had stood in 288 First Class games, 309 List A matches, five under-19 international games and 59 second eleven games. He never stood in a one-day Lord’s final, but was the TV umpire when Gloucestershire defeated Warwickshire in the 2000 NatWest Trophy final.
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Retirement allowed Harris and second wife Morag to combine business with their joint love of dogs, in particular collies. The couple bought Drew Boarding Kennels in Sidbury and have built up a successful business.
It was while running an errand for the business last week that Harris become unwell while buying bottled gas on a garage forecourt. An ambulance was called, but he died on the way to hospital.
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Alan Wardrop, a former Sidmouth cricketer who became Harris’s brother-in-law through marriage, said he had been active in the business right up to the end.
“John did not do the heavy side of the work any longer, but was busy with the admin and any odd jobs that needed doing,” said Wardrop.
“John and my sister bought the kennel around 25 years ago and it was an ideal business for two people who loved animals as they did.”
John Harris was born in Taunton and educated there and in London before becoming a cricket professional aged 15 in the summer of 1951.
He was, and remains, the youngest player after to appear in a professional match for Somerset, making his debut aged 16 years and 101 days against Glamorgan in 1952.
After two years’ National Service in the RAF, Harris returned to Somerset in 1957 to resume his cricket career.
With his cricket career stalled in the second team, Harris accepted a coaching job at Framlingham School, Suffolk in 1959.
“I did not want to leave Somerset, but was married with two young kids and this offered stability,” said Harris, in a 2016 interview. “Notts were keen to sign me and take a risk on my elbow, but I did not go.”
A new chapter opened for Harris, that of cricket coach, groundsman and Minor Counties all-rounder with Suffolk.
“I had five years at Framlingham – and I played for Suffolk for four years – and it was definitely the right thing to do,” said Harris. A two-year stint coaching and ground keeping in Kent followed before Harris headed to Sidmouth and a multi-faceted role as groundsman, club professional and finally captain.
Wardrop said Harris played cricket the right way: “John was very competitive but always played with a smile on his face and with him the banter was never nasty.”
Harris started the 1973 season with Sidmouth but finished it with Seaton and remained there for the summer of 1974.
Future Somerset CCC chief executive Peter Anderson, then an officer in the Devon & Cornwall police, played against Harris and later with him at Seaton. He remembers Harris fondly.
“John, like all old pros, had a fund of amazing stories,” said Anderson.
“I am sure he made half of them up, but they were great stories and no one cared how true they were.”
Exeter were looking for a groundsman-professional in 1975 and Harris was on the move again.
Harris played a handful of games for Devon in 1975, but with his 40th birthday fast approaching it was time to look for a new career in the game. With Exeter’s support he started umpiring in Minor Counties games in 1979 and new chapter opened.
Harris combined umpiring with ground keeping until 1981 when the former started to overtake the later after he was put on the First Class reserve list of umpires. By 1983, Harris was a full-time man in the middle, where he remained for the next 18 years.
Harris was an all-round sportsman who played football and hockey for Sidmouth teams. He met wife-to-be Morag in the bar at Sidmouth Golf Club.
John Harris is survived by his wife, four children and a brother, who will be travelling back from Australia for the funeral.