50th birthday signals the end of an era

WHEN Rod Blackmore decided to retire from cricket at the end of this season his fellow team-mates at Pimpernel CC agreed that the club should also go into retirement.

WHEN Rod Blackmore decided to retire from cricket at the end of this season his fellow team-mates at Pimpernel CC agreed that the club should also go into retirement.

For Pimpernel was founded by Rod's parents, Bill and Ella, 50 years ago when the Blackmore family converted a field on their land at Frogs Hall, Barrow, near Bury St Edmunds.

For half a century the family-run club has fulfilled more than 1,500 friendly fixtures - and Rod has played in most of them.

The first match was played on May 4, 1958, against Cavenham - and the last was against Hockwold last month. “I was out for nought in that first game, and managed to score five not out against Hockwold, so I must have improved,” said Rod, who is now 66. “Hockwold is our oldest surviving fixture - we first played them in about 1962 - so it was fitting to end with them.”

When he made his last appearance on the ground he has lovingly tended for half-a-century he received a cheer from the players of both teams.

“It was a heartfelt ovation given by players and spectators alike which clearly showed the respect and affection Rod has earned during his 50 years of cricket,” said Rick Shepperson, a leading Pimpernel player of recent years.

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In its heyday the club played many midweek fixtures against teams from various neighbouring counties and young players have always been given their chance.

Rod's links to Suffolk youth teams have helped provide a steady flow of talented youngsters.

Many have gone on to play Minor Counties cricket for Suffolk - including current long-serving captain Phil Caley, who turned out for Pimpernel when he was a pupil at Ipswich School.

Rod listed a group of the best Pimpernel players, including John Sargeant, Ray Hayhoe, John Forster, David Bailey and David Male, whose uncle, George Male, played football for Arsenal and England.

Generations of players of all abilities have taken part in Pimpernel's friendly fixtures -

they have never taken part in league cricket. Many youngsters have had a first taste of adult cricket, and in recent years Rod has been delighted to introduce them to declaration matches based on time, rather than limited overs.

“It has done them good to play in matches where you have to take 10 wickets to win rather than just restrict your opponents from scoring,” said Rod.

His life has been dedicated to the summer game.

For many years he arranged his

work as a vet in practices in Norfolk so that he only worked during the

winter months, and he took the summer off to play cricket.

He regularly completed the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a season - although he admits he did play an awful lot of cricket to achieve that!

But Rod has never been a statistician, and has never kept a tally of all his runs and wickets. “I've never played an innings without at least one false shot in it, which means I went into every match hoping to do so. But now I have to accept that I never will.”

“My wheels are not what they were. My knees are not working properly and the things that I used to do naturally seem to take a lot of effort.

“That is why I decided this will be my last season - and it has been the right decision.”

He was Suffolk's first cricket development officer, a post he held for 10 years.

He has also been the county's Colts manager for 11 years, and is still heavily involved in the county's coaching set-up.

He will continue his role as youth development manager at St Margarets CC in Ipswich in association with the Chance to Shine initiative, which involves taking cricket to six schools in Ipswich.

He is also coaching the University of Essex women's team at Colchester, and has been a great supporter of the progress of the women's game in the region.