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The Year of the Cat – Bob Bevan MBE reflects on his year as Kent Cricket President

Thursday 13th March 2014

Cat, you told me you were utterly astonished to be nominated as President. Let me assure you, you are far from alone in that regard” – Matthew “Jazzer” Fleming, January 2013

———ooooooOOOOOOoooooo——–

I admit at the outset that I have borrowed, or should I say nicked, the heading from my worthy successor, Graham Johnson (Johnno), who apparently has noted elsewhere that he had spotted how much I enjoyed being President.

At a dinner earlier this year Jazzer said that he met many people around the County scene who had expected to become President. “Cat”, he continued “never expected to be President” and then went on to make some very kind remarks about my year which I was especially pleased about considering how much stick I have given him at dinners over the years. Mind you, he did make it clear he would be saying something nice about me only once.

As many of you know the outgoing President picks the next one and although some of my predecessors said I would be pestered by people desperate to know who I had in mind it was actually not too bad. If anyone did ask I would say I was torn between Reginal D Hunter and John Terry and that appeared to end most conversations.

To begin at the beginning. It was early afternoon on Monday 10 November 2012. I was on a train coming down from Glasgow where I had spoken at the Scottish Football Hall of Fame Dinner. I had had a good night. I had gone down well and spent my evening enjoying the company of many legends of the game.

So I was already in a good mood despite the fact that we were now stuck outside Newark for a 100-minute delay and opposite was a sturdy woman with a loud voice permanently on her mobile phone. One of these people who think we should all hear her conversation to show how important she was.

On checking my emails there was a message from Anne Wallace, my PA, asking me to call Mike Denness. This was nothing new as we spoke quite often during the 18 months of his illness normally managing to see the funny side of most things despite his predicament.

So, to compete with the woman opposite, I called him back.

I told him about the Scottish Hall of Fame Dinner and said it had been held in a phone box and shamelessly name-dropped all the footballers I had been with.

He then said he had to nominate the next President of Kent. Still I wondered what this had to do with me.

I can still hear that soft Scottish voice saying “I am nominating Bob “the Cat” Bevan.”

It was, as Jazzer said, not something I had ever considered or expected. In a way I suppose that made it even more special.

After asking him to repeat himself I then went through a list of people who I imagined must have been far ahead of me. He listened patiently and then asked if I would do it. I said I would, of course, although it was still hard to take in.

In fact even now it’s over I still can’t believe it happened – to me!

He explained that he would now put his choice to the annual lunch of Past Presidents. I said we had better wait for that in case they rejected me.

“They’d better not,” he said.

Even so I told only my wife, Laura, and waited for that lunch. On the afternoon Mike called. “Mr President-elect? It was unanimous”.

He told me that the office would be in touch. They soon were but not before I had written to Mike saying I didn’t know how I would ever be able to thank him.

Then it all kicked off. Before you could say “quick single” CEO Jamie Clifford’s then PA, Alison Davies, was on the phone summoning me to Canterbury. It’s a near three-hour round trip from my house and I wondered how many times I would be travelling that route in the next 12 months.

At the ground by chance were two journalist friends, Mark Baldwin and Mark Pennell. “How did it feel,” asked the latter to have an England Captain calling you and asking you to be President of Kent?” It was an angle I had not considered before.

“Pretty special” I answered rather inadequately.

Then it was pictures in front of the pavilion, my plastic badge had already been produced, even though I wasn’t actually in office until the AGM in April, and my name was already on the Honours Board. I stood and looked at it and the names I now sat alongside – Colin Cowdrey, Derek Underwood, Jim Swanton, a former Governor of the Bank of England ……… My eyes moistened up and I hoped nobody had noticed. I thought of my parents, long since passed away, and wished I could have shared it with them.

A few days later and the news was released. Only the second entertainer ever to be President of a County Club, the other being Sir Richard Stilgoe eight years before at Surrey.

Messages poured in, amazingly the first from my friend Keith Bradshaw, CEO of the South Australian Cricket Association in Adelaide. Then family, friends, people in the game, old school pals all wishing me well and managing to hide their surprise.

Rob Key must have seen it coming because he had handed over the captaincy to James Tredwell. Typically Keysie texted “They let any old riff raff in now”.

I replied “Be careful. I’ve already got rid of the Captain and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” He has yet to come up with a reply.

Early into the New Year and the call again to Canterbury, this time for Laura and I. We were meeting with the chef to discuss the theme of the Canterbury Festival Week eight months away. They plan ahead in Kent.

John Shepherd had wanted Caribbean and Mike Denness Scotland. I would go for British with the emphasis on South London. So jellied eels, roast beef, fish and chips, steak and kidney pies. It was all planned.

I would be representing the Club that week and would be hosting all the VIPs. No wonder the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Duke of Kent didn’t show up. They must have heard who was President.

Soon I would be at my first Committee meeting. The President is ex-officio and gets a vote. Fascinating to suddenly become privy to what happens behind the scenes.

I knew most, if not all, of the people around the table. These were the friends with whom I would be spending my summer and I wasn’t going to miss any of it unless I was working.

Over the rest of my term I would become lost in admiration for the operation of the club both voluntary and salaried.

CEO Jamie appears unflappable in just about every situation and his dedication would extend to sending the odd email in the early hours of the morning. Not that I would be up to read them.

Chairman George Kennedy’s business acumen and generosity would make me wonder if the club would still be here without him.

I would become even more impressed by Johnno’s depth of knowledge of the game, his presentation skills and ability to sort out most awkward situations.

I would enjoy the company and professionalism of Treasurer Simon Philip and find a kindred spirit as a non league football fan.

Only one person would be at every day of a County Championship game. John Clarke has not missed one since 1997. I would enjoy his company, while teasing him for being such an “anorak”, and his dry sense of humour.

For Laura summer holidays were off this year so we went to Dubai in February but couldn’t get away from cricket.

In the lounge at our wonderful hotel, Fairmont on the Palm, two of the staff were into cricket – one an Indian and the other a Gloucester supporter, both very impressed that the President-elect of Kent was staying.

Then Chris Cowdrey turned up with the Lord’s Taverners for a couple of games with the Emirates airline side and I ended up entertaining at their gala dinner.

Back in the UK it was a miserable and cold start to the season but I thought I had better show my face at a two-day friendly against Surrey and use my parking space for the first time.

To my horror there was a car in my spot. I went up on the grass to try and get as near as possible when vice captain Geraint Jones walked by. “That’s not a four-wheel drive, Cat” he said.

I pointed out that someone was in my space. Joner told me it was Sam North-East who was batting at the time. Now I was all powerful I demanded that he called him in. He didn’t, of course.

A few months ago I wrote to Sam congratulating him on being appointed vice-captain for this season adding “but you still can’t have my parking space.”

With the AGM delayed until the end of April I went to Leicester still as President-elect. By now Mike Denness was in a hospice and on the Friday we had the call we dreaded.

Jamie asked me if I could speak to Mike’s long-time partner, Doreen, to check if the news could be released to the media. All the family were there and she said it was OK. We tried to continue a conversation but we both broke down and had to ring off.

Tributes were numerous and moving. He was greatly respected across the game and across the world, not just as a cricketer but as a man.

During my year I would have to deliver eulogies at the AGM, his private family funeral and at a Memorial service I helped to organise at Canterbury Cathedral.

Life has to go on and the following Monday it was the AGM. I drove into the ground and Mo, our security chief, said “park over there, Bob”. I paused before asking if I could not use my space? “Sorry,” he said “I was forgetting”.

“Don’t worry. I’ll never get used to it either.”

I sat at the top table next to Johnno. As he is sick of hearing we met 49 years ago when I caught him out in an old boys cricket match.

“Who would have thought all those years ago we would be sitting here?” I said, adding that with three Presidents passing away in office (Cowdrey, Luckhurst and Denness) I felt a bit uncomfortable.

“I wouldn’t worry, Cat” he said “they were all cricketers.”

Later, according to the Kent Messenger, “a visibly emotional Bob Bevan spoke ….”

Next day I was, as President, on the train to Manchester for a cold, wet and boring game against Lancashire.

I won’t dwell on the cricket as we all know it wasn’t the year we would have hoped for although the future now looks bright. You’ve got to believe!

I did see three tremendous games – the last ball win against Warwickshire at Edgbaston, scraping home at Cheltenham, scoring an amazing 400 in a day and Brendan Nash being carried off with heat stroke, and the last day when we gave Lancashire their first defeat of the season.

I shall never forget the atmosphere in the ground for the last hour, the office staff pressed against the windows, Keysie going out with a painful broken thumb to see Darren Stevens through to his double hundred and Kent to victory.

It was the best day’s cricket I have ever seen live.

More memories than I can hope to put in here will stay with me for ever.

Laura going to town in the President’s Tent at Canterbury Festival Week by filling it with cats. This included a huge plant-holding cat which stood guard outside and is now in a similar position at my house forever to be known as the President’s Pussy.

Leaving the house of the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, spotting his cat “Monkey” staring at my car number plate A1 CAT and watching this very senior man in the Church of England lying in front of my car taking a photograph. I’m still waiting for my copy, Dean!

At the start of the season an elderly supporter came up and congratulated me and said how much I had deserved the honour. Not for the first time I became emotional as I did later the same day when bookseller David Sommerfield asked me to stop by his stand.

“I was so moved by your tribute to Mike at the AGM I’d like you to have this as a gift.” He handed me a picture of Mike holding up the Benson & Hedges trophy with Johnno, Alan Ealham and John Shepherd. It is now in pride of place in our “cricket room” with other highly-prized gifts and memorabilia.

There was the kindness and understanding when the President’s gold badge went missing from my jacket on a train journey to the Essex game. No luck with lost property so I had another one made. Eight months later it turned up on ebay, was seized by the police so now we have two!

At the Tunbridge Wells week I held a party for players and officials at my nearby oast house. Catering was provided by fish and chip and ice cream vans. I wish I had videoed the moment when the chimes went off and Keysie and Ben Harmison raced round the house like two over-grown kids to be first in the queue. I also recall Callum Haggett’s three portions of fish and chips.

On my birthday Darren Stevens was cleared of all charges in Bangladesh. I tweeted that it was my best present but that as I had only had a sweater and a clock there was not much competition. He loved that.

As I drove away from the ground at the end of the last game I felt quite depressed that it was all over. I would miss all the cheery greetings from the stewards and the ground staff all calling me “President”.

What I had not budgeted for was the fact that, as a County President, I would be made welcome as part of the ECB party at the Ashes in Australia.

At lunch on the first day Laura would find herself next to former Prime Minister, John Howard. So it would go on right through until Sydney where every morning she would go swimming with Kerry, wife of Wally Edwards, Chairman of Cricket Australia.

Not just great for us but great visibility for the Club and the County.

Every day as I headed to the ground I would look up and say “thanks, Mike. How lucky am I?”

I had started thinking about my successor almost from day one and for me it was always going to be Johnno for three reasons – he has been a good friend, Mike would have been pleased and, most of all, because he has given almost half a century of dedicated service to the Club.

Initially it was not straightforward because of his work commitments, now reduced, and because previous Presidents have not held another position at the same time. However, the latter is only an “unwritten rule” which everyone seems happy to ignore.

I know he is pleased and honoured to also be elected unanimously and I hope to share in and support his and Marion’s enjoyment of their year.

For Laura and I it was a time full of friendship and fun.

On what turned out to be the last day at Sydney I was watching with ECB Chairman Giles Clarke. I thanked him for allowing us to be part of his party. He said something rather moving in reply.

“Not at all” he said “you’re part of the cricket family.”

Not long ago Treasurer Simon said“I hope after this year you’re not going to be a stranger, Cat?”

I can’t think I will. After all I am now part of the “cricket family”.

As Immediate Past President and then a Past President I’m afraid you’ll be stuck with me until the end of my days. Perhaps when the time comes my ashes might go under the lime tree with a few spread just short of a length so that every time a ball does something a bit odd the groundsman will be able to explain it away.

“Nothing to worry about. That was just The Year of the Cat”.