Kent supporter Nigel Williamson reflects on the successes of the 1970s dinner

Monday 13th September 2010

By lifelong Kent supporter Nigel Williamson

Last February, I asked Kent officials how the club was planning to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the greatest triumph in the county“s illustrious history – an unparalleled campaign of sparkling cricket that took us from bottom of the table at the beginning of July 1970 to being crowned county champions by mid-September.

At that stage no plans had been laid and so I suggested that the club should invite the surviving members of that victorious side to a celebratory dinner, at which supporters could again pay tribute to a remarkable team and relive the glories of their extraordinary exploits forty summers ago.

The club enthusiastically embraced the idea and Clive Ellis, that excellent journalist and co-author of the book Trophies and Tribulations: Forty Years of Kent Cricket, chivvied the chief executive to make it happen and even offered to make contact with the surviving players. But the success of the event – which took place on September 10, exactly 40 years to the day after Kent clinched the vital points which gave us the championship – exceeded even my wildest expectations when I first conceived the idea.

Almost 200 supporters of a certain age squeezed into the Harris Room, on top of the Colin Cowdrey Stand, named after the much-loved captain of the 1970 side, and eight of his noble champions joined us – Mike Denness, Graham Johnson, Alan Ealham, John Shepherd, Alan Knott, Derek Underwood, Norman Graham and Alan Brown.

Chris Cowdrey – who in his late father’s absence proved to be a splendid master of ceremonies – read messages from the absent Asif Iqbal, Alan Dixon (who promised to raise a glass to us all at regular 15 minute intervals throughout the evening) , John Dye and Richard Elms.

Moving tributes, coloured by vivid anecdotes aplenty, were also paid to those players sadly no longer with us – Brian Luckhurst, Stuart Leary, Bob Woolmer, reserve keeper David Nicholls and, of course, Colin Cowdrey, about whom Chris told some wickedly funny but hugely endearing stories. Quite rightly, we remembered manager Les Ames, coach Colin Page and scorer Claude Lewis.

The attention paid to every detail by the Kent staff responsible for organising the event was exquisite, from the ancient film of Cowdrey and company in their pomp, shown as we were taking our seats, to the printed ’’order of play’’ menu card, complete with copies of the championship table and scorecards from the 1970 season.

The sumptuous meal was cleverly based on the original five course bill of fare, served at the celebration dinner held at the Star Hotel, Maidstone at the beginning of the 1971 season. Both menus were reproduced and sociologists could surely read much into the culinary advances of the past 40 years. The ’egg mayonnaise“ served as a starter in 1971 was elegantly transformed into ’quail’s eggs and shaved parmesan’ and the ubiquitous ’coq au vin“, so characteristic of the era, was translated with 2010 sophistication into ’’supreme of free range chicken with stilton mousse.’’

But the best part came after this splendid feast, when we were invited to wallow in some misty-eyed nostalgia as Mike Denness, who captained a number of games that season when Cowdrey was away on England duty, treated us to his recollections of the 1970 season (although sadly, he never explained exactly why Alan Brown one night chased him out of the team hotel with a soda siphon…)

His reminiscing was followed by a reprise of the most famous scorecard entry in the history of Kent cricket, as ’c Knott b Underwood’ rode in tandem again, the pair of them gently teasing each other with tales of famous deeds on and off the field so long ago. In the course of their evocative reminiscing, we learnt how Deadly developed his run-up to emerge from behind the umpire at the last second and what happened when Knotty conceded a rare four byes, after Unders forgot a pre-arranged signal which saw Knotty take up position for a leg-side stumping to a ball which then spun past off-stump.

And the reminiscing continued long after the tables had been cleared, as 1970’ s ageless heroes amiably chatted, signed autographs and posed for photos far into a night that nobody seemed to want to end.

Picture:Sarah Ansell