BILL Matten, who celebrated his 90th birthday last month, has a record of service to cricket it would be hard to match anywhere in Devon – or further afield.
Sandford Cricket Club was formed in March 1949 when friends from the village football team felt they wanted something to do between May and September.
Bill, who had just completed two years’ National Service in the RAF, latterly in India in the lead-up to partition in 1947, was voted in as the club’s first fixture secretary and after 68 years is still in the job. He is the last of the founding fathers still alive.
Bill arranged a Whit Monday fixture with Yeoford to get the club up and running and is still arranging games today.
“It is a bit different now as the Devon League fixtures are arranged for us, but we still have to make all our own fixtures in the North Devon League,” said Bill.
“In the old days I had three forms for arranging fixtures: one to offer a game, one to accept and another to confirm we were coming.
“I have never got into email, but these days it is all done by telephone, which is a lot easier.”
Bill, who batted and bowled in true village cricket style, played in the first game against Yeoford, which will always stick in his memory.
“Geoff Walker, a Congregationalist minister, was in the team and he took nine wickets for 10 runs,” said Bill.
“It was a record set in our first game that is still a club record today.”
Bill and wife Sheila, who have been married 67 years, soon became mainstays of the club as it grew from humble beginnings.
“We were initially offered a field to play on that wasn’t much good as the hedges were too close and never actually took up the offer,” said Bill.
“The Reverend Sir Patrick Ferguson-Davie, who lived in Creedy House had presided at our formation meeting and was chairman of the club in the early years.
“He said we could play on some land near the West Lodge on the drive towards Creedy Park and we are still there now.
“In those days we had to cut the grass, clear the cow pats then cut and roll a wicket before we could play.
“We had a tent to change in and another to make the teas, nothing like we have today.”
A wooden pavilion was erected in the 1950s, an annexe was added in the mid-1970s and that arrangement served the club until 1999 when a £250,000 bungalow-style pavilion was built.
Bill still takes his turn on the bar rota and does odd jobs around the pavilion in his spare time. “When you get to my age it pays to stay active,” said Bill.
The Matten family love affair with Sandford CC has spread from Bill and Sheila, who inevitably ended up doing the scorebook and making teas, through four generations.
Only son Phil played for more than 30 years, his son Jason plays in the second team and his son William has just started playing softball at the club.
“William is only five but seems to have a talent for all ball games already. My other great-grandson, Noah, took part in the Allstars Cricket at the club,” said their proud great-grandfather.
Sixty-eight years in the same voluntary job is impressive in its own right, but only scratches the surface of Bill’s service to cricket. He has been Sandford’s general secretary and is the current club president.
When Bill stopped playing seriously in the late 1970s he turned to umpiring and rose through the Devon League ranks to the Premier Division panel. That was a 20-year career.
Sandford joined the Devon League in 1984 and within a year Bill was on the competition committee. He stayed on it until 2001, a term that included five years as assistant secretary to Barry Page-Dove.
Sandford CC and cricket have come a long way on the past 68 years – mostly in the right direction.
Bill Matten knows the days when membership was 10/6 for adults and 2/6 for juniors have gone for good, along with shovelling cowpats off the outfield.
If he could turn the clock back there is one thing he would like to see: a bit more loyalty to the club. “Younger players no longer seem to have the same loyalty they had when I played,” said Bill.
“Sometimes you feel cricket is something they do when there isn’t anything better on.
“When I played you started at 2.30pm, finished around seven or half past and that was your cricket.
“Now, it is an all-day business - even in the Second Eleven – which perhaps puts a few people off.”
Retirement isn’t an option for Bill, who has no intention of giving up any jobs in the near future.
“You need an interest and I have one that I enjoy and feel I can still do,” said the retired law firm employee.
Devon Cricket Board