Former President of the Old Brentwoods Society and of its Cricket Club, Tony Witney died on March 3rd 2023, three months short of his 80th birthday. The funeral took place at Bentley Crematorium on March 23rd, attended by a considerable number of Old Brentwoods. There were tributes from his son Simon and fellow OB Jon Boughtwood.
Born in 1943, Tony came to Brentwood School in 1954 having passed the 11-plus at his primary school in Goodmayes. He moved to Hutton in 1955 with his parents when his father became headmaster of a local secondary school. Academically, he managed to satisfy his teachers’ demands but the sports field was his real milieu. He represented the School over the years at football, rugby and cricket, proving a very talented fast bowler and gaining full colours. He represented South in all these sports and at tennis, gaining house colours in each. He captained the winning team in the House cricket competition.
On leaving School in 1961, Tony became an articled clerk with a local firm of chartered accountants. However, he gave up accountancy to sign a professional contract with Essex CCC in 1964, primarily playing for the 2nd XI, alongside future England Test players.
Perhaps his most memorable moment was with the bat when he hit a Pakistan test leg spinner out of the ground at Northampton. Unfortunately, a recurring back injury put paid to a professional career but not to his endeavours as a weekend warrior on Essex grounds. Having to find a ‘proper job,’ he joined Procter & Gamble and began a successful career in food wholesaling and distribution, dealing with major customers for various manufacturers. When he worked for Spillers French, he would bring home cream cake samples much to the delight of his children.
Having joined the OBs on leaving school, Tony played cricket, football and squash and later golf for the OBs. He was elected captain of the soccer 3rd XI but gave up the office as he thought he was good enough to play in the 2nd XI - but ended up playing in the 4th XI! At Burland Road, the OBs headquarters before Ashwells Road, Tony was involved in working parties to extend the pavilion, prepare the cricket square, cut the outfield, run the bar and organise social functions. On occasion, even his wife Diana was enlisted to drive the tractor, towing the gangmowers cutting the outfield!
Tony’s contribution to OBs cricket was immense. In the mid-1970s, he was the lynchpin of a decent bowling attack in tandem with the late Roger Wasem that was feared throughout the Essex League - perhaps the Broad and Anderson of their day. With an upright left arm action, which made the most of his height and extracted unexpected bounce, Tony could move the ball both ways at a little below express pace. He troubled the best batsmen in the county for over a decade. Many an off stump was removed by an outswinging offcutter. Against Colchester, after the OBs had been skittled out for 79, Tony bowled unchanged and helped reduce them to 69 for 9; unfortunately, they scraped home.
As a batsman, he would strike the ball with an easy, almost languid grace, the hallmark of a naturally gifted ball games player. Against Chelmsford, he scored a century after the team had struggled to 25 for 5. When captaincy was thrust upon him, he took it in his laid back stride, bringing a thinking bowler’s brain to field placing and run containment. In 1980, he played a major part in five successive wins in a late run to fifth place in the Essex League. This was by far the club’s highest position in that period, achieved entirely with home grown talent.
He never seemed to lose his temper despite being upset many times when the umpire gave the batsman not out, not least when a future captain of Essex and England was adjudged not to have been caught behind.
Tony played cricket with and against sons Simon, Adam and Tim. Once he caught Tim off Adam’s bowling, thereby producing the unique scorebook entry of ‘Witney caught Witney bowled Witney’. His sons “grew up around the boundary of a cricket pitch,” eventually joining their father on the field, initially as eleven-year-olds because his team were short but later playing with and against him.
As Cricket Club President, he took a strong ‘hands on’ role when it was sorely needed. Following on-field success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, both XIs had been relegated, numbers were low, morale was lower and the club’s affairs were moribund. With an infectious enthusiasm he turned things around. Promotion for the 1st XI and a vibrant colts section were testimony to his efforts. Leading by example, he would often prepare the square.
Tony did a great deal for the broader success and growth of the Old Brentwoods Society and Club and strongly encouraged the participation of younger members. He served on the Society’s General and Management Committees for many years and was involved in the Club’s move from Burland Road to Ashwells Road. He was very proud to be elected President of the Old Brentwoods Society in 2003.
Tony met Diana when she was a nurse at the London Hospital annexe in Brentwood. Apparently, a group of nurses went to the Black Horse in Brentwood to celebrate the end of exams and there he was. Their early dating took them to many exotic locations, such as Ilford, Southend and Loughton cricket clubs on behalf of the OBs. They were married in Londonderry in 1966 and enjoyed 57 years together. The couple had three sons: Simon, Adam and Tim; three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Adam and Tim attended Brentwood School.
In his later years, Tony turned to golf, playing as a member at Thorndon Park for 34 years, enjoying the comradeship and competition, occasional wins and a couple of holes in one. Golf helped to get him back to full strength after a bout of chemotherapy a few years ago. He would play on his own, honing his driving and iron skills until fit enough to resume competitive play.
Tony Witney was well liked as a reliable, committed, duty bound family man and friend, fondly regarded throughout the cricketing county. Never boastful, Tony was always willing to share a word of wisdom with his sons and especially pleased to explain cricket to each of their foreign wives!