Neil Wilson appointed as club president

It is difficult to think of a greater honour that can bestowed upon an individual in club cricket than being appointed the president of one of the world’s oldest clubs.

Following the sad recent passing of Mick Cullingham, the club’s former president, the outpouring of well-wishes speaks volumes of the man he was and how highly he was regarded not just in our club but the wider community too.

Mick and Neil Wilson became close allies and friends after Neil swapped Benfleet Cricket Club in Essex for the right side of the river in 1979.

Neil Wilson

And off the back of a friendship built over the course of decades on and off the pitch, you would imagine Mick would have wholeheartedly endorsed Neil to succeed him as Club President – and not just because he is a fellow Spurs fan!

‘When I captained the 1XI from 1988 to 1990 he was my regular umpire. He was he was as straight as they come. He was well-respected across the league for many years. You knew you were getting an honest decision,’ Neil said.

‘He made his mistakes like they all do, we all do, but it was done honestly. He umpired Dave and John (his sons) quite a few times and bent over backward to be unfair to them!

‘In his day, he was the life and soul of the social side of the club as well as being a very, highly respected umpire. He got very merry once he was into the gin and tonics.’

Though Mick was not much of a player himself, instead feeling more at home in his umpiring jacket, Neil played with distinguish for the club’s 1XI, sharing the field for DCC alongside the likes of former Kent pros Neil Taylor, Laurie Potter, Danny Kelleher, Simon Willis and Ed Stanford.

There was one hilarious occasion, though, when the pair did share the field together in a playing capacity.

‘He was umpiring a game under Graham Tappin. GT was the Sunday captain for many years through the 80s and Mike used to umpire both days,’ recalled Neil, who is a life member of the club and was recently appointed as a vice president.

‘We were over at Orsett in Essex and the usual Dartford communication mix-up; we get there with only ten players. So there’s the usual whip around the dressing room to see if we can come up with some kit to get Cully out there while we were fielding.

‘He went out in his umpire shirt and it was either the very early season or very late season but it was a chilly day. 

‘All he had was this white umpire shirt, someone had a pair of trousers that were about 4 or 5 inches too short. Neil Spurgeon, who was a school teacher, had a pair of plimsolls. So there he was running around in the outfield, in these short whites and a pair of plimsolls, I can still see it now.’

Then there was Mick’s wife, Kath, who Neil explains left a lasting impression on all she encountered.

‘She was quite a feisty character and was the barmaid for many years in the old pavilion,’ Neil described. ‘If anyone was out of order, wanted to drink late or anything like that, oh gosh. There was no swearing in the bar! 

‘She used to give us a bit of a scolding if we called him Mick because he was always Michael to her.’

With Mick continuing to umpire well into his seventies, Neil’s commitment to DCC has remained similarly unwavering since hanging up the spikes a few years ago (but for the occasional game for the Kent Over-70s when his achilles allows).

Most Saturdays you will find him in the bar at Hesketh Park – while Rosie travels off across the county to score for the 4XI – regaling in stories of the ‘good old days’ of Kent League Cricket when DCC players wouldn’t play such loose shots…

Neil with Rosie at the club’s recent wine tasting evening

If you’ve driven past Hesketh in the last few weeks then there’s a good chance you’ll have seen him together with Bill Partridge preparing the nets for the new season.

It remains to be seen whether such duties will still be carried out in a presidential capacity!

‘I was half expecting the call… I would have been quite happy had it not come, I have to say, but it is an honour,’ said Neil, in his usual self-deprecating style.

‘Had he still been around, the next in line before me would quite clearly have been Paul Stanford in terms of longevity with the club and being past captain and office bearer.

‘Harry always used Paul as a bit of a sounding board for anything of importance. So it should have been Paul before me and there should have been more… I’m an Essex boy at heart!’

‘I think back to Mick’s predecessors as well – Gordon Morris was a Dartford man through and through. In my time, there have only been three presidents. That makes it a bit special as well.’

It is not Neil’s way to embrace the limelight but the club’s decision to appoint him as president goes some way to recognise his years of tireless service on and off the field. As he says, this is just the start of the next chapter of his DCC story.

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