Cricket in Surrey and around the country lost one of its great personalities with the death this week of Bill Clutterbuck, the groundsman at Guildford’s Woodbridge Road for two decades and an accomplished coach. He was 73.
In honour of his passing, the Club flag that flies over the Micky Stewart Members’ Pavilion at the Kia Oval was flown at half mast.
Here, former Surrey Advertiser Sports Editor Richard Spiller looks back on his fascinating and storied life.
Bill Clutterbuck loved springtime.
Autumn was necessary to complete renovations while winters were made more tolerable by holidays abroad with his wife Sue – a travel agent – especially if it involved watching England on tour.
But when spring arrived, he could step up preparations for a new cricket season and cutting out the first pitch of the year was a moment he relished almost like no other, the gateway to months of enjoyment and further education about the game he adored.
“You never stop learning in this game,” he said many times, a fine cricketer at club level who was largely self-taught as a groundsman and took every opportunity to study the squares of county grounds and pick the brains of their custodians.
It was knowledge he was always ready to share, as a founder member of the Surrey Cricket Groundsmen Association and through his long-running involvement with Pitchcare Magazine, for whom he staged courses and contributed to forums.
“Bill gave the best presentation I ever heard on how we should mark pitches and why they behave in the way they do,” said one leading club umpire.
Having enjoyed spells at clubs on the Isle of Wight, in north-west Wales, Liverpool and Edinburgh, Clutterbuck arrived at Guildford in 1996 and immediately made his presence felt. He knew from his own playing experience that games were best played on surfaces offering pace, bounce and a bit of turn to bring out the best in those taking part.
He couldn’t always achieve it – which groundsman can? – but Woodbridge Road improved considerably for his efforts, assisted by first Vic Woodhatch and then Jonny Nolan.
Bill on the heavy roller at his beloved Woodbridge Road
Even in the depths of winter, he could be seen trimming the outfield with a hand mower or ensuring nature was treating his beloved square considerately. Like all the best groundsmen, he was unhappy to see players not give it the appropriate respect and a variable relationship with the Surrey Championship club reached its nadir when he parked the heavy roller on the square to ensure a match did not take place, an incident which made front page news in The Times and was dubbed ‘Rollergate’.
All his work through the year came to fruition at the other highlight of his annual calendar – the Guildford Festival, when Surrey would arrive for their week of games. Seeing the marquees and temporary stands going up always gave him a thrill – he hated seeing them come down again – and although busy he was keen to catch up with old friends and acquaintances in the beer tent if time allowed.
When the Beer Festival – another subject on which he was a keen student – was inaugurated to precede the cricket, he could barely believe his good fortune – and all happening in his extended back garden too!
Coaching was his other passion, becoming one of the earliest advanced coaches in the country – qualifying alongside Micky Stewart and Graham Monkhouse – and there were few better at working with individual players on improving skills and developing knowledge of match situations.
While the professional at Bangor CC he became the mentor to Matthew Maynard, who went on to score thousands of runs for Glamorgan and subsequently England, and Bill took immense satisfaction from Matthew’s son Tom scoring a buccaneering 141 for Surrey against Middlesex at the Guildford Festival in 2011.
Spells coaching at Guildford were augmented by a major contribution to establishing Normandy as a force in the Surrey Championship Premier Division. His strategies often provoked debate – he was always happy to debate them with players, umpires, spectators, committeemen and journalists, not least this one – with his sense of humour always close to the surface. One player who complained that he kept being run out was advised “you’re not setting off early enough” and may still be pondering it now.
A fine mimic, he was occasionally mistaken for the football manager Howard Wilkinson and played along with it happily.
Clutterbuck’s passion for cricket was a serious business, though, as Lee Fortis, Head Groundsman at the Kia Oval, explained: “Bill was a very knowledgeable man and extremely well respected among the first-class groundsmen across the country. He gave to great deal to Surrey CCC, preparing numerous top-quality pitches for games at Woodbridge Road and winning a series of awards in the process.
“On behalf of everyone at the club, I would like to pass on our condolences to his family, friends and those in the Surrey cricket network who knew him.”
Clutterbuck was presented with the Ransomes Jacobsen Trophy for Achievements in Cricket Groundsmanship in 2006, finishing runner-up in the ECB outgrounds pitch awards in 1999 and 2000, having been commended in 1997.
He fought diabetes over many years but even his determination could not conquer a succession of health problems which occurred in more recent times. As well as Sue, he leaves two children – his son Jim was a leading club cricketer in Surrey for several years – and four grandchildren.