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I didn’t set out to play aged 80
3:30pm Thursday 5th September 2013 in Sport By Steve Carley - Midlands Sports Journalist of the Year 2013, @stevecarleyWN
HE has been playing cricket for more than six decades and, at the ripe old age of 80, Tony Neel is still going strong.
A familiar and well-respected sporting figure across the county, Neel has taken in excess of 4,000 wickets during a distinguished club career.
As well as a staggering 55 seasons playing for Kays at the Cinderella Ground in St John’s, before it fell into a state of disrepair, he has spent the last 25 years with Old Elizabethans, where the ground is named in his honour.
He remains a fierce competitor for the OEs third and fourth XIs and, with 49 wickets to his name already this term, next week’s match for title-chasing Worcestershire Over 70s against Sussex in the Spitfire County Championship gives him the chance for the half-century.
To mark his milestone birthday, he was joined by players past and present at Neel Park, Perdiswell, for a celebratory 40-over contest against a team captained by fellow veteran Martin Woodward.
Fittingly, it was Neel who played a key role in his side’s 49-run victory with figures of 3-14 off four overs to restrict Woodward’s XI to 178-5.
“I just love the game but you don’t set out to play cricket until you’re 80, it just happens,” said Neel, who puts the longevity of himself and team-mates down to the amount of senior cricket played by both dedicated veterans team Fossils and the county age groups.
“There’s a lot of people who I play with in their late 60s and I don’t doubt for one moment that some of them will go on and play into their 80s because they’re in such good nick.
“There’s no doubt that the success of the seniors has a great deal to do with the fact that locally there was a team for older cricketers.”
He continued: “It has been very enjoyable. One of my friends invited me to play for Kays at the Cinderella Ground and that was a very fortutious invitation because I played for them for 55 seasons.
“It was always a thrill going on to the ‘Cinders’ because it was such a beautiful enclosed cricket ground.
“I joined the OEs in 1988. The first season I really played to help out because I didn’t play Saturday cricket and I played in the evening league. From then on I played regularly.
“I have been a thirds or fourths player and really enjoyed it, it’s a great club to play for with some great people running it and have been ever since I joined.”
The octagenarian, who began his cricket career at Rushwick in 1949 before a spell with Worcester City at New Road, is also president of Perrywood Football Club, which he formed in 1960.
At that time, Neel ran the football team at major Worcester employer Metal Box but nobody wanted to take the role on when he took a job with Heenan and Froude, another major city firm of the era from where he retired in 1995.
The self-confessed “very indifferent footballer and only occasionally”, said: “All the young players that were in the reserve side came and asked if I would be prepared to start another team.
“I said I was prepared to give it a try, looked into it and now Perrywood is in its 54th season. I am very proud of Perrywood.
“It is still very important to me but not as important as it was because I don’t have any real input. Other people run the club now and have done for a long time.
“I have held every position in the club — reserve orange cutter, manager, secretary, treasurer, chairman and president.”
Neel hung up his boots at the age of 52 yet there are no signs he is ready to call time on cricket.
“It’s very difficult for somebody to devote as much time as I have done to sport without the backing of my wife Linda,” he said.
“She has been a continual support, especially as I’ve got older because she thinks it is good for me.
“She encourages me to keep playing. There is absolutely no doubt that without her support I would not be playing now, as much as I love it.”
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