Sporting life of John Evans draws to a close aged 80

John Evans hits out for Exeter St James against Abbotskerswell

CRICKETER, rugby player and referee, lawn bowler and finally football fan and Exeter City season-ticket holder. John Evans was all of them.

Evans, who has died aged 80, packed a lot of sporting activities into his long life.

His first passion was cricket with home-town team Barnstaple Raleigh, which led to a 60-year-plus association with Exeter and Topsham St James cricket clubs.

Winter meant swapping to rugby boots and the red and white shirt of Exeter Saracens RFC.

When injury forced Evans to retire from rugby at the aged of 34, he took up refereeing. He whistled in the Devon Rugby Referees Society for 21 seasons.

Early retirement from his job as an insurance inspector with General Accident allowed Evans to devote more time to a volunteer job as groundsman at Bonfire Field, the ground now shared by Topsham’s rugby and cricket clubs.

The Exeter St James team in 1968. John Evans is on the far right of the back rowThere was time for bowling – indoors with Isca, outdoors at Topsham BC – and watching grandsons Dan and Ollie play football.

Son Dave said his father became just as keen on football as his other sporting loves, to the point of becoming a season ticket holder at St James Park.

“Football had never featured much for dad, but he started watching his grandsons playing on Saturday and Sunday mornings then became a season ticket holder at City for 20 years,” said Dave.

Evans was born in Barnstaple and educated at Park School, where future First Class cricketer and Test umpire David Shepherd was a classmate and colleague in the cricket team.

“It was the start of a lifelong friendship and the year before he died ‘Shep’ was my father’s guest at the cricket club’s annual dinner,” said Dave.

Evans served in the Army for two years during his National Service, after which he moved to Exeter to work for General Accident. That was when his connection with St James CC began.

“St James played at Wonford then, where the hospital is now, then moved to the old Digby Hospital ground and finally two or three years at Exminster,” said Dave.

Evans kept wicket in the first team and soon immersed himself in the running of the club.

”As well as playing, John started doing the ground with Jack Heath” said Sheila Harding, the cricket club’s statistician.

”Their alliance continued until St James left Wonford in 1966, and continued through the time the club was at Digby (1966-1986) and Exminster (1986-1989).

“John and Jack then did all the work in order to prepare the wicket at Bonfire Field, where Exeter St James started playing in 1989, and the continued to do so until Jack became ill a few years ago. 

“John then did the work on his own until about five years ago.”

Evans was chairman of the club for more than 30 years up to 2007 when he became president.

Evans’ finest season on the cricket field came late in his career when he set a club wicket-keeping record of 27 catches and three stumpings in 1984.

Son Dave said his father was a typical club sportsman for whom the game was not all-important.

“Rugby, cricket or football, he loved the after-match in the bar having a pint or two and talking about the game,” said Dave. “That was just as important to him as playing.”

Early retirement at 52 permitted Evans to lavish his attention on the Bonfire Field playing surfaces – cricket and rugby – until he suffered an illness four years ago.

“Although dad always retained his links with Exeter Saracens, he devoted thousands of hours to Topsham and Bonfire Field in a hobby that became his passion,” said Dave.

Away from the sports fields John Evans had a passion for steam trains that he shared with the family.

Retirement permitted family holidays to Europe and the United States with wife Sheila, son Dave and the grandchildren.

And every year there was a re-union with a handful of Army buddies from his National Service days.

“It was always the same time every year – the England-Wales game, either at Twickenham or Cardiff,” said Dave,

John and Sheila were married for 57 years. His wife, son and grandsons survive him.

A funeral service for John Evans will take place at St Margaret’s, Topsham on Wednesday, May 15 (2.30pm). The private cremation service will take place in the morning.