Friends and former team-mates remember ex-Devon batsman Noel Thomas, who has died aged 98
FRIENDS and ex-team-mates have been remembering former Tiverton and Devon cricketer Noel Thomas, who died recently.
Thomas, who was 98 years and four months old when he died in April, had the distinction of being the oldest ex-Devon cricketer.
Thomas, a hard-to-shift opening batsman, played 30 times for Devon between 1956 and 1959. He continued playing club cricket up to the 1970s when golf became his passion.
Noel Thomas got his golf handicap into single figures and remained a competitive golfer well into his 80s.
Terry Townsend worked with Thomas on the teaching staff at the former Tiverton Grammar School. They were team-mates in the Tiverton cricket team during the 50s and later played golf together.
Townsend remembered Thomas as a competitive character on the cricket pitch and the golf course.
“Noel liked to open the batting and in club cricket during the 1950s he scored a lot of runs against good opposition,” said Townsend.
“There were no league games in those days, so on Saturdays we played local sides of a lesser standard and on Sundays we played top teams at the time such as Heathcoat, Exeter, Exmouth and Torquay.
“Word got round there was a player at Tiverton scoring all these runs and he got noticed in the games when it mattered.
“Noel always opened the batting. The only time I played with him when he didn’t was at Exeter St Thomas, when he took one look at the pitch before the game, did not like the look of it and told he skipper ‘nine or ten please’.
“Noel loved scoring hundreds and would be disappointed his ‘last innings’ ended on 98.”
Thomas played 30 times for Devon and made 664 runs from 45 trips to the crease.
Thomas took up cricket with his home-town team in Bridlington as a 14 year-old and played for them until joining the Royal Navy.
Military service took Thomas to Africa, the sub-continent and the Far East where he continued to play cricket and also won a tennis tournament in Ceylon.
Mike Hurley, who taught with Thomas at Tiverton Grammar School, became a long-standing friend through the pair’s shared passion for golf.
Thomas was good enough to play cricket for the Navy, although his day-to-day duties sometimes got in the way.
“Noel was selected to play for the Navy but had other commitments so was unavailable,” recalled Hurley, a friend, staff-room colleague and team-mate for more than 40 years.
“When an admiral saw the team sheet he was surprised Noel was not included and asked him why he was not playing?
“Noel made some feeble excuse which the officer replied that if he did not play he would be transferred abroad.”
Thomas had an unsuccessful trial for Somerset CCC while playing for South Petherton.
While going through his teacher training in Coventry, Thomas played for Atherstone, which is on the Warwickshire side of the border with Leicestershire, who liked the look of the young opener.
“I had an offer from Leicestershire, which was withdrawn when I told them I lived in Warwickshire,” Thomas said in a 2011 interview.
Probably the final time Thomas played cricket was in 1977 when he and Hurley were members of the Tiverton Grammar School Staff XI.
“He still possessed obvious ability and had not lost the knack of taking a single off the last ball of the over,” said Hurley.
A lengthy association with Tiverton GC filled the gap where cricket used to be. Hurley said Thomas was a dedicated player who thought nothing of practising for two or three hours at a time.
Hurley added: “Noel played off a single-figure handicap for many years and as he lost distance off the tee would try to get his handicap increased, frequently writing to the Royal and Ancient.
“Under the new golf rules he would have been very happy to have a higher handicap.
“For several years he represented Tiverton GC in Palairet Trophy matches, which was the club elite team.
“He was also a member of the Devon Golf Alliance and on one occasion had a hole in one on the 142 yard fifth hole at Woodbury GC with a six iron.
“He was also a member of the veterans’ Emerton Court team who won the trophy in 2003. He coached the Tiverton juniors for many years.
“Noel won many club competitions and will be forever remembered as his name appears frequently on many honours boards.
“Unfortunately his name will not be recorded anymore, but the practice area will be free!”
Noel Vernon Thomas was born in Bridlington, Yorkshire three days before Christmas in 1920. He was educated at Bridlington Commercial College and, after war service, trained to teach at Coventry Teacher Training College.
He arrived in Tiverton in the mid-1950s to teach arithmetic at the former grammar school and stayed there until retirement.
Thomas married Mildred Richards in 1952 and the couple had three children: Noel (born 1958), Isobel and Simon (both 1960).
FOLLOWING Noel Thomas’ death the title of Devon’s oldest player passed to South Devon CC’s Tony Sutton. He has since died aged 98 years and three months. The mantle then passed to Bovey Tracey’s Stuart Mountford, who celebrated his 96th birthday in July 2019.