By CONRAD SUTCLIFFE
NO one will ever know how many wickets Johnny Palmer took during the years he wheeled away for Sidmouth.
Palmer, who has died aged 82, began playing for Sidmouth as a teenager in the early 1950s and finally called it a day in 1993.
Running in from his favourite Town End at the Fortfield, Palmer took wicket after wicket in game after game.
Palmer claimed 100 wickets in the 1st XI for the first time in 1958 – a feat never achieved before by a Sidmouth bowler.
In the following seven seasons Palmer had 98, 124, 96, 116, 98, 92 and 105 victims. Five times over the years he took 100 wickets or more in a season.
Palmer’s best return for Sidmouth was eight for 28 against touring side UCS in 1965. He broke through the 1,000-wicket mark in 1967.
Estimates vary just how many wickets Palmer took over five decades, although any figure in excess of 2,000 for the 1st XI would be more than plausible.
Liz Palmer, Johnny’s wife, said her husband had no idea himself.
“John used to keep a record, but stopped counting when he got to 1,500,” said Liz.
“He always intended going through the old scorebooks and adding them up, but never got round to it.”
John Harris, the former Somerset cricketer and later First Class umpire, was skipper at Sidmouth during Palmer’s heyday. He recalls him as a simple but effective bowler.
‘Johnny bowled a good length at a decent pace and he bowled it straight,” said Harris.
“If the batsman missed there was a good chance Johnny would hit the stumps.
“He was a good bowler and a lot of people felt he was unlucky not to play for the county.”
Palmer did play for Devon Colts in 1952 – future Devon players David Rippon, Bob Healy and Robert Fetherstonhaugh were team-mates – but he never made the step into Minor Counties cricket.
What Palmer did was continue playing long after his contemporaries called it a day.
As late as 1991 Palmer was still turning his arm over for Devon Over-50s and also for Sidmouth. That year he topped the league bowling averages with 43 victims at 10.35 each.
He still had the ability to run through sides as a seven-wicket haul against Bovey Tracey in 1986 demonstrated.
Palmer’s best season in 2nd XI cricket was 1983 with 52 wickets at less than 11 runs each.
Although cricket was his first love, Palmer had been a tidy rugby player as a young man, good enough to play in Sidmouth’s first team at scrum-half before injury prompted early retirement.
R J ‘John’ Palmer was born in Wood Green, London in January 1936 and moved to Lyme Regis as a boy when his pharmacist father took a job in the town with Holman and Ham.
Young Palmer was 13 when his father was transferred to Sidmouth and was soon involved in the local cricket club.
At 15 he left The King’s School in Ottery St Mary and started work for the Potbury family in their furniture store in Sidmouth. He stayed there for the rest of his working life.
“Half-day closing at Potburys was Saturdays, which suited John as it meant he could play cricket,” said Liz.
“Old man Potbury encouraged John to play cricket and didn’t seem to mind too much of he went off early to play on other days of the week.”
Johnny Palmer stayed with Potburys for more than 40 years, retiring as a director of the company in 1996.
“John retired slightly early so he could spend more time at the cricket club, doing things he enjoyed,” said Liz.
Doing things he enjoyed included maintenance jobs around the pavilion and the ground, something he had done for many years before retiring from playing.
“Johnny was the ultimate club man,” said Neil Gamble, the chairman of the Sidmouth, Cricket, Tennis and Croquet club.
“On retirement he became a ground trustee and he was also chairman of the grounds committee.
“For 40 years, displaying wonderful carpentry skills, he spent countless hours doing repairs to the pavilion, and making internal and external modifications and improvements to facilities around the Fortfield.
“Johnny was the club’s most deserving life members of modern times and his overall contribution was incalculable.”
Retirement gave the Palmers the opportunity to create a Sidmouth cricket museum in the pavilion, where the exhibition they both worked on is a window into the past.
“It started because I wanted to get rid of so much cricket clutter in our house,” said Liz.
“I helped with the labelling of the items which are now on display.
“There is still plenty to do and I hope someone else will take it on now.”
Liz met John – she never could call him Johnny – in 1963 while working in Midland Bank in Sidmouth. The couple were married in 1965. They had a son, Ian, who gave them three grandchildren, who in turn have two great-grandchildren.
Johnny Palmer had suffered ill health for some time prior to his death.
At his request a private, non-religious funeral will be held. Friends will be invited to a memorial game on the Fortfield during the summer.