Interview with Gloucestershire and England legend, and Thornbury chairman David Allen

Stroud News and Journal: David Allen David Allen

AFTER playing in 39 Test matches for England and taking 882 wickets for Gloucestershire in a long and distinguished cricket career, some would be happy to put their feet up and take a break from the game.

But with legendary off-spinner David Allen set to celebrate his 75th birthday tomorrow (Friday), his commitment and passion for the game he loves is as strong as ever.

Allen devoted 20 hours a week to cricket in the summer, coaching the promotion-winning side at Thornbury, where he is chairman, and taking a hands-on approach in his duty as president of the West of England Premier League.

“I love the game and enjoy it so much,” Allen enthused.

“It’s been a tremendous part of my life and a tremendous love of my life.”

After a successful 19-year playing career, Allen moved to his current home in Alveston in 1972 - a two-minute walk from Thornbury cricket ground - and began work for Harveys wine merchants, where he spent 25 years.

He played for Almondsbury for five years with former Gloucestershire players Sid Russell and Martin Stovold and Somerset’s Mervyn Kitchen, helping them win the Bristol & District League before the side folded.

He then played for Thornbury, where he was already coaching the youngsters, and has played a key role in moving the club forward ever since.

Allen is still relishing his role at Thornbury, who have produced Gloucestershire players such as Neil Pritchard, Damien Forder and more recently Chris Dent, while former Zimbabwe international Anthony Ireland was also at the club for one year before going on to play for the county.

“Over the years we’re very proud of the players we’ve produced, I suppose we’ve produced as many players for the county as any other club in Gloucestershire,” said Allen.

“We’re absolutely delighted because I feel that is our job. You’ve got to serve the community to a certain extent and the game.

“You can never make a good player, but you can improve their ability and if you can make them better to go to the county that’s great.”

While Allen now takes great pleasure in seeing the likes of Dent go on to be successful at Gloucestershire, nothing can compare to wearing the three lions of England on his whites.

He looks back with fondness on his international career, which started in 1959, and he played a big part in one of the greatest matches of all time against the West Indies at Lord’s in 1963.

The game was remembered for Colin Cowdrey coming out to bat at number 11 with a broken arm, but he didn’t face a ball. It was Allen at the other end who played out the final two balls of the match from fast bowler Wes Hall to secure a draw for England, who finished just five runs behind.

“To play alongside players like Tom Graveney, Colin Cowdrey, Ted Dexter, Peter May and two great fast bowlers (Brian) Statham and (Fred) Trueman in the England side was the pinnacle of my life,” reflected Allen.

“There’s nothing that can beat it, it’s a tremendous honour, privilege, and I’m sure it’s just the same now.

“They were magnificent days and of course I played in the famous draw at Lord’s when Colin Cowdrey broke his arm and I was at the other end and that was very exciting. I’ve seen it so many times and it was one of the great matches.”

The term ‘golden generation’ is often over-used in sport, but it would be a fair description of the Gloucestershire side that Allen was part of.

He formed part of a spinning trio who all played for England alongside John Mortimore and Sam Cook, while batsman Tom Graveney and fast bowler David Smith also played for the county in the same glorious era.

Allen grew up in Horfield, a short walk from the County Ground at Nevil Road where he would practice in the nets and watch cricket as a youngster, and he went to Cotham Grammar School with Mortimor and Arthur Milton.

He said: “You had to go and watch Gloucestershire to learn, but my elder brother was a good cricketer so I watched him a lot and learnt from him. “I played locally on the county ground for one of the clubs and the school masters as well and got noticed and was offered a contract almost as I left school.

“Gloucesteshire were lucky to have so many players come through at a similar age. There was Tony Brown, David Smith, John Mortimor, Ron Nicholls, Bomber Wells, David Carpenter and Derek Hawkins, and we all came up together as a new team.”

The Allen family has a fine cricket tradition. David’s brother John was also an off-spinner who played for Gloucestershire 2nd XI, his son Mark played for Thornbury and his grandson Alex is part of the club’s growing youth section and Gloucestershire’s under-11s squad.

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