Southampton Rangers and Somerset Bridge Recreation Club are mourning the death of former club cricketer Gary Crofton.
The steady seam bowler passed away on Sunday at age 59 following a bout with cancer.
Crofton started his career at Rangers before joining Somerset Bridge for a stint.
While more renowned for his bowling, Crofton also held his own as a lower-order batsmen.
His career came full circle when he rejoined Rangers where he served on the club’s management committee up until the time of his death.
Crofton earned a reputation as a fierce competitor who always gave 100 per cent effort on the pitch and held his team-mates to the same high standard.
“Smockie [Crofton] was a small guy but had a big heart when it came to cricket,” Janeiro Tucker, the Rangers player-coach, said.
“He always gave his all, fought hard and wanted to win no matter what. Even if we were in a bad position he still thought we could win, that’s just how he was.”
Olin Jones, the former Rangers all-rounder and captain, said Crofton was a difficult bowler to face because of his consistent line and length.
“Smockie always got his wickets,” Jones added. “He was always on the money and you couldn’t get him away too easy.
“He always put the ball on the spot and varied his pace and left it to the batsmen to make a mistake.”
Jones added: “Smockie has always been a warrior and when you were down he would try and pick you up.
“He has always been a fighter and the type of guy who can sense when you’re not putting your all in and was bold enough to tell you to pick your game up.”
Brian Gibbons, the former Somerset Bridge seam bowler, said Crofton could always be relied upon to make the breakthrough with the ball.
”He was always right there on the money and whenever we needed a wicket he got one,” Gibbons added.
“Smockie teased the batsmen bowling just short of a length and was very deceptive because he could speed it up or slow it down.
“Smockie had a never-say-die attitude. He was a fighter and I enjoyed playing with him because of that.”
O’Neil Virgil, the former Somerset Bridge opening batsmen, described his late team-mate as an “intelligent player”.
“He was very bright and always willing to learn,” Virgil said.
“He was a great fast bowler coming along and as a tailender his batting improved over the years. I remember he couldn’t face a ball but during the time he played with us his batting improved very well.
“Very grateful and blessed to have played cricket with him. Condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.”
One of the highlights of Crofton’s career was featuring in a match winning last wicket partnership that guided Bridge to victory over a powerful Rangers line-up in a Western Counties clash at Southampton Oval.
“He and someone else were the last two bats in and it was either we get them out and we win or he stayed in and we lose, and that’s what he did,” Jones said.
“It was a big game. The Somerset Bridge fans were waiting on the edge of the field and the Rangers fans were on edge.”
Just as he did on the cricket pitch, Crofton battled his illness both courageously and ferociously.
“He was determined to fight it as long as he could, and that’s what he did,” Tucker said. “He didn’t give up and fought it to the end.”
Tucker held close ties with his late team-mate on and off the pitch.
“Smockie’s death is hard for me because he was my boy,” Tucker said. “We travelled together and done everything.
“I know him as the cricketer and as the electrician. Me and Smockie were tight.
“Whenever I needed something I knew who to call. I’d call Smockie for electrical work, for cricket, travel or whatever.
“I remember late in his career we needed him to play against Cleveland down at Sea Breeze Oval and he came out and got about three wickets that day. He was always there when I needed him, that’s just how Smockie was.”