Northamptonshire County Cricket Club has lost one of its greatest friends and most loyal supporters with the death on July 12 of Tony Kingston B.E.M. at the age of 83.
‘Kingo’ served the club faithfully as First XI Scorer from 1990 until he announced his retirement at the end of the 2022 season. Only Leo Bullimer (1900-1950), about whom Tony wrote an admiring article for the NCCC yearbook in the 1990s, occupied the post for longer. But his own involvement at The County Ground spanned three-quarters of a century.
Aged seven, he visited the ground for the first time in January 1947 to watch the Cobblers in FA Cup action against Preston Northern End – and 18 months later, at the other side of the ground, glimpsed Australia’s 1948 ‘Invincibles’ when they took on Northamptonshire. He had hoped to see the great Don Bradman bat on his last tour of England, but ‘The Don’ took the match off and Lindsay Hassett captained the tourists instead.
After that, he watched as much county cricket as his other commitments – not least in the choir of nearby St Matthew’s Church, which accounted for his absence (singing at a wedding) when Frank Tyson made his mark against the Aussies in 1953 – would permit. A keen and active participant in both local cricket and football, he spent part of his National Service in the Army working on preparations for the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill – ‘Operation Hope Not.’ Many a conversation, for decades to come, would end with the exhortation: “Carry on, Corporal!”
In 1978, along with former Northamptonshire player Roy Wills and local headteacher Alex Johnston, Tony helped to revive the County Colts team which had been disbanded as a cost-cutting measure a decade earlier. He acted as umpire, running the rule over a host of young hopefuls including David Capel and Rob Bailey, and also managed various teams on behalf of the Northamptonshire Cricket Association, particularly enjoying his annual trip to Cambridge for the Under-19s Festival.
A bout of illness in 1988 forced him to abandon the white coat, but Northamptonshire’s then-coach Bob Carter was determined not to lose Tony’s enormous passion and knowledge and – with the solemn promise of a mug of tea on the hour, every hour – he persuaded his old friend to take up scoring, initially for the Second XI and then (upon the retirement of Bernard Clarke) for the firsts.
Computerised scoring, and the hectic helter-skelter that is Twenty20, were both taken in his stride, and ‘Kingo’ earned a reputation as one of the most efficient and approachable ‘notchers’ on the county circuit, popular with all – not least his scoring colleagues. No statistical query from a journalist ever went unanswered, however busy the scorebox might be; unsurprisingly perhaps, as the former skittles correspondent of the Chronicle and Echo – under the byline of ‘Cheeser’ – he always had a soft spot for the press.
It was his proud boast that, until diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, he missed just 66 overs of Northamptonshire’s first-team schedule. He was forced to sit out one complete session after slipping outside a Take That concert (although Barry Manilow and ‘Les Miserables’ were stronger musical favourites), and another as he attended his sister’s funeral. Otherwise, his commitment to the Northamptonshire team and its players was total. On away trips, an evening at the cinema was a favourite pastime – and as long as there was a kettle and teabags back in the hotel room, all was pretty much right with the world.
In a BBC interview at the time of his retirement, ‘Kingo’ had no hesitation in nominating Allan Lamb as the most exciting player he watched from the scorebox – ‘it wasn’t so much the number of runs he scored, but the rate he scored them at’ – with the Championship victory over Nottinghamshire at Wantage Road in 1995, featuring a Lamb century, as his favourite match. He was on duty at Lord’s for Northamptonshire’s triumph in the 1992 NatWest Trophy final against Leicestershire, and for the T20 successes at Edgbaston in 2013 and 2016 masterminded by coach David Ripley and skipper Alex Wakely.
Tony’s illness ruled him out of the 2019 season, and although he did make some further appearances in the scorebox he decided to call it a day ahead of the current campaign. At the annual dinner and presentation evening in September 2022 he was on hand to announce Chris Lynn as the latest winner of the six-hitting trophy which carries his name, and he also visited the ground on a few occasions at the start of the 2023 campaign. Just a few weeks ago, he was proud to be awarded the British Empire Medal in the King’s birthday honours list, and received congratulations from many of his countless friends inside and outside cricket.
Former Northamptonshire and England spinner Graeme Swann has described ‘Kingo’ as ‘the greatest living Northamptonian.’ Although we have now lost him – and sincerest condolences go, in particular, to Judy and the rest of the family – no-one will argue with the sentiment, honouring the boy who grew up in Regent Square in the town and became a local legend.
Simply, an irreplaceable man.
Words and memories from Club Archivist, Andrew Radd.