John Clay, who died at his home in West Bridgford on February 11, 2011, was a sound right hand opening batsman, whose first-class career for Nottinghamshire ran from 1948 to 1961. He was a well-known personality at Trent Bridge through his long life, for, apart from a few years in Kimberley he lived within walking distance (he never bothered with motor cars) all his life.
Born in George Road, he learnt the rudiments of cricket by playing with his brothers in the back garden. Their instruction proved fruitful, for he quickly gained a place in the XI at West Bridgford School and aged 14 played for Notts Public Schools XI. After serving in the RAF, Clay joined Mitre C.C. in 1946 and, spotted by Lionel Kirk, was peruaded to join the Trent Bridge Ground Staff the following year, when he also acted as a professional for Lightcliffe in the Bradford League.
1947 was a particularly difficult time for a young batsman anxious to claim a place in Notts senior side. Keeton, Harris, Simpson, Hardstaff, Reddick and Stocks occupied the first six batting places, with Winrow there as ‘first reserve’. Clay made his Championship debut in 1948 v Leicestershire, when both Hardstaff and Simpson had been picked for the Test Trial. For that season and the two which followed, Clay had to be content with 2nd XI cricket, plus the occasional First Team game. In 1951 however, with Simpson frequently absent through Test calls, Clay made 14 appearances, hit his maiden hundred v Somerset at Trent Bridge in July and finished the season with 851 runs and the respectable average of 44.79 – second in fact, only to Simpson.
This success ensured his permanent place in the 1st XI for 1952 and the five following seasons. His highest innings for the county was 192 v Hampshire at Trent Bridge in 1952. At the crease for seven and a half hours he didn’t give a single chance. He completed 1,000 runs for the first time that year a feat he was to repeat five more times. In 1961 Clay was appointed county captain and returned his highest aggregate of 1,497 runs, but the post was only a temporary arrangement, for Andy Corran was given the leadership in 1963, having finished his degree at Oxford. Clay was given the task of captain and mentor to the 2nd XI. This was an ideal position for him. He always saw the positive side of his young charges – in later life Clay had a fund of cricketing stories, but his tales were never malicious, for he found amusement in the habits and traits of his fellow players.
For many years Clay spent the winter months with the Notts CCC Supporters Association helping to raise funds for the county club – indeed this was the only way the club managed to pay for capital expenditure. The County Club did not create its own marketing dept until the late 1970s. Clay’s final cricket was for Forest Amateurs, and he worked for Boots. Until very recently he attended many county matches, though he was not one of the older generation, heard frequently on TV and radio, who disparaged the skills of current players in comparison with those of the past.
To many in West Bridgford he remained the epitome of everything that Nottinghamshire cricket should represent and he will be missed by a multitude of friends and casual acquaintances, who liked to stop and chat over the latest trends whilst putting them in an historical context.