Wisden Cricketer / Features

July 2006

Oval century with a difference

In early May 2006 Henry Allingham, Britain's oldest man, made his second visit to The Oval. It was about time - his first was 103 years ago

Simon Massey

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Henry Allingham at The Oval in May 2006 © The Wisden Cricketer
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In early May 2006 Henry Allingham, Britain's oldest man, made his second visit to The Oval. It was about time - his first was 103 years before. He is one of the last dwindling numbers of First World War veterans - he is believed to be the sole survivor of the Battle of Jutland - and has a great, great, great grandchild living in America.

Allingham was born in Clapton in East London in 1896, his father died when he was young, his mother worked and he grew up with his grandparents until he was seven, playing cricket with a bat from the toyshop with lamp-posts for stumps. Just before he moved back with his mother in 1903, he visited The Oval to see Surrey play London County. He saw WG Grace play and make some runs (43 and 81).

Allingham remembers: "I saw WG Grace bat, you could always tell who he was by his long beard. He scored quite a lot that day but I can't remember how many."

So it was apt that, on the third day of Surrey's Championship game against Gloucestershire, WG's old county, he made the trip up from his retirement home in Brighton to see how the ground had changed. He met the club president John Edrich over lunch and recalled that they had once lived in neighbouring towns in Norfolk. Two of Surrey's youngest players, Chris Thompson and Jade Dernbach popped in for a chat and as word got around, Allingham was not short of hand shakers, autograph hunters and wellwishers.

And despite the presence of television cameras, he found time to wander round the ground and soak up the atmosphere. As he was taking his stroll round the outfield, several Surrey players including the captain Mark Butcher came over to introduce themselves.

Then, as he came off the pitch, the crowd gave him a standing ovation for his unbeaten 109, which he acknowledged with a wave and a tear.

© The Wisden Cricketer

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