Without the efforts of Johnnie Clay, Glamorgan C.C.C. could easily have folded as a result of financial problems during the 1930`s. Between 1933 and 1938, he served as the club`s Treasurer and together with his close friend Maurice Turnbull, he spent winter after winter raising money for the club through special functions. The Cardiff-based businessman also used his contacts in the commercial world to good effect, and he steered the club through much adversity and ensured that the county remained afloat.
On the field of play, Clay led the bowling attack by example and in 1937 he took 176 wickets - a record which still stands as the most number of wickets taken in a season for the Welsh county. His efforts also resulted in a call-up into the England side for the Fifth Test against South Africa in 1935, but the Glamorgan stalwart turned down further opportunities at the highest level, preferring instead to play for his beloved Glamorgan.
Educated at Winchester, Clay hailed from a well-known sporting family in the Chepstow area. In his youth he was a tearaway fast bowler, playing initially in Minor County cricket for Monmouthshire, before making his Glamorgan debut in 1921. However, he was affected by a series of injuries, and in 1924 he experimented with both leg-breaks and off-spin. He also took over the Glamorgan captaincy, and through his enthusiastic efforts the club moved up from the bottom of the Championship table to 13th place.
Clay was also an aggressive lower-order batsman, and he played many cavalier innings. In 1927 he hit an unbeaten century against the New Zealand tourists, whilst in 1929 he recorded his maiden Championship hundred against Worcestershire at Swansea. He raced to three figures in just 95 minutes, but what was even more remarkable, was that Clay was the number 10 batsman, and his partnership of 203 with Joe Hills for the ninth wicket stood is still the club record.
However, Clay`s forte was off-spin bowling, and the Glamorgan amateur proved to be one of the finest slow bowlers in county cricket either side of the Second World War. On three occasions he took over a hundred wickets, and in 1937 he produced the best ever match figures for Glamorgan of 17-212, after taking 9-66 and 8-146 against Worcestershire at Swansea. He was still an effective bowler in 1946 when Glamorgan regrouped after the War, and following the death of Turnbull, Clay agreed to lead the county as the Championship restarted, keen that his good friends efforts before the War were not wasted.
During 1946 and 1947 Clay assembled a new squad of players and he helped to groom Wilf Wooller as the county`s future leader. He handed over the captaincy to the former Welsh rugby international in 1947, and slipped into semi-retirement. However, with the prospect of the County title looming on the horizon, Wooller invited Clay to make a return to the county side for the decisive game against Surrey at the Arms Park. The veteran off-spinner responded with match figures of 10-65, and remained in the side at Bournemouth as the Welshmen became County Champions for the first-ever time. Indeed, it was fitting that Clay should take the final wicket, trapping the Hampshire number eleven leg before, and there were tears of delight running down his cheeks as he returned to the Dean Park pavilion to join in the celebrations.
Clay was highly regarded by the M.C.C., and served as a Test selector in 1947 and 1948, before playing his final county match aged 51, appropriately enough on Monmouthshire soil, against Yorkshire at Newport. He continued to be involved with the county side, serving as a Trustee and from 1960 he was the club`s President. Clay had many other sporting interests, including hunting and horse-racing. As a youngster he had ridden in point-to-points, and acted as Secretary of the Glamorgan Hunt. In later life, he was a Steward and a Director of Chepstow Racecourse, which had been laid out close to his family`s home during the 1920`s, and a long distance steeplechase is annually run at Chepstow in Clay`s memory.
(from 100 Glamorgan Greats by Andrew Hignell – Tempus Publishing, 2000)
(Article: Copyright © 2000 Dr.A.K.Hignell)
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