Not all sporting heroes are to be found indulging their talents on the field of play. Some, like Selkirk cricket enthusiast George Oliver, make their mark on the game by remaining outside the boundary rope.
George, who has died at the age of 95, was one of the country’s most passionate cricket followers. He first saw Selkirk play at Philiphaugh in 1936 when he was ten years old, and over the next 85 years rarely missed a home fixture.
Spectating from the same spot on the ground’s southern boundary – his own home being situated just a cover drive away along Ettrickhaugh Road – he would follow the action out on the cricket square come rain, hail or shine.
“George has been an ever-present at Philiphaugh for as long as anyone can remember,” said Selkirk Cricket Club’s chair Neil Gentleman, “and he is going to be a huge miss.
“A minute’s silence will be held in his memory at our next home match, while the club’s flag is being flown from the pavilion at half-mast as a mark of respect.”
A Souter born and bred, George played cricket when a pupil at Knowepark School (where he won the Dux prize), and would often bowl to some of the senior Selkirk players at net practice.
Leaving school at the age of 14, he spent four years working for the Forestry Commission based at Gatehouse-of-Fleet, before volunteering for the RAF.
After training at Bodmin he joined the Parachute Regiment, serving in the 8th Parachute Battalion. Only 18 at the time, he was unable to take part in the Paras’ famous “Rhine drop”, but later served for two years with the battalion in Palestine.
On being demobbed, his commanding officer gave George a glowing reference: “Corporal Oliver is extremely intelligent, loyal and always trustworthy. His keen brain and personal integrity will be an invaluable asset to any employer.”
Returning to Selkirk, Mr Oliver began work as a warper in Gardiner’s of Selkirk’s mill, and was encouraged by one of the directors to study at the Technical College in Galashiels with a view to qualifying as a designer.
This was one of the reasons he did not manage to play much cricket, often being required to study two to three nights a week for his design qualifications.
Asked to name some of the best Selkirk players he’d seen, George singled out the club’s legendary all-round internationalist John Greive. “He was a big hitter, and if a half-volley came up first ball, then it would go for six. No question,” he said.
“I was at the game in 1937 when he and his fellow opener, Tom Kyle, made a record-breaking 214 for no wicket against Carlisle. That was quite something.”
On June 23 1961 George married Anne (née Bell), who at that time was working as a darner in Gardiner’s mill. The couple’s two daughters, Sandra and Joyce, were born in 1965 and 1967. Tragically, Sandra died of cancer in 1996 at the age of 31.
A keen gardener, Mr Oliver was well known for his dahlia and gladioli-growing exploits, winning a multitude of trophies on the Border flower show circuit.
Hill-walking was another passion, and alongside friends Pringle Gibb and Eb Riddell, he managed to walk the entire 240-mile length of Selkirkshire’s boundary in the space of just six days.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Selkirk’s move to its new ground at Philiphaugh, with the first visitors to the ground – on June 8, 1872 – being the Grange club from Edinburgh.
History repeated itself last month, when Grange III played Selkirk in an East League match on Saturday June 11, while Grange Old Stars took on Selkirk Ancients in a commemorative fixture the following day.
Both contests were avidly watched by George from his customary spot on the Philiphaugh boundary – the last Selkirk matches he saw, and a fitting way to bring the curtain down on his remarkable innings.
Mr Oliver is survived by his wife Anne, daughter Joyce and grandsons Jack, Frazer, Kyle and Blaine.
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