Obituary: Henry Horton

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The Independent Culture
WHETHER PLAYING football or cricket, Henry Horton could always present a passable imitation of a brick wall. Opposing bowlers, frustrated for hours, would pray for divine intervention; opposing forwards were desperate for a slip of foot or a momentary distraction. Spectators, whether at Southampton or Ewood Park, might fall asleep.

He was a Herefordshire man and about as immovable as his county's famous symbol, the bull. He first appeared as a middle-order right-hand batsman and occasional slow left-arm bowler as an amateur for Worcestershire but played only 11 matches in three years.He made his name with Hampshire in the years 1953-67, appearing in 405 matches and becomimg the spine of the batting order, a model of consistency, passing 1,000 runs 12 times and driving a few bowlers into sweaty fits of abject depression.

Certainly Horton's dismissal would bring celebrations among the fielders that usually attended the fall of a major star player. Not that players in Horton's time indulged in high fives, embraces or punching the air; their happiness would be signified by grins, an odd whoop, perhaps a handshake for the bowler while dozing old men in deckchairs would be elbowed awake with a loud "Wake up,Grandad, Horton's out".

To Hampshire, with their famously erratic batting order, Horton was gold dust. Stephen Chalke, in his minor classic Runs in the Memory (1997), spoke to Malcolm Heath, a Hampshire contemporary of Horton's:

Roy Marshall (the cavalier West Indian opener) had been dismissed by Derbyshire for Henry to enter at number three: "I say, Marshall's out" comes an indignant upper-class voice: "I've come all the way from Southampton to see Marshall bat and some silly bugger's got him out."

Henry Horton is a big hard man, a centre half at Southampton in the days when the mud is thick and the ball a heavy lump of leather; he is as strong as an ox; a tiny backlift, bat and pad almost glued together, he is not the prettiest of sights but "dear old Henry had the right attitude", Malcolm says: "I'm out there for Hampshire."

He never flinches as the ball rears off a length (the match is at Burton on Trent, often a dodgy surface) and the bowlers Derbyshire's Les Jackson and Harold Rhodes). Roy Marshall will score 35,000 runs, Henry 21,000 but Malcolm

wonders, "Who spent the longer at the wicket?"

Michael Melford, in the Daily Telegraph, wrote of that morning's play: "Nobody without a suit of armour could have been other than appalled by the thought of facing Jackson and Rhodes."

Horton played a crucial part in Hampshire's first Championship in 1961, scoring 2,329 runs at an average of 38 under the ebullient leadership of Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, a disciplinarian who famously insisted: "I want all my players in bed before breakfast." Horton also figured in a draw at Trent Bridge in 1966.

Hampshire needed one run off the last ball to level the scores. Wisden reported:

It was fully a half-hour after the game had ended before the result was known because of some doubt about the legitimacy of the run off the last ball which levelled the scores.

Horton played the ball a short way along the pitch and then as the bowler went to collect it the batsman, in his excitement, kicked the ball away and he and Wheatley completed the vital run. It appeared a clear case of obstruction but Bolus, the acting Nottinghamshire captain, later said no appeal had been

made against Horton although it appeared as though Swetman, the wicketkeeper, had given a shout.

As a footballer my chief memory of Henry Horton is of his ploughing through the mud and rain, or snow and ice, on Ewood in midwinter, an obdurate, intransigent defender in Blackburn's blue-and-white halves. Then we called him a wing half, today he would be termed a centre back; as either, you would prefer to have him on your side. A Hampshire contemporary, Mike Barnard, said of him: "A great sense of humour, he liked the ladies but never married, straight as a die, solid as a rock."

Horton returned to Worcestershire as coach (1968-72 and 1977-79) spending three of the intervening years as a first class umpire. He played football professionally for Blackburn Rovers (92 matches and five goals, 1946-50), Southampton (75 matches, 11 goals, 1951-53) and Bradford Park Avenue (27, 1954).

Henry Horton, cricketer and footballer: born Colwall Green, Herefordshire 18 April 1923; died Hereford 2 November 1998.