The word legend has many meanings. Look the word up in the dictionary and it will tell you a legend can be “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but not authenticated.” King Arthur and Robin Hood spring to mind. It can mean very well known – “his bowling was so fast it was a thing of legend!” can be said to make a point. It can also refer to an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field. It is this last meaning that creates legends in sport; performers on the field whose career is still remembered many years later and will certainly be discussed for many years to come.
In most cases legends in sport are born because of their brilliance. In cricket terms those that broke records, scored many runs, took loads of wickets or played with a swagger or with unique character. But often legends can be the polar opposite of brilliant and careers of heroic failure will be reminisced through the history books. That is certainly the case with wicket-keeper Seymour Clark, whose short career at Somerset lasted just five games and nine innings in 1930 but is still talked about today and his name often mentioned alongside greats of the game.
Arthur Henry Seymour Clark was born on March 26, 1902, in Weston-super-Mare. He was described by Wisden as the “most improbable of all county cricketers”. The truth is he had never played the game at all until he was 25, when he was drafted in to keep wicket for a local railwaymen’s side. Even though he had never received any coaching or even basic guidance he was still a brilliant natural wicket-keeper with fantastic reflexes. Amazingly three years later he would play county cricket for Somerset but it would be his batting not keeping abilities that would form his personal legend.
Clark worked as an engine driver on the railways and often found it difficult to get time off work to play cricket. But his performances behind the stumps were becoming legend in cricket circles in Weston. His lack of formal understanding of the game meant he stood up to all the bowlers because he assumed that was the norm. It didn’t occur to him it might be wise to stand back at times.
Two years after starting playing the game he was approached by the primary club in Weston and soon established himself as first choice there. He made his debut on the same day as Somerset stalwart and legendary big hitter Arthur Wellard and in ten years never looked like losing his place. Weston had a fine side and several times went through the season without defeat.
As brilliant as he was with the keepers gloves he was equally as hopeless with bat in hand. Clark quoted his highest score in club cricket was just 3 and “two of them came from overthrows”.
In 1930 Somerset’s long-serving keeper Wally Luckes was struggling with illness and the county were in desperate need of a replacement. Seymour was recommended to the county by Wally Hale, one of a select number who had played for both Gloucestershire and Somerset, after he played a club match against Weston. Somerset knew all about Clark’s keeping abilities and invited him to play for the county. The first two times he was unable to get time off work so had to politely decline. On the third occasion the Weston station master, a cricket fan, allowed Clark the appropriate leave and he was selected for four successive away matches at Derbyshire, Yorkshire, Northants and Essex.
He kept wicket brilliantly; at Kettering he held six catches. He was invited to play a fifth game – his only one in Somerset at Bath – once again against Northants under the captaincy of Jack White and he impressed with the gloves. But his batting was becoming the part of his game that created most interest as his nine innings in these five games read 0, 0, 0, 0, 0*, 0*, 0, 0 and 0! He failed to score even a single run! He did manage two not out’s in those nine innings, both in the same game at Kettering.
In the game at Chelmsford the rather good natured Essex and England bowler Peter Smith attempted to give Clark a run. He bowled so gently that the ball bounced twice before reaching the batsman yet Clark was still bowled by it.
Seymour later reminisced: “I couldn’t resist it and tried to give it an almighty clout. But I was still bowled!”
Seymour holds the record for most innings without a single run although another player, John Howarth of Nottinghamshire, also failed to muster even one single in 13 matches played but batted only seven times.
Clark was asked to play for a sixth time, at Taunton, but he didn’t have the heart to ask for more time off and Dar Lyon took his place. He was then, to his absolute surprise, offered a contract for 1931 but declined thinking the Great Western Railway offered more secure employment. These were days of depression and Clark thought about the dole queues and desperation.
Seymour Clark’s time as a county cricketer at Somerset was short but extraordinary. He took eight catches in total and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack for 1931 said that he “rendered useful service in that capacity”.
He returned to driving engines and club cricket and died in his home town on March 7, 1995, a fortnight before his 93rd birthday.
“I got a tremendous kick out of playing for Somerset. But it seemed to be sensible to go back to the locos. And here’s one secret I haven’t told many people. I bought a new bat to play for the county. It didn’t do me a lot of good, did it?”