by Paul Farrow

GARY Kirk is celebrating 40 years with Clacton Cricket Club.

The very special milestone was recognised after the club’s last match of the season, on Saturday night.

Kirk joined from Little Clacton in 1978 and went on to carve out a very successful club career, not only with Clacton but also as a Minor County player with Suffolk.

He was an integral part of the Two Counties Championship-winning sides in the 1990s and then helped propel the club into the East Anglian Premier League during the 2000s.

His club career statistics are simply outstanding, taking 1,963 wickets from 11,144 overs at an average of just 14.6.

He was more than half-decent with the bat, too, scoring more than 13,000 runs, including three 100s and 58 half-centuries, at an average of 28.

It was remarkable that Suffolk only became of aware of his cricketing talents when he was 36.

Once selected, he went on to take 100 wickets over 23 games, including the scalps of Test players Graeme Swann and Michael Hussey in a C&G Trophy match against Northamptonshire in 2002.

Kirk retired from playing around five years ago but his tireless work behind the scenes has continued as chairman, fundraiser and general organiser.

He has been the glue that has held the club together after it pulled out of the East Anglian Premier League in 2012.

They have climbed back up the divisions and are just one step away from the top tier, while their Sunday side currently sit top of division one of the North Essex League.

Clacton president Neil Cavender said: "Gary has been the heart and soul of Clacton Cricket Club since joining in 1978.

"All along, his dedication has never wavered.

"He had an extraordinary playing career before going on to manage the first team when the club played in the region’s elite league.

"Today, Gary is a very active chairman and, if truth be told, without him the town would no longer have a cricket club.

"Everyone involved in the club, past and present, owes him a great deal.”

Clacton stalwart John Stuck added: “Gary was the most complete seam bowler during my time at the club and a career economy rate of just 2.5 runs an over is extraordinary.

"As a seamer, Gary exploited any help in the pitch but he also swung the ball both ways.

"He was a feared adversary by the best batsmen.

"Gary will be regarded as the best seam bowler to wear a Clacton shirt.

"I would not argue with this view.”