The Grantham area cricket scene is this week mourning the loss of umpiring legend Vic Heppenstall who has died, aged 86.
Vic was a well-known face in town and around the county for his officiating capacity in Grantham and Melton Cricket Association, South Lincs and Border League, and South Notts League matches, as well as countless other umpiring duties in various games, including close ties with the King’s School.
Vic was also most associated with Belvoir Cricket Club who he joined in 1977 and for whom chairman Andrew Dann thought was the longest-serving member of the club – and known affectionately as ‘Mr Belvoir’.
Andrew said Vic was very much a hands-on person who took on compiling the annual Belvoir fixtures booklet, was in charge of trophies, and would still lend a hand as regards general club maintenance.
Andrew said he would miss talking to Vic on a weekly basis: “The passing of ‘Vic’, as everyone associated with cricket knew him, has saddened not only the cricketing fraternity, but everyone that ever met him. He was just one of the good guys.
“He was so professional in his approach to his umpiring role, and we will all have fond memories of him, on and off the field.
“Still umpiring at 86 years old, he was truly respected by anyone on the cricket field, both young and old. He always enjoyed what he did, always enjoyed a quip, but nobody undertook the role of umpiring matches more seriously.”
Andrew said that many local cricketers have trophies that Vic made for them for taking either five wickets or hitting a century.
He said that Vic had inspired young cricketers with his knowledge and encouragement and it has been a real tribute to him that so many of these youngsters have sent some amazing messages to his family.
Andrew said: “Words such as respect, humility and passion have all been used to describe this great man.
“The word legend is probably used too freely, however, for Vic it just doesn’t seem enough.
“I know I can speak on behalf of the local cricketing community when I say, ‘Mr Belvoir’, we thank you for everything you have given over many decades.”
Vic’s umpiring record was approaching the 2,000 games mark but in his younger days he swung the bat for Barrowby in the Rural League, before an accident at his work as a shopfitter cut his playing career short.
Vic was well aware that cricket umpires are getting to be thin on the ground, even back in 2006 when he spoke to the Journal on the subject: “There is a shortage of umpires and I’ll do it as long as I can do it properly and sensibly.
“A lot of people pack up playing cricket and go playing golf, so maybe 20 years are lost to the game when there is something they could do.
“I’ve got a lot of pleasure from it and I’ve met a lot of people. It’s that kind of game.”
Other highlights of Vic’s umpiring career included the many Notts County Cricket Club benefit matches played at Belvoir, when he shared the pitch with the likes of Chris Broad, Richard Hadlee, Clive Rice and Derek Randall.
Vic was passionate about youth and schools cricket, particularly with the King’s School with whom he went on several tours to Barbados as well as umpiring and its annual match against the visiting MCC team every summer.
King’s head of cricket David Richardson paid tribute to Vic and said it had been a very sad week for the school: “Vic always considered himself a friend of the school, and King’s were very fortunate to have such a truly great friend.
“In an umpiring career that spanned over 30 years, he officiated in hundreds of school cricket matches on a voluntary basis, from the under-12s right through to the first XI. He also enjoyed umpiring in the National Cup competitions which involved travelling all over the country.
“Without doubt his favourite school match of the season was King’s first XI versus the MCC. He was a real driving force in publicising the match and making sure everything was just right.
“He managed to officiate in over 30 such fixtures which is an amazing achievement in itself.
“Vic worked with three different heads of cricket in his time with the school, and I think they would all agree that he was a true gentleman and a real pleasure to work with.
“He will be hugely missed by students and staff, both current and past.”
King’s head of PE Nathan Whales said the school was proud to have been associated with Vic: “Vic was a big part of the King’s sporting community, dropping in to see us throughout the year come rain or shine and being in his absolute element in the cricket season.
“He was a beacon on traditional values and loved to share his vision of sport and competition to the boys, which invariably ended with him underlining the virtues of friendship.
“Vic always said how proud he was to be associated with the school. He will be sorely missed but never forgotten.”
Grantham Cricket Club secretary Joe Peck said Vic’s passing was a great loss to the local cricketing community: “Vic was a stalwart of cricket in the Grantham area, and was there at the very start and very end of the season for as long as I can remember.
“He was interested in everyone’s lives beyond cricket and took a genuine interest in each individual.
“He will be sadly missed, but remembered as a true friend of many.”
Other tributes received at the Journal this week included that of Ancaster CC representative Neill Butters who said he would be remembered by club members “for his enthusiasm and knowledge of cricket and for his constant impartiality and good humour, both during and after the match”.
Neil added: “Since our club’s return to league cricket, we have had the pleasure of Vic’s company at a number of games.
“At the end of every match, Vic would walk over, sign the score book and say ‘thank you, thank you’; so from Ancaster Cricket Club, we would like to say to Vic: ‘Thank you, thank you’.”
Vic’s funeral will take place at St Wulfram’s Church on Wednesday, April 11, at 2pm.