I am sure that every County in every era has a story of cricketing family prowess, the Edrich’s are probably the most famous and take some competing with. However in their stomping ground of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, the French dynasty will take some beating.
Father Maurice was a Nottingham man born and raised in the Meadows but moved to Warsop , his wife’s Bettys home, town after their marriage.
During the following years they had six children, Joe born 1949, Charlie 1954, Bruce 1959, daughter Debbie (we’re not quite sure what happened there but more of her later) 1962, Neil 1964 and finally David born 1968.
Maurice joined the local cricket club Welbeck Colliery as a way of meeting people in his new environment and that involvement lasted until his death in 2003. As a player he was an accurate medium pace bowler and a hard hitting batsman playing in equal amounts for the first and second teams. But it was probably for his administrative rolls within the club that he will be most remembered for.
First son Joe followed in his Dad’s footsteps as a nagging medium paced bowler and useful hard hitting middle order batsman. In the days when Joe was a youngster, Nottinghamshire’s only youth team was at under 18 level, then run by Johnny Clay, and when his time came Joe slotted comfortably into the set up. He then became a first team regular for Welbeck. He is now president of the Bassetlaw and District Junior League and a level two coach, passing on his experience to his club’s juniors which includes his grandson Joe jnr. who is a promising under 13.
Number two son Charlie became a prolific local sportsman, obviously excelling at cricket as a batsman wicket keeper, but also played at a good level of football before returning to his old school winter sport of rugby later in life.
I know Charlie will be telling many tales of his life and times later in his stories column, so here is a brief resume of his cricket history.
Notts had added an under 15’s side as well as the 18’s already installed. Charlie played six games for this side as a thirteen year old and still has the cap he was awarded that year. He went on to play at all the levels that followed but always played mostly above his age group.
At the age of sixteen Charlie was selected to play his first game for Nottinghamshire second eleven against Leicestershire. During the next two years he played on a fairly regular basis for the seconds culminating in being part of the second eleven championship side of 1973.
Leaving school and working for a living curtailed his Notts appearances, but two years later he was asked to sign as a professional for the County. However with his work situation and this being pre Kerry Packer days he turned down the invitation.
With the exception of a couple of working trips abroad, Charlie put all his efforts into his club Welbeck turning them, arguably, into the best club side of the late eighties and nineties, winning many league championships and knockout cups along the way. He is now chairman of the club, and as you all probably know, has put all this experience to good use by becoming a bat maker for the past 22 years.
If Charlie threw the gauntlet down, Bruce willingly picked it up. From an early age it was clear that Bruce had all the attributes to become a top wicket keeper. He was the smallest and most acrobatic of the brothers and caught a ball with comfortable ease that became a trademark of his career.
He was quickly into his stride comfortably making the County under 15 side and also representing the under 19’s in the same year. When leaving school as a sixteen year old he didn’t need to look for a job, the call came. He signed for Notts and the following year became the youngest player at that time to represent the first team. Bruce then went on to play 657 games in all competitions for his county taking 1092 catches and 136 stumpings before retiring in 1995.
This alone would have been a satisfying career, but Bruce went a step further and played for his country in sixteen tests and 13 odi’s. His connections with the England set up did not end there though. He has totally rewritten the keeping coaching manual to such an extent that as the England keeping coach he has made Matt Prior the best international glove man in the world, and continues to work within the tight knit community of England’s coaches.
Number three son is Neil, who developed into a quality bowling all rounder. At club level he would be classed as medium fast, but it was his aggressive nature and knack of hitting the seam on a regular basis that made him difficult to play. If there was any moisture in the wicket then Neil would exploit it.
He started the usual way through the County youth set up and also played a couple of second eleven fixtures, but it was his performances for Welbeck that impressed Lincolnshire enough to sign him in 1989 and he continued to have eight good years with the County, the pinnacle probably playing in the minor counties cup final at Lords.
Neil was the only son that left Welbeck to play in another league. In 1993 he went to pro in the Birmingham League for Coventry and North Warwick and in 1994 he won the player of the year award which was voted on by the league umpires.
If we add to that the fact that he also played for the England Amateur side from 1991 to 1995 then it becomes clear that he was a class act.
Neil returned to Welbeck as player, then as coach and then as administrator and is now Charlie’s business partner mainly running their sister business Proskins. His son Robert also played through the county set up and now plays Premier League cricket for Welbeck as an all rounder.
Last son David has probably the least impressive cv of them all but could arguably have turned out to have been the best. He played for Notts at under 13 level, but then broke his finger badly and missed out until he was given a few games at under17. In earlier times his performances for Welbeck would have seen him trialling for the county side, but now this doesn’t seem to happen anymore.
Dave was another all rounder but this time as an off break bowler. Charlie has often said that if there was a fantasy cricket league for league cricketers, then Dave would have been the most expensive player. He regularly took around 50 wickets a season and as a batsman was the man for a crisis who would score hundreds coming in at number seven to win a game. Mental toughness was one thing all the lads had in common, but Dave had it in spades. Even now if the team is struggling, someone will say, “We could do with a Dave French innings.”
He now lives in Woking having spent three years in Buenos Aires and another three years in Paris.
You may all have noticed that daughter Debbie has not been mentioned yet, and it was stated at the beginning that there would be more of her later. Well if I said that she married Tim Ball, those of you who follow Notts closely may feel their ears begin to twitch.
Debbie has two sons, Jonathan who also plays for Welbeck as a good quality league off spinner and useful batsman was the first, and Jacob was the second. Jake was a naturally gifted young sportsman, but didn’t figure much in the Notts age groups. However at 18 he was starting to put in some useful performances as an opening bowler for Welbeck and was invited down to the nets at Trent Bridge to bowl at the England batsmen during the test series against Australia. His efforts caught the attention of the England coaching staff and he was asked to join the Notts academy. The following year he was selected for the England under 19’s, and he made his first team debut. Jake has just started his second year in his second two year contract & has broke through into the 4 day side at Nottinghamshire as he looks to progress as a professional cricketer. Debbie has more than played her part!