Neil Fitton, one of the finest bowlers to play for Sale CC, has recently died aged 78. His funeral in Chester on 11 February was attended by four people from the Club who knew him well from his playing days at the Club in the 1970’s – Jim Younger, Glyn Roberts, Bob Remond and Roger Lee.
Neil was originally from Oldham and first played for Sale in 1970 when he was already 33 years old. He was on the 1st XI for 10 consecutive seasons when the aggregate average for his off-spin bowling in league games was an impressive 1729 overs, 549 maidens, 4128 runs and 279 wickets. His average of 14.8 was the best of any home-based player for Sale over the last 50 years who has taken more than 90 wickets; his economy rate of 40 was also the lowest of any of these bowlers.
His most productive season was in 1975 when he took 50 wickets at an average of 8 (second only in that season’s league averages to Duncan Smith, another Sale player) but his proudest moment was undoubtedly when he captained Sale in the H C Smith Final at Old Trafford in 1974, a game that Sale won by one run with Neil taking two wickets in the final over.
(HC Smith Cup Winners, Old Trafford 1974 - Neil Fitton front row, third from right)
Neil was 1st XI captain for three seasons and was widely regarded by his fellow players as the best they had served under. He was a man of great tactical acumen, strong conviction and acerbic wit who did not suffer fools gladly. Opposing batsmen who struggled to score against his accurate and miserly off-spin were often reminded of the shape and colour of the ball and that it was their job to play some shots! Off the field he was always good company and highly respected for his views on cricket, life, and everything.
Neil had to retire eventually from cricket due to crippling rheumatoid arthritis. However, he was then able to pursue his many interests off the field including the theatre, local charities and politics. Throughout his working life Neil was dedicated to the education sector and he worked his way up to become Director of Education for Stockport and then Cheshire. He took early retirement in 1991 and was awarded the CBE in that year for his services to education. He then became an elected member of Chester City Council and Cheshire County Council until 2001.
In 2004 Neil joined us at Old Trafford for the Club’s 150th Anniversary Dinner and a few years later was a guest at the Club’s Open Day when our new cricket and tennis facilities were officially launched. He was always keen to hear how his old Club was performing and he was generous in making a number of donations.
He passed away in hospital after a long illness and will be sadly missed by those that knew him.
(Top picture, three Sale captains in conversation at 150th Anniversary Dinner at Old Trafford in 2004, L-R: Matt Millward, Neil Fitton, Glyn Roberts)