Written by Peter Hartland
In 1972 Sussex Martlets embarked on a tour to Southern Africa, and an accompanying brochure was produced that included pen portraits of the party. The entry for Eddie Harrison included the following excerpt: “Leather manufacturer who has now turned to commercial warehousing…Undisputed King Martlet.”
A decade and a half after his death, Eddie Harrison is still undisputed King Martlet. The man who did more than anybody else for the Club, who it often seemed was the Club, acted as Secretary for thirty-two years and President for another eighteen. Before that, he spent 23 years as an ordinary playing member.
Growing The Fixture List
Perhaps the most graphic illustration of Harrison’s influence lies within the fixture list. From the formation of the Club in 1905 until 1951, there had been an average of 25 completed matches per annum. During the thirty-two years from 1952 when he was Secretary, that average climbed to 68. A virtual tripling of the programme. And Harrison not only arranged all those matches himself, but also recruited the necessary players. A sift through the Club archives reveals a sudden leap in activity after 1952. Annual reports appear for the first time, distributed to all members, as do records relating to the Juniors. Fixture cards for each year are carefully collated and bound together.
It was only after becoming Secretary at the age of 41 that Harrison played for the Martlets with any regularity. Between his debut in 1929 and 1939 he played only 29 games, capturing 51 wickets. After the war he appeared a further 26 times to the end of the 1951 season, taking another 75. From 1952 until his last game in 1981 he claimed more than 700 victims, giving an overall total in excess of 840. At one time it was believed that his medium-fast deliveries had accounted for over a thousand batsmen, but now that records of his entire career are available it is clear that he did not play enough early on.
Other Sporting Achievements
There were good reasons for this. Harrison was running the family leather business from his early twenties. He was also a county squash player between 1930 and 1950, becoming South of England champion in 1934, and Sussex champion in 1938, 1939 and 1946. In fact, he was good enough to represent England at the sport, once touring North America.
He also played ten first-class matches for Sussex CCC in 1946 and 1947, taking 17 wickets, then captained the 2nd XI for two years. Like Sandy Ross, Eddie Harrison also played for several other teams including MCC, the Forty Club, Harrow Wanderers and Hampshire Hogs. Unlike Sandy and most others, he did not keep a record of every game he played. It is also to his immense credit that Harrison scored more runs for the Martlets (7,000+) than anyone apart from Brian O’Gorman and Derek Semmence.
With Hove no longer available like before, Eddie built an excellent relationship with the Duke of Norfolk that was crucial in establishing Sussex Martlets at Arundel Castle. After their first meeting, when Martlets faced the Duke’s XI, he had some building to do:
“I was young and keen at this stage and could bowl reasonably fast. I was very happy when I bowled Lord Dunglass (later known as Sir Alec Douglas-Home), who was top-scorer. The Duke was next man in. Totally oblivious of the unwritten rule that the Duke had to be allowed at least to get off the mark, I took an extra long run and bowled him all over the place, first ball. I then stood on a hat-trick and was feeling very pleased with myself. However, I noticed there wasn’t much sign of celebration and became aware of the captain bearing down on me. “That was the most appalling piece of bad manners I have ever seen. You must apologise to the Duke, and don’t expect to play here again.” The innings closed soon afterwards and I made haste to apologise. The Duke fixed me with his famous icy look and said, “You will never play against me on this ground again.” My heart sank but then, thank God, a twinkle appeared as he added, “In future, you will always play for me on this ground.”
Many years later, author Tim Heald, whose books included biographies of Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Denis Compton and Brian Johnston, noted in The Character of Cricket:
The Lord’s emeriti, together with Colin Cowdrey, Eddie Harrison, the Hon. Sec. of the Sussex Martlets, and the Duchess herself, are the people who have kept cricket going at Arundel in the manner that Duke Bernard would have wished.
We will leave the final word to David Gibbs, who knew Eddie well:
“He expected high standards on and off the field and he could be cantankerous and tetchy, but his heart was devoted to the Martlets and the club owes him a tremendous debt.”