Tribute to Nick Denman - 'It was a pleasure and an honour to be his friend'

Former Horsham 2nd XI captain Nick Denman died on June 5, aged 56. Here Ben Overton, who knew Nick for more than 40 years, pays tribute the prolific batsman.

Tuesday, 16th June 2020, 9:54 pm

I knew Nick for well over 40 years and first got to know him through the junior cricket section so inspirationally run by Dr John Dew at Horsham CC. In fact Nick's dad, Mike, was also a coach at that time.

I don't know how the nickname 'Chub' first came about but Nick was quite a rotund boy who could hit a cricket ball a very long way. Anyway it stuck. He was later to pick up other nicknames - Mort and Denners being the ones I mainly remember.

Although we went to different schools (he was at Collyers and I was at Tanbridge - but I do remember a day when he spent a day at Tanbridge 'in disguise'!), we became friends through sport.

Nick Denman

Not only was Nick a promising cricketer, he was also a very good goalkeeper and loved all sport - we played golf and snooker together and he also played a decent standard of darts. We also spent many a day at a Horse Racing meeting - a highlight being Kempton on Boxing day to cheer home Desert Orchid, and Nick liked a small wager. He was also a big Arsenal fan - a critical one.

Nick was not easily pleased but he used to find a way to criticise and gently mock his own team which was both accurate and extremely funny.

However, I think it would be wrong not to focus on cricket as this is where Nick really excelled. Paul Baker was right - in any other era (or town) Nick would have been an automatic choice for the first team.

However, Horsham were so totally dominant at the time that he ended up a leading player in a very successful 2nd XI under Paul Baker. He later went on to captain that team. First and foremost, Nick was a fantastic batsman. He used an extremely heavy bat (I remember one 4lb Gray Nicholls being so heavy I could barely lift it off the ground) and played very much to the strengths he had.

But he had a full range of shots and could be devastating, and extremely difficult to get out. There was one particular year when he scored a record breaking number of centuries. Nick was also a great student of the game, his knowledge on cricket (and many other subjects, both relevant and irrelevant!) was second to none and he read the game and the opposition with great astuteness.

I didn't play for the same team as Nick, I was mainly at Sunallon, but I remember one touring game at Crowhurst in the early 90s when Nick guested for us.

The ground was tiny and Nick kept dispatching their off spinner into the adjacent field, to the point where the opposition even put a fielder there just so as not to lose the ball! Although the bowler had a Transvaal jumper and spoke in a South African accent, we thought little of it and just assumed him to be a pretty average player who was over on his holidays. That weekend Nick was called up to the first XI at the last minute as cover for the injured opening bat in a game against Hastings.

As he stood at the non striker's end for the first over, he recognised the bowler to be the same one who had thrown down the fodder that Nick had carted into the field four days previously. This time, however, he was marking a 30 yard run up and came steaming in to deliver an 85 mile an hour in swinging bouncer which nearly took his opening partner's head off. Nic swallowed hard and politely turned to the bowler and said "oh, I thought you were an off spinner".

The bowler, Les Ryan, opening bowler for Transvaal, just looked back at Nick and smiled. A rapid in swinging yorker dealt for Nick a few balls later. Nick told that story for many years to come and he had a way of making it funnier each time he told it.

Nick was also a lover of music, or more specifically punk and new wave. He had little or 'no time' for anything mainstream. Being a little bit older than me, he was a big influence on my music taste in the late 70s and early 80s. Many a time we would be in his car, both smoking away, the car full of empty packets of cigarettes, cassettes, McDonalds packaging and empty coke cans - and the ashtray bulging with butts to the point where there was simply no room for any more. The music would pound out with mind numbing volume and treble and he would shout over the noise - "what do you think of this Benj?"

They were very happy days and for a good 20 years we spent a lot of time together in a big group of great friends. Nick wasn't so much the instigator of some of the pranks we got up to, he was often more in the observer role. But this is where his strengths lay. He didn't make the stories, he told the stories. He was funniest story teller - raconteur even - that I ever knew and I shall greatly miss that. Nick loved Horsham and Horsham life. He knew all the characters and everyone knew him.

His ability to make a story out of almost anything was unrivalled and the amount of times he started a sentence with "do you remember when...." was countless. Sometimes I am sure he embellished the tale for effect, like when he told the story of Bonzo Johnson being caught in the loft of someone's house with a swag bag, claiming he was trying to rescue a bird, but it didn't matter to us, in fact it made it better. Nick's memory for stories and trivia was uncanny.

I played football with Nick for the Tanbridge Old Boys (yes he gate-crashed our school again) and every time we kept a clean sheet he came out with the same line about it being so easy he could have brought a deck chair and a good read. We would have been disappointed if he hadn't. I also played a lot of snooker with him and his refereeing with a pint in one hand and a cigarette in the other was something to be seen. Throughout his life he added to every situation he was part of.

Inevitably as we grew older and started families, we saw less of each other. I moved away from Horsham and the opportunities to see each other reduced. Nick was also very loving and loyal to his wife Kelly, son James and stepson Byron as well as his mum Jill who still lives in the family home, and younger brothers Jon and Phil. But we did manage to stay in touch through social media and Nick's wit and comment on many things remained animated and extremely funny. It is the fact that we will no longer be privileged to this humour that is one of the great losses.

I was shocked and devastated, like many others, when I heard the news that Nick had died, particularly in such sudden circumstances. It will take a long time to process and it has really hit home how much you miss someone when they are not there. Nick was his own man, not one to compromise or fit in with the crowd. He had a refreshing and highly amusing take on life, didn't take anything too seriously and was quite simply the funniest teller of stories and anecdotes that I ever knew. He could make humour out of nothing; a rare talent and I shall miss him very much.

It is so sad that in the current situation that the many people who loved and respected Nick over the years will not get a chance to pay tribute to such a great person. I am sure he will live in the memories of so many of us for years to come. It was a pleasure and an honour to be his friend.

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