If ever you wanted to find George Northall, chances are he’d be pottering away at his beloved Swanton Morley Cricket Club.
Over four decades, George took immense pride in looking after not only the pitch and other facilities, but also the next generation of young cricketers.
Such was his contribution to the club that the new pavilion, built in 2012, was officially named after him two years ago.
Born into a traditional working class household in the West Midlands, George Northall was raised in Cradley Heath near Dudley.
Throughout his childhood, the Black Country let his heart set on adventures further afield with the Royal Air Force.
At the first available opportunity, he signed up with the RAF in the late 1950s and undertook his first tour at RAF Cosford near Wolverhampton.
It was around this time that he met his wife-to-be, Rosemary – a Yorkshire girl – at a dance that had been organized for the troops.
David Northall, their youngest of two sons, said: “Mum went down to this dance and was clearly swooned by the young man in RAF uniform.
“A friend introduced them and the rest was history.”
Rosemary and George were soon married and, over the next decade or so, they welcomed Andrew and then David.
George’s work as an electrical engineer took the family to Singapore in the late 60s, and across the UK to North Wales, Scotland and RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, home of the Vulcan bomber.
During this period, he was predominantly attached with the Number 74 “Tiger” Squadron, whose motto was ‘I Fear No Man’.
“He effectively worked his way out of a poor background to build a solid, well-knit family unit, supported by my mum,” said Andrew.
“Our kids were never made to worry about money. We had food on the table, we had clothes, we went to school and we were expected to work and study hard.”
In 1976 there came a move to Swanton Morley, around which time he had progressed to the role of warrant officer – the highest non-commissioned rank in the force.
“Coming into a small village, my parents’ feeling was that it would take a great deal of effort to be accepted,” added David.
“They made that effort to be socially integrated and pushed themselves wholeheartedly to be part of local life.
“He decided Swanton Morley was the place he would make his home and fell in love with it over the years.”
That immersion in village life had already got him involved with Swanton Morley CC a few years’ prior, when the club didn’t even have a permanent home.
In 1983 they were playing friendlies on the school field at Swanton Morley Primary, when a small group, including George, reached an agreement with The Angel to start using some land behind the pub.
The determined team started from scratch and set about doing plenty of leveling out and grass cutting to get the plot into cricket-worthy shape.
With the help of contacts at Breckland Council, George managed to obtain some grants and the club purchased the land.
He was an accomplished player himself, a “methodical batsman” who would wait patiently for the bad balls, according to president and fellow founding member, Mike Balaam.
His biggest interest, however, was in ensuring the next generation of young talent were given all the guidance they needed.
“He really did enjoy coaching the youngsters,” said Mr Balaam. “That was one of his big passions.”
Barry Green, another club stalwart, added: “In the early days they used to get 30 youngsters up here on a Monday night and there were three or four coaches who put the effort in with him. They attracted quite a crowd.”
George was instrumental in the building of a brand-new pavilion in 2012, working hard to earn the project a number of grants – including a £100,000 sum from the England and Wales Cricket Board.
“Before that we used to do change and do everything in a wooden hut, so it was a real godsend,” said Mr Green.
“Rosemary used to put plenty of effort into the club as well, doing secretarial work. They were a great couple – great for the club.”
George was never far away from his spiritual home, spending “hours and hours” doing various jobs at the club, several nights a week.
His goal, said David, was to “provide people with great facilities so they could carry on playing the game he loved.”
Away from cricket, George was heavily involved with the local parish council and historical society, and spent time as chairman of Little Swans Pre-School.
He was a keen birdwatcher and loved walking with Rosemary when they went on holiday to the Yorkshire Dales.
Rosemary died in 2013, by which time George had begun to battle myeloma bone cancer – but his spirits were always high.
“He never let it get him down,” said Mr Green.
“There was a period where he couldn’t really do much up here. But two or three years ago, when his medication wasn’t particularly harsh, he started coming back and doing what he could.”
Mr Balaam added: “There were times you’d speak to him and he was probably feeling like absolute rubbish, but you wouldn’t know it.”
In his later years, George met Barbara on a fellowship holiday, and the pair struck up a relationship almost immediately.
Barbara opened his eyes to a number of new hobbies, and they continued going on holidays together.
“Dad never wanted to shrivel away and give up on life,” said David.
“His take was that everyone was doing what they could to keep him on this planet.
“Barbara has been an absolute rock and was there to the bitter end. I think she really helped him face what was coming.
“It is never nice when someone is dying of cancer but, because of what he did for other people, they didn’t hesitate in helping him. So many people came out of the woodwork to help, which meant so much.”
A few years ago, members of the cricket club got together and decided it was only right to name the pavilion after George, unveiling the ‘George Northall Pavilion’ during a special ceremony.
“George was very modest and wondered what all the fuss was about,” said Mr Balaam.
“But he had been such a great servant to the club that we had to reward him with something, and we thought that was the ideal thing to do.”
Remembering his father, Andrew said: “He was ambitious; determined to do the best he possibly could. He was very steely, extremely hard-working, and set very high standards – especially for himself.
“I am sure he could look back on his life and think ‘I have achieved a heck of a lot’.”
Heaping his own praise on George, David added: “He has made me what I am today and I have got to give him so much credit because he was an absolutely brilliant role model.
“If I become half the man he was, I will be happy.”
George Northall died aged 81 in the early hours of Sunday, July 31, surrounded by family. He leaves behind his partner, two children and three grandchildren.
George’s funeral will be held at Colney Woodland Burial Park in Norwich from 11am on Friday, August 26, to be followed by a gathering at Swanton Morley CC in Hoe Road South.