“I think I was 12th choice wicket-keeper with Cookie, Cal, Donny, Tully and Darren amongst others not available and I was pretty terrible really.”

He was a bit of a surprise name on the team sheet for Calmore Sports’ Southern Premier League Cup clash with local rivals Totton and Eling lat Saturday but Tommy Pegler’s appearance for the 1st XI – regardless of where he was on the selection list – ticked him over into an unprecedented fifth decade of first team league action for the club.

47-year-old Tom made his 1st XI debut back when Calmore were in the Hampshire League in 1988 as a fresh faced – well, sort of fresh faced – 15 year old and he has played for the 1s in every season since, bar 1996 and 2019.

A product of the club’s youth system, Tom joined aged 10 in 1983 under the doyen of all Calmore coaches, Baz Oram and joined at the same time as such budding youths as Graeme Lyon, Mark Boston and Paul Draper and between them, they would go on to play in 725 first XI league games for us.

Tom accounts for 300 of them, batting 271 times, scoring 5,610 runs and taking 141 catches – club records all.  He boasts 151 dismissals behind the stumps, adding 10 stumpings to his catches haul – and he has even had a bowl but not since 2005 at home to St. Cross and there are, as yet, no batsmen tucked away in his pocket!

Over the course of 38 years, he has seen some huge highs and some desperate lows of the club and the ground, Loperwood Park, that he calls home.

“I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about playing in five decades,” he admits, “but it has been incredible fun!”.

He started in the 4th XI under the inimitable Denny Lock and made fairly swift progress through the ranks.  “Playing under Denny was great fun, it really was.  We didn’t win many games but we enjoyed it.  I would only play about half a season in the 4s as, by then, I was already playing 1st XI football for Bashley and their season ran late and started early.”

A hugely talented footballer, he would go on to play for Newport (IoW), AFC Totton, BAT Sports, Witney Town, Abingdon United and Bognor Regis Town, whilst at University in Chichester for four years, but he would always head for home for a game of cricket over the summer weekends.

“Things went quite quickly for me, I didn’t play many games in the 3s as I moved up into the 2s under Mike Newman and played most of my career at Loperwood, where I grew up learning and playing the game under Baz and with the colts like Stuey, Carts, Gragy, Bozzie and Drapes and then got into the 2s with Mike and then, in 1988, the 1s.”

He would help the 1s win Hampshire 1 in 1989 under Steve Brandes’ captaincy and cracked an unbeaten 57 from just 33 balls in the crucial game away at Sparsholt after Gary Stinson hit 63 and Stuart Bailey 47.  We would pip the Winchester-based side to the title that season, probably on the back of the eight-run win in June of that year.  “It was a big game and I remember Brandy getting absolutely walloped for about 90 (it was 11 overs, 1 for 74) but we clung on for the win and it was huge.”

He would miss much of the late 1990s, playing just four games in the near miss season of 1998 but he did score a brilliant run-a-ball 100 at Havant that year, his first of three Southern League/SPCL tons.  There were many fruitful years with the bat – scoring 432 runs in 2000, including his 1st XI career best of 110 not out at Bournemouth, hitting 100 at Liphook and Ripsley in 2002 in a time game that ensured we would stay in ‘gold’ for another season – “although we knew we would get relegated at some point, we didn’t want it to be that season,” he added, and 408 runs in 2011 at an average of 51.00.

This was a couple of seasons after he saw the club make the huge transition for the better.

“Over the years, it has been a real rollercoaster ride.  When you played at Calmore, you had the likes of Stu and Carts, Bozzie and Drapes, Gragy and all of the lads and it was an event being at the club, no-one ever used to go home or go elsewhere on a Saturday night after a game.  And I always think that is what makes a great cricket club, having great people around it, enjoying each others company, playing hard but having fun.

“Then we went through this rollercoaster time when we lost our way as a club when people from outside who didn’t really have the club at heart came in.  We went back down to County One to really find ourselves again and with the likes of Cassy, Pete Clark, Rosey, Prouders, Mark Archer, people like that, we formed that core of Calmore people again, good people, playing cricket the right way.  We were the nicest team in the league and we made that transition after a really tough time.

“During those difficult times at the club, we would have lads joining who just didn’t fit in and that affected us.  When I played last Saturday, we had Ben Fisher in the side, who joined us this season from South Wilts.  He is a really good cricketer but also a properly nice young man too.  And I think that is what we do now as a club – is he a nice bloke?  If not, then we won’t have him and I think we are and should be really proud of that.

“Westy, who was a really horrible bloke when we played against him, has been at the club 10 years now and is a changed character now – he’s been brilliant for the club.  I think a lot of the credit goes down to Pete Lavelle, Darren Vann, Brandy and Mark for that change in mindset of the club.  They are like the rock that goes through it and the foundations that serve it so well.

“We worked really hard after those difficult seasons and won Hampshire 1 again in 2009 with that nail-biting win over Locks Heath, which is still one of my favourite games.  We had to win it and took it really seriously.  Rosey was captain and we were struggling chasing a low score.  I got some runs (39 not out) and we won to win the title that season.  It was so important that we did win it that year because we had worked hard to rebuild after those hard years.

“We got the right people in.  People like Darren Vann came, took on the captaincy and led the club the right way.  We had to make the right decisions with the right people, not have some right arseholes that we had come to play previously.”

And then came the unprecedented double winning seasons of 2016 and 2017.  “Those two years were a real culmination of things.  You look through 2016 and the tight games we had.  We knew how to win and to win the league and win the fair play award in the same season, that doesn’t happen very often.  Then to win Division 1 the next season, that was just special.”

So, who have you enjoyed playing with the most?  “I think it goes without saying that Graeme Lyon has to be very high on that list.  We joined the club at the same time and played a lot of cricket together as I did with my very close personal friend Stu Bailey.  I have played with a lot of lads and you look at those of the later generation – Prouders and Rosey for instance – really good lads who want the club to succeed.”

Fellow wicket-keeper and long time friend Stuart Bailey was full of praise for his old mate.  “I’ve had the pleasure of playing cricket with Tom for the last 35 years.  He first turned up at an Under 16 game, a knee-high 13-year-old boy with a moustache.  I knew I would be a friend and teammate for life as I liked the circus.

“Tom has been the best batsman I’ve ever played with and a great fielder in his day – on the flip side of that, Tom is the worst bowler I’ve ever seen at any club I’ve been to!”

But Stu couldn’t resist this little gem …. “As many know, he plays the game hard and fair and does like to celebrate in the proper Calmore fashion with far too many drinks.  I remember when we celebrated one win and Buddy’s Stag Night a little too hard with Tom being sick behind the Old Ground pavilion and then walking home for about 20 minutes before noticing he had lost his front false teeth which he then went back to retrieve …. yes, it was still in the pile!!!”

Tom is encouraged by the players now filling the 1st XI and following in his stead – and believes that the club is in great hands.  “Look at Ben Johns – he is only 23 and he will break all the club records going.  He is a quiet lad, humble, great kid.  He’s grumpy … but a class player and the club is in good hands with him and people like Mark Lavelle.”

And it is first XI skipper who added his tribute to Tommy for his outstanding service to the club.  “It is some achievement!” he said.  “There’s no doubting he is a Calmore legend, even in the later years you could guarantee you’d get at least one Pegler match winning innings a season.  Since I first started playing 1st XI cricket, Tommy was in the side and when he spoke, you’d always listen as a youngster.  His knowledge then and when I took over as captain, has helped me hugely and the 1st XI as a whole.

“If this is it for Tommy, which we all hope it’s not, it’s been one hell of a career in terms of appearances that will struggle to be beaten!”

And his old Colt mate Adam Carty backed that up.  “Tom is an inspriational character.  A true competitor.  He’s one that has a wonderful tactical acumen.  If we were to write the blue print for a cricketer who has the physical and mental capacity to compete at a first team level across five decades, you’d describe Tom Pegler!  A true legend as a sportsman, a cricketer, a club man & a person!”

We will finish with Stu.  “Tom always made opposition and officials welcome at Calmore which showed what a great ambassador he has been for Calmore over the many years he has played.  Congratulations on the five decades of playing – you have been a true Calmore legend.”