It has to be said that one of the regular Saturday teamers, who has possibly been associated with Bear Flat Cricket Club longer than any other player, is also one of the most modest, the club Secretary Chris Bence (Bencey).
Chris’ association with The Bears goes back nearly three decades, having started his playing career at the age of 11 under the watchful eye of Don Grimes, the man who was instrumental in forming the Bear Flat Youth Cricket Club, although at the time the youth team and the senior teams were not affiliated.
Chris played for the under 11s,13s and 15s, before in 1995 the youth team entered a side in the North Somerset adult league under the guise of Bear Flat 2nd XI. Always one with an eye for talent, Dave Godman spotted the talent of Mr Bence and halfway through the season poached him to play for the first team. Chris’ debut was a baptism of fire; it was against arch rivals Bath Blockers. The Bears won a tense, low scoring game with Bencey contributing some important lower order runs, securing his place in the team. In celebration he was taken to the Devonshire Arms; a place which would become his second home.
Since 1995, Bencey has been a virtual ever-present in the Saturday team, also turning out for the 2nd XI (later the Sunday XI) on a regular basis as they ascended through the divisions in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. During his initial years in the Saturday team, The Bears were perennial runners up in Division 1 of the North Somerset League, but in 2000 the bridesmaids finally became the bride, securing the title and then following this up with back-to-back championships in 2002 and 2003. During this golden period, the Godman-led Bears also triumphed in several cup competitions as the Bear Flat trophy cabinet began to fill up.
The 2003 season marked a high water point for The Bears and as Godders and some of the older players retired, the club experienced a decline in playing capacity and performance. Bencey captained the side in 2004 and 2005, and was, by his own admission, not as good a captain as he would have liked. However, after several barren years, in 2010, Mark Gunning (Gunners) returned to the Club as captain: his return coinciding with an upturn in fortunes as The Bears again secured consecutive league titles in 2011 and 2012.
Looking for a new challenge, in 2013 The Bears moved to the Wiltshire League and won Division 3 at the first time of asking, going on to secure the Division 2 crown in 2015. A critical part of the team’s success in this year was Bencey, who scored 1,100 league runs; a record for the Wiltshire League Division 2. He was also named Bath Sports Personality of the Year in 2015, an accolade he is keen to play down (although being interviewed by John Inverdale was a personal highlight!).
When asked to recall some of his favourite moments, Chris mentions the two Somerset Cup finals at Taunton, the home of Somerset Cricket. The Bears frustratingly were runners up in 2014, but lifted the trophy in 2015.
In 2016 the Bears were runners up in Division 1 of the Wiltshire league, but the following season were crowned champions in 2017, with Chris rightly proud of this massive achievement by the Club.
When asked about his favourite innings, Chris becomes wistful. His grandfather played for Knowle Cricket Club, and was president for many years, so it was one of Chris’ proudest moments to score his first ever century in 1998 against Knowle, something his grandfather would have been thrilled and dismayed about in equal measure! But pressed for his proudest memory, Bencey recalls the 115 he made at Corsham Cricket Club in 2016: a ‘proper’ Club with a long history and beautiful ground. Tongue in cheek, Chris also claims the mantle for the only BFCC player to score a century overseas; on tour against Des Ormes, France.
Bear Flat CC has come a long way since its creation more than 35 years ago: a pub team with attitude, talent and ambition. Chris remembers fondly some of the original stalwarts of the club, the Stewart Bradleys, the Andy Isaacs, the Dave Godmans, who were all supportive, welcoming and encouraging to a young talented teenager wanting to play club cricket. Such was his desire to play for The Bears, Chris shunned university, and to some extent, school cricket. The social element of the club, one of its major strengths, was what clinched it for Bencey. All of his best friends have been, or currently are, members of the Bear Flat CC family.
In terms of Bear Flat CC heroes, Chris singles out two captains in particular: Godders and Gunning. Godders laid the foundations for the Club’s initial successes, which Gunning has continued in the best Bear Flat CC tradition. Whilst they may have different personalities, they have certain traits in common: attention to detail, single mindedness, a will to win, and knowing what makes players tick and how to get the best from them. He also picks out Simon Cox as his “first name on the team sheet of an All Time BFCC XI”.
Chris is proud of what the club has achieved: he comments “we have always punched above our weight, and I am very proud to come from a pub team to where we are now: a well respected and widely recognised cricket club….all credit to Gunning and the players and everyone else at the Club”.
Going forward, his aspirations for the club are threefold: to gain promotion to the West of England Premier League, to bring to the club a youth section, and for the club to achieve longevity, with the hope that any future Benceys might one day play for The Bears….
With the new lease on the Glasshouse and the potential new pavilion being ready for 2019, it is an exciting time to be one of The Bears. Chris sees the current management team and players as custodians for the future.
His final comment was “I owe the club a lot”. The feeling, Mr Bence, is mutual.