Michael Wood (1937-2016)
Our President, Michael Wood, passed away on 14th October aged 79, after stoically tolerating various ailments for over twenty years. "Mike" to his great circle of friends from work, sport and elsewhere, he was essentially a traditionalist who believed in doing things "right" and he lived his entire life in Downend. The following is based on an address relating to his sporting activities, made at his funeral at All Saints, Winterbourne Down on 9th November 2016.
I think it's safe to say that Michael's sporting activities began with a group of small boys in Downend who played cricket together wherever and whenever they could. His love of the William books is evidenced by the fact that they are still sitting on his bookshelf and I just can't help seeing in my mind's eye a gang of young scallywags, naturally led by Michael, regularly causing havoc by hitting cricket balls into all the neighbours' gardens.
Of course he was also a promising chess player and in 1950 he joined the Downend club in its very first season where he was soon recognised as a rising star and indeed became Gloucestershire Junior Champion. But that was mainly a winter activity and summers were given over to welding the cricketing teenagers, as they now were, into a team that could begin to take on local clubs. It started around 1953 with friendly matches against village sides in the surrounding area. The name Vassall Cricket Club came into being, based on the park where they first played and soon they were getting big write-ups in the local press.
Michael's interest in all sports led him to becoming a handy snooker player, playing at the Eastville Club for many years, somewhere he could conveniently combine the game with another favourite pastime, namely smoking. He was also one of a car load that went to play pitch and putt in Bath most Sunday mornings to be followed by a hearty pub lunch. There was usually a funny story to follow, such as the one about the landlady, I think it was at Upton Cheyney, who, as he told us, regularly had to disappear into the kitchen to turn her leg over. And having whetted his appetite for golf he later took it up more seriously at the Chipping Sodbury club.
Meanwhile, of course, he was also a very keen follower of two local teams, both of which gave him great entertainment and pleasure over many years: Bristol City and Gloucestershire. He and his father were able to enjoy hugely their season tickets in those days when City reached Division One and played all the big teams. And he went all round the country to support Gloucestershire, visiting every Test ground and many lesser ones and of course he was at Lords to see Gloucestershire bring home their first six one day trophies.
For the best part of half a century Michael was associated with William Price & Co., accountants, of Clifton and his knowledge manifested itself not only in assisting many longstanding clients but also serving various clubs and societies in the capacity of Treasurer, Auditor or adviser on any financially related matter.
As well as captaining Vassall for many years, Michael opened the batting, aggressively if possible, and was a useful leg break bowler. After his cricketing days were over he threw himself wholeheartedly into helping Downend Cricket Club, which he very much regarded as "returning to his true home". First he relished just sitting in the sun and enjoying the Western League matches but later he used his expertise to improve the understanding of the bar profits. It was during his time as Treasurer that Michael arranged for the chess club to move to the pavilion and it has now been a highly successful venue for coming up to thirty years.
A key committee man at the chess club too, Treasurer, Captain and Chairman over many years, Michael's playing style included gambits and risky or unclear attacks whenever possible and many an exciting game resulted. A sample of these can be found here. He also became a highly respected chairman of the Bristol chess league. He was especially well known for trying to ensure the game was played in the right spirit for, believe it or not, there can be skulduggery in chess. He had been club President for the last 15 years and carried on playing well into his seventies (particularly enjoying trips to Pentyrch) before his various ailments progressively curtailed his activities. He made generous bequests to both Downend and Fishponds and the Bristol and District Chess League.
Michael will especially be remembered for his cheerful demeanour, not forgetting his hilarious story telling ability, and for always putting everyone at ease while firmly standing for what he believed to be correct behaviour in every aspect of life.
As he looked back on his sporting life, Michael was able to reflect on notable success with chess and cricket especially, both playing and helping to organise them for the benefit of others. He loved cricket in particular as a game of wonderful tradition, often describing it as "the great English game". And although he did fine things at Downend Cricket Club, especially in regard to their centenary appeal and fund raising generally, I think he was proudest, and justifiably so, of founding Vassall and nurturing the club over so many years. There were occasions when he was worried that perhaps he could no longer field a team that matched up to the opposition, (something that never happened at the chess club, though!) and he let them know that he wouldn't be at all offended if they would prefer to drop Vassall the following season. The answer came back:
"Michael, you always turn up on time; you are never a man short, in fact usually you bring a twelfth man and an umpire too; you are always all properly attired; your team is cheerful, well-mannered and sporting. Vassall is the first name that goes down on the list when we are planning next season's fixtures."
What better tribute could there be to a true sportsman!