The war years brought out the best in the members who had to keep the club alive during the toughest of times on and off the field of play. North Down had a small core of willing workhorses, some of whom had enjoyed the good years before 1939, but who stayed loyal to North Down in its hour of need. One of these loyal club stalwarts was the effervescent Gerry Spence.
Gerald Spence was a Comber man who lived most of his life in Railway Street, a location that produced as many critics as cricketers. He was 14 when he made his senior team debut, rubbing shoulders with seasoned club legends and scoring 20 runs. From this modest start he went from strength to strength and played for 35 years, winning many admirers, as much for his charm and charisma off the field as his excellent batting on it. He helped the club to many Senior Challenge Cup and Senior League successes and played interprovincial cricket for Ulster at senior and junior level. He was a great traveller to away games and did more for team spirit than any other member of the team. He was a warm friendly character and while he played to win, he enjoyed sport and the camaraderie it brought to those who participated.
In an era when there were many talented players vying for 1st XI places, Gerry Spence held a middle-order batting position in the strongest of North Down teams and played in seven senior cup finals from 1926 to 1939. He played on four winning sides including the hat-trick of wins from 1926 to 1928 and in the 1936 senior league and cup double ‘dream team’. Unlike many senior cricketers, Gerry continued to play on after 1939. He topped the batting averages in 1941 and captained a much-changed side for two years in the early Fifties, dealing with relegation into the Qualifying League. When times were difficult Gerry was always there to assist during the war years, especially when Willie Andrews was stationed away from home. Almost every time it was Gerry who dealt with the demanding off-field captaincy issues.
He was a great tourist and played against some useful cricketers like Blackpool’s Cecil Parkin, stealing more than a few runs in tandem with James Macdonald and the rest of his fellow travellers. Off the field on tour he was full of fun and music and hosting club members loved his company.
So did all of his colleagues, both at cricket and at hockey. He played in the great North Down hockey teams of the 1930s and won two interprovincial caps and many accolades. He won Senior League and Kirk Cup medals and featured in Anderson and Irish Cup finals. He also had the distinction of playing for the Ulidians, an Ulster touring side renowned for playing with success in the Irish hockey tournaments.
Whether it was a sign of ‘misspent youth’ or a matter of convenience to his place of work we don’t know, but top-class billiards players need time at the table or exceptional talent and Gerry was one of the best billiards players to come from the town! He played in a talented 1931 Andrews Memorial Hall team that won the Belfast and District Senior League and Senior Charity Cup and he also won the Individual Championship one year and was runner up the following year.
At golf Gerry was a useful eight-handicapper who played most of his golf at Mahee Island, where he won a beautiful and much treasured clock as the Captain’s Prize in 1937 and where he became club captain in 1968.
Throughout his life Gerry played his sport like a true sportsman and won many friends and admirers, none more so than his daughter Barbara and son John, the former a hockey player at Regent House and the latter a promising fast bowler who, like his father, had diverse sporting talents.
All his life Gerry worked as a bookkeeper in Comber Spinning Mill, an institution renowned for its association with Willie Andrews and the cricket club and what a loyal, devoted and talented servant to North Down he proved to be.