Reflections on a National County Match Record

Following his 500th county match, John Cannon supplied the following article for the website.

Reflections on a National County Match Record

The Sussex v Middlesex U160 match on Nov. 22nd was my 500th county match, played over a period of 63 years. There is little doubt that the total is unique, since national and regional announcements from time to time have always failed to produce a rival challenge. (Geoffrey James of Brighton has played in 414 matches, which were entirely for the Sussex first team.) The figure includes 20 NCCU matches for Northumberland during my time at Durham University in the 1950s and 18 default wins (some of which were notified in advance). The high total stems purely from the fact that since March 1990, after 240 matches for Sussex 1, I have had the opportunity and will to consistently play for more than one Sussex team, thereby notching up figures completely beyond the reach of most county players. For instance there have been three seasons of 13 matches, five of 12 and five of 11. When I reached 450 matches in Feb. 2009, the ‘milestone’ of 500 seemed a long way off, but since then I have played for four Sussex teams, namely Open, Minor Counties, U180 and U160, and averaged almost 10 matches a season.

Included are 44 ECF-Stage matches, during which Sussex faced 17 different non-SCCU counties and won the Minor Counties Championship four times and the U175 Championship twice. Sussex has, to a degree, lived in the shadow of the Metropolitan Counties, but one highlight came in 1994, when Sussex 1 defeated National Open Champions Kent, to win the SCCU Championship. The matches have been in a variety of formats. Up until 1970 there were 50-board Amboyna Shield matches, with the top 20 counting in the SCCU’s Shannon Trophy. 20-board SCCU matches then continued and 25-board second team matches were introduced. Two years later there was further reorganisation, with the creation of four SCCU Divisions, all with 20-board matches. In 1992-93 Sussex 1 became ‘Sussex Open’ and grading restrictions were introduced for the lower three competitions. Sussex 1 matches continued to be played over 20 boards, with U175 and U150 matches of 16 boards and U125 ones of 12. In 1996-97 the Open matches were also reduced to 16 boards, and the various grading limits were adjusted in 2009-10.

Sussex also competed in 10-board SCCU Jamborees in the 1960s and 70s and played 20 and 25-board friendly matches against London University in the 1960s. There have also been spasmodic friendly matches against London Insurance, over variable numbers of boards, between the 1960s and the early 2000s. One doesn’t hear of telephone matches nowadays, but I played in three: Northumberland v Cheshire in 1955, Sussex v Cornwall in 1982 and Sussex v ‘Cheshire and North Wales’ in 1983, in the third of which I rather remarkably won on time (in a won position). My years with Sussex 1 saw the team fielding two distinguished academics, in the form of Sussex University maths professor Bernard Scott and Prof. Sir John Cornforth (joint winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Chemistry), and GM Ray Keene twice played on board 1. I recall the blossoming of the careers of IM David Cummings, GM Stuart Conquest and GM David Howell, and among my higher profile opponents have been Andrew Whiteley (recently deceased), Stewart Reuben, George Botterill, Jon Speelman and the late Sir Stuart Milner-Barry.

The records include the colours I would have played had the opposition not defaulted, and for the benefit of those who point out that ‘colours even themselves out with time’, the totals stand at 260 whites and 240 blacks. Needless to say the changing face of county chess has always provided much enjoyment, but as for the quality of some of the games, that is another story!

John Cannon


Anthony Higgs's picture

A feat that is unlikely to be surpassed!

Surely this achievement merits an Everyman/Gambit/NIC chessbook along the lines of "John Cannon - My Selected Games (Volume 1) " or "John Cannon - The Magician from Horsham" - a brillant milestone of which you are rightly proud.