His portrait hangs in a position of prominence in Wangaratta’s cricket headquarters.
It’s the classic stance of a right-hand batsman – upright, comfortable, with a glint in his eye. The look of defiance is seemingly inviting the bowler to ”bring it on – if you’re good enough”.
He was the scourge of all opponents, this gnarled, crusty codger, who was an unforgettable character and a mainstay of local cricket for over 50 years.
Many adjectives were applied to Clem Fisher by opponents whom he rankled, including : ‘shocking sport’, ‘tough as nails’, ‘stubborn’ and ‘pig-headed’.
He knew, for instance, how to get under the skin of my father, who waged war with him on the field for a couple of decades. Dad once overheard him make a snide comment, something like – “they can’t handle the pressure, those Hills” – and never forgot it.
He would ‘up the ante’ when Clem strolled to the crease, and invariably grab the ball himself, in an endeavour to ‘get rid of the bastard’.
Yet, like everyone, he was full of admiration for the contribution that ‘Old Clem’ made to the game, and for the ‘father-figure’ he became to young players when he finally hung up his boots……….
Clement Roberts William Fisher was born in 1905. His idol was his father, John, who once took 10 wickets in an innings for Whorouly, and played for 53 years.
The Fisher boys were tutored on a concrete wicket at the family property, ‘Glen’, at East Wangaratta. Clem played his early cricket with Tarrawingee, and later, with Everton-based Brookfield, alongside his cousins, the Kneebones.
With an enthusiastic old man and an uncle, Eugene Kneebone, who detested losing, it was no wonder the young bloke developed a competitive streak which was almost beyond compare.
Brookfield transferred from the O & K to the WDCA in 1926/27 and the three Fisher brothers combined with the Kneebone family to make up the team.
Clem was a noted all-rounder. He bowled with plenty of aggression and, with bat in hand, produced a resolute defence and a good range of shots.
In the style of a true opener, he loved taking up the challenge to the quickies, and it was in this role that he was to become renowned.
His first trip to Country Week produced successive knocks of 61 and 91. He relished the good Melbourne wickets and would become a key figure in the famous Wangaratta sides of the 1930’s.
The Fishers formed a new team, East Wangaratta, in 1928 and played their home games on a ground shaped on the family property.
They immediately became a power, partly because they recruited vigorously, with some of Wangaratta’s stars joining their ranks.
East Wang edged past Wangaratta to win an exciting Grand Final by one wicket, in 1928/29. They repeated the dose the following year, prompting Clem to boast that East was capable of defeating a team comprising the rest of Wangaratta.
The challenge, issued through the ‘Chronicle’ prompted an outcry from many cricket ‘officianados’, including his old antagonist, Tom Nolan, who despised the ‘arrogant’ tone of the letter.
Clem further fuelled the fires with another outburst, saying in part that: “…….the challenge was issued in friendly spirit. The Wang chaps are good cricketers as long as they are winning. But when they strike top opposition they drop their bundles……”
He had to eat his words, as East were well beaten in the keenly-anticipated match-up.
Widely regarded as the district’s best all-rounder, Clem guided his club to another flag in 1931/32.
In the semi-final the following year, he clubbed a dashing 127 before being run out. But, as the game wore on, Wangaratta gained the upper hand and needed a manageable 123 to win.
The ‘Chronicle’ reported that “……..they faced hard going against the bowling of Clem and Clyde Fisher. The former gave the batsmen little chance to score, most balls being of the Larwood variety, and bouncing over the heads of the ducking batsmen. Time was called with 4 down for 105.”
“Just how far players can go is a matter for cricket regulations. Spectators gave unceasing barracking to East Wangaratta. In two hours only 20 overs were bowled.”
Wangaratta protested and East Wang were suspended for the rest of the season.
The opening partnership that Fisher formed with Alec Fraser served Wangaratta admirably in representative cricket.
Although opposites in personality and batting technique, they melded perfectly at the crease and the runs usually came in a flood.
Their 304-run partnership against Yallourn-Traralgon in 1934 remains a Country Week record. On another occasion, in 1937, they flayed the Wimmera attack with an unbroken 250-run stand.
Wangaratta won three Country Week titles during the golden ’30’s, with a side which played hard and celebrated keenly – winning 30, drawing 3 and losing just 6 of its matches in the decade.
People were busily picking up the threads of day-to-day life at the cessation of World War II, and cricket was not a high priority. For Fisher, though, it was at the top of his list.
The WDCA was slow to start, and eventually cranked up in late 1946, with Clem at the helm.
His forthright manner no doubt alienated a few and he wouldn’t have been much of a help in patching up the testy WDCA – Social cricket relationship, which was simmering at the time.
But his love of the game was contagious and he was a hands-on President for four years. He was a valuable consultant to clubs who were installing turf pitches in the early 50’s and kept a watchful eye on their development.
Although Clem’s Country Week playing days had drawn to a close, he continued to make the trip as manager. As guardian of a playful group, he was bestowed with the nickname ‘Pimp’ for his vain efforts in trying to curb their nocturnal activities.
He did heaps of behind-the-scenes work to help secure the visit of Peter May’s Englishmen in 1959. Besides his sundry other duties he produced a ‘pearler’ of a wicket. It was no fault of his that the ‘Poms’ spoilt the party by routing the Country XI for just 32.
He resumed the WDCA presidency in 1964, succeeding Alf Kendall, a prim-and-proper Englishman, who liked to see cricket function according to the text-book.
Fisher was rough and ready, his bush upbringing prompting him to bend a few rules and call a ‘spade a bloody shovel’.
He had not long retired from playing, aged 57, and was still the Showgrounds curator, but for the next 10 years slipped easily into his role as the ‘elder statesman’ of local cricket and president of both the Wangaratta and North-East associations. He was a key figure in luring the West Indies to the Showgrounds in 1969.
But appreciated just as keenly was his attendance at the WDCA matches every Saturday.
Like clockwork, his green Chev would chug into the ground and Clem would alight, smoke in hand, to survey the proceedings.
He had excellent rapport with the younger players and would delight in conversing over a few beers after stumps. The boys joked that he would climb into the old ‘chariot’ late at night, turn it onto automatic pilot and it would miraculously find its way back home to East Wangaratta.
What wasn’t so funny was the unwitting part he played in the 1967 Provincial Country Week Final.
Wangaratta was chasing a formidable Euroa target and had got away to a reasonable start on duck-opening eve.
Clem was absorbed in the game, but was distracted by the shuddering realisation that he’d run out of cartridges.
What to do ? His first thought was to conscript lower-order batsman Billy Fitzgerald to chauffeur him into ‘town’ to pick up fresh supplies.
Delayed in heavy traffic, they arrived back much later than expected, to the news that the game was over. Wangaratta had lost a succession of quick wickets, and ‘Fitzy’ was also out – Absent (0) !
Clem Fisher died in 1978, but every so often his name crops up when old-timers yarn about the legends of the game.
The tales about Wangaratta’s ‘Mr.Cricket’ could fill a book………….