TRIBUTES have been paid to Durham Cricket’s former head groundsman, Tom Flintoft, who died on Tuesday, aged 86.

Mr Flintoft, who lived in Whitby, spent seven years at Emirates Riverside becoming the club’s first head groundsman in 1991.

He was born and brought up in the Whitby area on the family farm, where he helped out until he was called up for National Service.

During his few years in the Army he spent most of his time as a driver in Hong Kong, and was on the last ship through the Suez Canal before it closed.

He returned to North Yorkshire and farming, and was asked to help out at the playing fields in Nunthorpe.

Wife Kath said: “He was always keen to earn a bit of extra money, so he helped out with the playing fields. He was then asked if he could help out at Middlesbrough Cricket Club. He didn’t think he was up to the job, but he gave it a go.”

Mr Flintoft’s reputation as a first-class groundsman spread and he took up the role of head groundsman at Hampshire Cricket Club, winning many awards throughout his career.

He returned to his native North-East and became head groundsman at Durham. Durham Cricket Board Chairman, Bob Jackson said, in a statement on the club's website: "There is no doubt that Tom Flintoft was one of the most popular recruits that Durham made nearly 30 years ago. His knowledge of many of the cricket clubs from Whitby to Whitburn, the people and grounds around them, proved to be invaluable as Durham had to bring several grounds up to speed for first-class cricket in the initial years.

"This was a big enough job without the incredible responsibility of creating a future test ground at Chester-le-Street. Not only was Tom needed to provide the scientific input to the pitches but all of the groundsmen were desperate to improve their own knowledge and Tom was the source of this. Not only did he support those clubs involved with hosting first-class and second team matches, he found the time to advise numerous club groundsmen.

"Durham is indebted to Tom for his magnificent part in their short history."

Philip McCormick, head groundsman at the Northern Cricket Union’s main ground Stormont, Northern Ireland, also paid tribute to Mr Flintoft. He said: “Tom used to come over and see our grounds as an advisor. He was never shy about getting his hands dirty and helping where he could. Although he was there to advise, he was always keen to get involved. He was a great man, he wanted to help everyone. He was a rare find.”

When Mr Flintoft retired he moved back to Whitby and lived with wife, Kath, next to the cricket club.

Whitby Cricket Club secretary Pauline Russell said: “Tom spent his life in cricket and when he retired to Whitby he generously gave his time to work on our ground alongside our groundsman. His knowledge and dedication were greatly appreciated.

“Tom was greatly respected across the cricket community and we were grateful he was part of Whitby Cricket Club. He was a lovely man, down to earth and was always happy to help out.”

Mr Flintoft loved to travel and with Kath he enjoyed more than 60 holidays. She said: “One of the highlights was a trip to Kenya, it was a wonderful holiday. We also went to the Canadian Rockies, France, Las Vegas and enjoyed a honeymoon on the Queen Elizabeth sailing from Southampton to New York ,through the Panama Canal and on to San Francisco.”

The couple, who got engaged on Valentine’s Day 2011, were married in September of that year. They had known each other since school.

Friend Barbara Booth said: “Tom was such a friendly person, a real gentleman. He was very caring and we are going to miss him a great deal. There were six of us who go on holiday together and Tom used to call us his harem.”

Friend Dougie Raine, chairman of Sport Mulgrave, said: “Tom was an amazing man. He was always there to lend a hand. We will miss him very much.”

Mr Flintoft, who was one of ten siblings, leaves four sons, Nigel, Mark, Neville, Craig, from his first wife Mary.

A private celebration of Mr Flintoft’s life will be held at Kirkleatham Crematorium on July 9. The hearse will leave from Whitby Cricket Club at 9.45am and donations are being made to St Catherine’s Hospice.