WHEN 12-year-old Neil Thurgood started playing cricket at Bashley, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and Nigel Mansell was still a Formula One driver.

A connection to Europe through the Channel Tunnel had yet to be established, Poundland and Radio Five didn’t exist and Luther Blissett was a Cherries striker.

Much has changed during Thurgood’s 25-year love affair with the BCG outfit and its modest surroundings, not least the development of his own passion for cricket having preferred football during his teenage years.

Following his fourth-team debut for Bashley at the age of 14, the Bournemouth-born bricklayer discovered he was better at cricket and, under the tutelage of Hampshire’s Adi Aymes, earned a place on Marylebone Cricket Club’s Young Cricketers Programme between 1996 and 1998.

“I was lucky to receive good coaching when I was working at my game as a youngster,” said Thurgood.

“My parents forked out a few quid to get me the right help and it was a big motivation working with Adi. He was always a big idol of mine growing up and was a real influence on my cricket.”

Brief forays into county cricket followed with Hampshire II and Dorset’s Minor Counties side, among others, but Thurgood really began to make his mark when the Southern Premier League formed in 2000.

Since then, Bashley’s 37-year-old right-handed batsman has struck a record-breaking 6,319 top-flight runs in 210 appearances – over 1,000 more than any other player in the region’s top level of club cricket.

But despite serving his club with dedication and distinction, Thurgood – who also used to play Wessex League football as a goalkeeper for Brockenhurst – seeks no plaudits for his loyalty and remains grateful for the long-standing connection which, to him, is much more than just a sporting safe haven.

“I don’t regard myself as anything special. I have just been fortunate enough to play over a number of years and there have been better players than me during that time,” he said.

“The characters around the club make it special for me.

Players that were there when I was growing up have remained a big part of its identity. Because it’s a village-based club there is a lot of loyalty there, which is unique these days.

“Most who come to play for us feel the same way I do pretty quickly, that it is a very warm club with a proper family feel.

“When you’re young, you can easily find yourself going down the wrong path in life but lads involved at Bashley very rarely do that and I think that’s down to the people there.

“That was certainly the case when I was younger, the positive environment shaped me as a person and the club has become very much a part of me and who I am today.”

And it is that identity which keeps Thurgood coming back to the crease year after year, even if the aches and pains do take that bit longer to subside.

“It gets harder on the body every year,” Thurgood continued.

“Certainly over the past couple of years, everything has ached for a bit longer than it did before and you have to work that bit harder at your fitness to keep up with the younger players.

“But as long as I’m fit enough and playing well enough, I want to carry on for as long as possible. I have no plans to stop, it’s just down to when my body says ‘no more’, I suppose.

“I’m not sure what I would do without cricket. Since the age of 12, my summers have been filled and it’s something I love doing.

“I have made so many good friends, met so many good people along the way that it would be hard to imagine giving up. That gives you focus and as long as I’m enjoying it, I’ll keep playing.”