Tributes flow for Newcastle sporting legend Ken Clifford

 PASSIONATE, committed, meticulous, a pioneer, straight shooter, an advocate for the Hunter and its young sportspeople and a thorough gentleman.

Few, if any, have made a greater contribution to Hunter sport than Ken Clifford.

One of the region’s best-known sportsmen and administrators, Clifford died on Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 73.

A former teacher, Clifford devoted his life to sport and family.

A president and life member of Newcastle District Cricket Association and Newcastle Basketball, Clifford was the Hunter Academy of Sport chief executive for 27 years until his retirement last year.

Under his stewardship, the academy grew from an initial program for basketball in 1988 to encompass 28 different programs and involve more than 550 elite young sportspeople.

‘‘Sadly, we have lost a legendary figure in Hunter sport,’’ former Olympic basketballer and close friend Terry Charlton said.

‘‘Without a doubt one of our greatest sporting administrators.

‘‘If you look at the number of sports he crossed, there would not be anyone more involved. He has been a dedicated servant to sport.

‘‘He built the Hunter Academy basically from nothing and was always available, 24/7.

‘‘He was very strong on sports ethics and people doing the right thing. I think the way he presented himself was born from his teaching background.

‘‘He liked to take control and was certainly a leader.’’

Cricket was Clifford’s first love. A fast bowler, he made his first-grade debut at 14 and had stints with Waratah-Mayfield, University and Merewether.

In 1968 he took up the role of NDCA registrar, serving 34 years, before taking the role of president from 1993-94 until 2004-05.

He was awarded life membership in 2005, and the  Clifford Medal for the player of the first-grade final was struck this year in recognition of his contribution.

‘‘It’s a sad day for sport and specifically Newcastle cricket,’’ NDCA president Paul Marjoribanks said. ‘‘He has been president, registrar, a selector, has sat on  junior committees, fixture committees ... every possible role within cricket Ken has been involved and worked tirelessly in at some stage.’’

Denis Broad was the NDCA secretary from 1979 to 2004 and worked closely with Clifford throughout that time.

‘‘Once he put his hand up for something, he was certainly committed to it,’’ Broad said.   ‘‘No one has contributed more to the sport since I have been involved. 

‘‘We have had some great people, Tom Locker, Merv Baker ... those sort of people.

‘‘Ken was a leading light in that regard. He made sure we stayed at the forefront.

‘‘He was chairman of Newcastle selectors and a NSW Country selector and was very thorough in that role.

‘‘He believed that Newcastle cricket was the pinnacle of NSW Country and the others had to rise to our standard. Some zones didn’t like that.

‘‘He certainly put forward the case for Newcastle players.’’

Under Clifford’s reign, Newcastle was a regular venue for Sheffield Shield and touring matches.

‘‘They were successful because we all got in and worked together,’’ Broad said.

‘‘He was the leading force.

‘‘In the 80s and 90s we had a Sheffield Shield match every year. One year we hosted three Shield matches when the SCG was out of action.

‘‘And we always made money on them. He was meticulous. I think that came from his time as registrar.’’

Each year Broad and Clifford led a group of Novocastrians on a pilgrimage to the Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

‘‘We started going in 1979, and this year was the first one we missed,’’ Broad said. ‘‘We had some great times there and also on a lot of the rep trips. He used to like playing cards and had a dry wit.’’

Newcastle-born former Test cricketer and now international umpire Paul Wilson was typical of a cross-section of sportspeople paying tribute to Clifford.

‘‘Saddened to hear the news of Ken Clifford’s passing. His impact on many young people throughout the Hunter was immeasurable! #RIPKenClifford,’’ Wilson posted on social media.

As well as cricket, Clifford was a respected and prominent figure within Newcastle Basketball, firstly as a referee, then administrator, and served as president from 1988-98.

A referee in the inaugural National Basketball League season in 1979, Clifford went on to officiate a record 145 matches as well as several internationals.

‘‘His achievements speak for themselves,’’ Charlton said.

‘‘Not only as a referee, he administered the referees and was a mentor for young referees coming through.

‘‘He has been nominated for inclusion into Basketball NSW’s Hall of Fame this year, which shows the high regard in which he was held’’.

Clifford also served as chairman of National Water Polo League club the Hunter Hurricanes after helping create a program for the sport in the Hunter Academy.

Current chairman Michael O’Brien said Clifford was a guiding light for the club while at the helm.

‘‘At a stage when the club was struggling to find a chair with experience, he put his hand up to help and certainly provided a lot of direction for us,’’ O’Brien said.

Clifford, who is survived by wife Laraine and daughters Jacqueline and Stephanie, started his working life as a high school teacher at Cessnock and Wallsend before taking up his position at the Hunter Academy of Sport in 1988.

He retired in November and was diagnosed with two brain tumours a month later.

‘‘He has fought the hard battle,’’ Broad said. ‘‘He survived 10 months and most people didn’t think he would would last a month.’’

Ken Clifford, RIP.