How £34 worth of watches led to Warwickshire and Glamorgan visiting Notts at Welbeck in Royal London Cup

John Fretwell
John Fretwell

It’s been a long road for one well-respected local businessman to bring Nottinghamshire CCC first-team back to the north of the county, with Warwickshire and Glamorgan visiting Welbeck CC for two 50-over Royal London Cup matches on the weekend of 25th and 26th July.

But, as Matt Halfpenny discovers, the journey has been well worth the effort.

Even now, all these years later as he sits gazing out across Sookholme Lane’s lush, green outfield, John Fretwell cannot help break into a smile when he recalls his big break in business.

In taking his first, tentative steps into the buying and selling market, all the young man wanted, having not long since left school, was to make a few extra bob to supplement his income from his regular job running a hairdresser’s.

So when, on the spur of the moment, he dipped into the cash register of his newly-established shop opposite the old bingo hall in the centre of Warsop to buy a batch of watches offered by the salesman who usually provided his shampoo, he was delighted his eye for a good deal was to pay off.

“The watches looked really good to me, so I looked in the till and saw I had £34,” recalled Fretwell. “I bought 17 of them – as many as I could afford at the £2 each asking price. I decided I would sell them for £2.75 and by ringing up to replenish the stock – I bought the first batch on a Tuesday – by Saturday night I had sold 84 watches.

“In those days I was cutting hair for 30p a time, so I was doing the equivalent of two-and-a-half haircuts for every watch I sold. I found that amazing because I was working so hard, until 11pm at night on Mondays and Tuesdays, for those 30 pences.

“I thought ‘if this is buying and selling, then this is fantastic’. The next Thursday afternoon – my half day – I went out with my little suitcase to the village shops in Retford, Tuxford and Southwell and took £330 in an afternoon. I was cutting hair all week for £100.”

It was the beginning of a journey that was to make Fretwell a multi-millionaire as the owner of wholesaler giant JTF (JT Frith) – and set in motion a chain of events that means cricket fans in and around the Warsop area will get to see the likes of Alex Hales and Jacques Rudolph ply their own trade at close quarters this summer.

Back then, it was a tough call to make the switch, having purchased his hairdressing business for £600 against the deeds of his lorry-driving dad’s house (an amount he paid back within a year). However, it was a decision he was to never regret.

By 1970, from the initial £34 outlay, stock had been purchased to the tune of £1,200 and he rented a lock-up shop in Warsop along with his sister, who put in the same amount. Within four years, they had moved premises twice and took a fraction under £1 million, selling everything from lighters to bed spreads.

As he began to cut out middle men, Fretwell’s business grew at a phenomenal rate and in 1980 he purchased land from Mansfield District Council to build his first warehouse in Mansfield Woodhouse, while also buying out his sister’s 50 per cent share for £140,000.

As his business model of trade business and warehouses really took off, he established an office in China, a distribution centre in Tuxford and expanded the staff to some 650 before eventually selling up in 2004.

But far from taking it easy in his retirement, it was merely the beginning of the determined Fretwell’s quest to fulfil a long-held ambition of the sporting variety.

As someone who had grown up playing cricket with from the age of 12 at Forest View School and later played for Welbeck Colliery in his teenage years as ‘a batsman who occasionally kept wicket’, he was delighted to take over the presidency and dreamed of building a new ground fit for a flourishing club that had more teams than pitches and a healthy youth policy.

And, even then, he had a vision of creating a venue that could bring county cricket back to the north of the county. Until this summer, Nottinghamshire have not played home games away from Trent Bridge since 2004 – and that was in Lincolnshire at Cleethorpes. Their last outground fixture within the county borders was in 1998 at Worksop’s Central Avenue.

Fretwell said: “My interest all stemmed from being president of Welbeck over 20 years ago. We were situated at Sherwood Street in Warsop and the ground was run by CISWO. I used to go the cricket committee meetings and I spotted all the kids playing outside and that really got me enthusiastic.

“I could see the club had outgrown the facility, having to hire grounds at places like Worksop College, and I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to do something and leave a legacy to the local area, for the community especially being a lad from Warsop’?”

The next step was to find a suitable location for his project that was to eventually cost just under £3 million to complete. Fretwell visited ‘one or two of the local farmers’ to find the right site and

settled on a 19-acre field off Sookholme Lane that he thought was ‘ideal’, purchasing the land from David Bowring.

He contacted Ollerton architect, Jackson Design Associates, liaised with Mansfield District Council and set about drawing up plans, sitting on every monthly meeting with the developers to ensure everything ran smoothly.

The John Fretwell Complex was completed in 2006 and boasted two cricket pitches complete with drainage installed by the same company who did Manchester United’s, four football pitches, bowling greens and, crucially as far as Fretwell is concerned, a three-lane indoor cricket hall that could be transformed into a 300-seat function suite with a stage, a bar and a dancefloor.

“It’s alright building something like this, but if you don’t sustain it, it will soon go into disrepair and we have the means of doing that,” he said. “The whole model works well.”

“We don’t charge over the top for hiring our facilities and we don’t charge at all for funerals because it’s a community thing and we don’t think it’s right when people are upset at such a difficult time.

“The main thing I get frustrated by is that people think it’s mine because my name is over the door. Hopefully this game will help get the message across that it isn’t mine – it’s for the community – and we want people to use it.”

But what really makes Fretwell tick is to see the youngsters, enjoying their cricket. And he hopes that getting some of county cricket’s biggest stars down to the ground – the event is being billed as The Welbeck Weekender – will only strengthen that bond.

“Sport’s a great team and character builder and it’s wonderful for kids,” said John. “We have now established a junior academy and when you come down here on Friday nights and seem them all kitted out in tracksuits, polo shirts, hoodies, caps and training shorts with the Warsop Trust log on the back they look fabulous.

“With Nottinghamshire down here and all the kids coming along to watch the games, the hope is that all the kids will look up to professionals and one day they will be there one day. It’s fantastic that one of the lads we brought up through our training nights (seamer Jake Ball) could be playing.

“We had Bruce French do the same thing and we have hopefully got one or two more coming through now who will do the same thing.”

The outground experience is one young cricket fans in the county will not remember, but John is convinced it will be a positive one – and he is hopeful of it becoming a regular fixture on the Nottinghamshire calendar.

What should help encourage those travelling from Nottingham is a free bus service between Mansfield Woodhouse station and the ground so that those making the trip on the Robin Hood Line can get to the country location with no problems.

“I think it will be a good thing for the county club because they have not done what they are doing for a long time,” said Fretwell. “They are putting something back into the community and by doing it with a charitable trust they know the money is going to be put back in and not going to be squandered.

“I’m sure the members will have a good time and will be looking forward to – it’s a lovely location. The players will enjoy it with the crowd being so close to them and we will have local traders around the ground making fresh pizza, hog roasts, local ice cream and that type of thing.

“If the weather is good then I hope we can get 4,000 to 5,000 and I think we could cope with that comfortably. We hope this is the start of it with Notts and we can keep growing with them and are a partner with them.”

So as Welbeck prepares to welcome county cricket for the first time, what does Fretwell hope for? “Simple,” he said. “I obviously want to see Nottinghamshire win, and after that I would love to see people with a smile on their faces and going home happy.”

Corporate hospitality for the Welbeck Weekender is on sale at £70 per person for the weekend and £40 for one day, which includes a three-course meal and free parking. Go to http://www.welbeckccc.co.uk or call 01623 847468 for more details.

General admission tickets are also available, priced at £10 each, while car parking is £5 per vehicle. Tickets are available through Nottinghamshire’s website at www.trentbridge.co.uk/tickets or via 0844 8118711.