“Once upon a time …..” there was a FUN game called Cricket. It was exported around the world to whichever continents the dastardly British chose to land on and exploit! It was simple and easy to play with basic equipment – a cudgel (or bat) a rolling object (or ball) and some sticks as a target to try and defend. It was a simple game, great fun, and hugely enjoyed by all who chose to play it.
I started playing Cricket, taught by my Dad, at around the age of 5, on a coconut matting wicket, based on a concrete slab, surrounded by a dusty grassless outfield within a British RAF base on the island of Cyprus. By 11 I was back in England, now at a boarding school and I started playing competitive Cricket matches for the school age group teams. Free time in summer evenings and weekends could be spent utilising the college’s nets practice areas, and every school break-time there was an old bat and tennis balls, and playground cricket to be enjoyed by anyone (usually 30 or 40!) who joined the throng! One hand one bounce is out, wicket-taker takes over as batsman, etc etc – great fun!!
I was never a top grade batsman, and barely a bowler, but I could catch well and I loved my Cricket. By 16 I was playing for the School 2nd Xl on Saturdays and occasionally on Sundays for local area men’s Cricket teams that were “short”. Our resident school Cricket Master frequently got calls from some local adult sides – “have you got any reasonable lads who will help us make up our Sunday Xl”? I often helped out and that was great fun and proved to be my introduction to the camaraderie of “après Cricket” – “jugs” and all – and a few lifts back to college after 9pm on a Sunday evening with a few runs, the odd wicket or catches, and a few “halves”, under my belt!
In 1970, post 18, I played for Uxbridge Technical College (A Level re-sits College!) with a hard-core of good Asian lads up from the Southall area – an early introduction into multi-cultural Cricket. I then joined a “Park Cricket” club, South Harrow CC. Park Cricket Clubs were looked down on by “real” Cricket Clubs because you played in a public park, in much the same way as the term “Village Cricket” is used disparagingly by “real Clubs” in more rural areas!! South Harrow CC boasted 2 x Saturday and 2 x Sunday Xl’s and played in a local authority park (wicket rolled once a year!!) but with a new pavilion, changing rooms, toilets and showers, and tea room. The wicket and pavilion were “block booked” by our Club for the entire season. Unusually the Club had its own Clubhouse and Bar. This was several streets away from the ground in a cul-de-sac behind the South Harrow shops. The Club boasted some great characters and some marvellous tea ladies! We only played friendly fixtures, Saturday and Sunday for almost 30 weeks of the year, and the headline fixtures were those where we might play Clubs with a nice pitch, sight-screens, and the nirvana of an actual pavilion with a Bar on the ground!! I eventually got involved in Selection, 1st Xl Captaincy, and the Club Committee. I played there until summer 1979 after which Annette and I moved to Royston in spring 1980.
Having moved to North Hertfordshire, and after an abortive attempt to enjoy Saturday and Sunday Cricket with Royston CC, based then in the town on the Heath, I got involved with Reed Cricket Club. One of my first matches for Royston was against Reed and (after being dismissed caught at Point by Peter Lawrence, off the bowling of Clive Collins, for “not many”!) I was immediately impressed by the friendliness of the Club and it’s good facilities. Steve Dunn, Keith Collins and I had a long and convivial chat at the bar after the game, and unable to get 2 games a weekend for Royston (such was their depth of their membership in those days) I thus chose to play Saturday League Cricket for Royston, and Sunday friendlies for Reed. However from season 1981 I decided to play full time at Reed. I was invited to stand for the club General Committee that autumn, and 5 years later, in 1986, at age 35, I was elected as Club Chairman. The rest as they say is “history”.
It has been a marvellous 35 years. I am enormously proud of the development of our Club both on and off the field to the point where we find ourselves with a magnificent ground, a well equipped and comfortable pavilion, a Saturday 1st Xl playing their league cricket against the top town and city sides in Hertfordshire, and our Club having won the National Village Cup at Lords in 2012. That feat was particularly poignant for me with Reed fielding a truly home-grown Xl, comprising 10 youngsters whom we as a Club had grown and nurtured as Cricketers from their earliest years, two of which were my own sons who walked down the Lords Pavilion steps to open the Reed Innings together! The eldest, James, being the Club Captain, ultimately lifted the magnificent National Village Cup trophy as Reed comfortably won a high-grade match, played on a wonderfully sunny autumn day at the historic home of Cricket. In recreational Cricketing terms what more can one ask?
So what leads me to standing down and walking away from active involvement in my Clubs Cricket after 54 years of playing and club administration? Certainly very little that relates solely to our own club at Reed. I have worked with an incredible group and array of volunteers at Reed, and some of the nicest people you could hope to meet in Cricket. At Reed we are the true epitome of a volunteer led culture. We need no lessons or workshops in that regard from the ECB or any other “nanny” Quango’s! Our Club has always been efficiently and effectively managed, and operated on sound financial principles. We are well equipped, and are more than solvent. In recent years we have made very significant investment into Club owned facilities, a partnership based second ground, playing and ground equipment, and our club social infrastructure. All this is a source of great pride and satisfaction to me.
However, as many who have worked with me at our Club will have noticed and observed in recent times, the combination of modern “politically correct “ attitudes and the politics, focus, structure and direction of ECB organised and managed recreational Cricket (and our own SHCL League) has begun to irritate me significantly. I have to admit the accumulated irritations have soured some of my attitudes to the modern game, and after 35 years serving on the RCC General Committee I have decided that it is time to take a break, to hand over the mantle of Chairmanship, and move on.
I suppose my previous love of, and involvement with, the game of Cricket as I knew it, has been the subject of “A Death by One Thousand Cuts”!
Between 1989 and 1998 I spent 10 years training, coaching and managing an age group Colts Cricket team at Reed that involved my eldest son James, and many other young persons of his age group. We were very successful and won a lot of tournaments and leagues over the 10 Years, culminating, in 1998, in being the only Reed Xl to ever win the overall Hertfordshire Under 15’s County Championship. All the players, and many of the very enthusiastic and supportive parents in the group thoroughly enjoyed our journey together. Our team mostly played in BOTH the Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Youth Leagues and Cups, often ending up playing 3 matches a week! In 1996 we won BOTH the Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire U13 County Championships – causing embarrassment for the competition organisers who managed the final “inter-county” rounds (We conceded Cambridgeshire and represented Hertfordshire!!)! Very many of this groups players went on to play adult Cricket (many at Reed) and several gained youth County Cricket Honours over that extended period.
After a 3 year break from youth team coaching, in 2001, I started on the same path again, training, coaching and managing my younger son William’s age group. On the training and playing fields things began to resume a similar path with player and parental enthusiasm and playing success, but, behind the scene’s things were beginning to change. I didn’t mind too much having to prove every 3 years that I did not have a criminal record for paedophilia, but I did strongly object to the increasing influence of creeping officialdom that demanded Certification, Control and Registration/Formality/Compliance at every turn. Many “ECB/League Recommendations” were crudely backed by the inference that non-compliance could result in “Exclusion from ECB Approved Leagues”, “Non Achievement of Clubmark”, and “Exclusion from ECB Grant Funding Opportunities”. For good measure they also sought to ensure submissive compliance through reminding Clubs of the implied/potential “Elf and Safety” or potential/possible ”Litigation” consequences of any rebellious non-compliance.
After 50 years of successful playing, and over 15 years of successful youth coaching, I had neither the inclination, money, or available free time, to spend half the winter months (when I took my kids to partake in winter sports!) attending formal “Coach Training/Qualification Courses” Therefore, under “ECB Recommendations”, I could no longer be considered a fit and proper/authorised person to be left in charge of formal youth Coaching or Nets Sessions. In my last year as a Team Manager/Coach, Welfare Officials advised me at our Club that I had to be accompanied in training by other “Qualified” Coaches who were nominally “in charge” of my group! By the end of my 20th Year of Youth Coaching in 2011, and with my youngest son William completing his Under 15’s year and moving on to adult cricket, that was me “emasculated” as a “non Qualified” Dinosaur, and finished with Youth Cricket Coaching!
One of my greatest enjoyments as “Anno Domini” weaved its web, and my few playing talents reduced, was to actually play Club Cricket matches with my sons. I enjoyed that tremendous experience twice, but when they are rapidly going up, and you are sliding down, you all too soon by-pass each other! Having played for quite a few years with James before he moved up to Reed 1st Xl, I later had the repeat experience with William. After I eventually saw William by-pass me and move up to the Club 2nd Xl, I played occasionally in the 4ths. This continued until the day arrived when I was bowled for a duck by an in-swinging Yorker delivered by a 12 year-old, and was then left out of the Reed 4th Xl the following week! Here was the clear message to give up playing and start officiating/spectating!
For several years I undertook a reasonable amount of Umpiring in 2nd and 3rd Xl League matches, and in Sunday NVC matches. But again it couldn’t last! The spectre of the ECB led “pursuit of excellence” once again appeared over the horizon! Umpires need to be Qualified and Certificated! Regulations were threatened, and were then introduced, to require increasing numbers of League Divisions to only use formally certificated Umpires. For 12 months a dispensation was allowed to more experienced Cricketers citing “Grandfather Rights” (surely an “Ageist” term?) – thus giving them a 12 month “Window” to be able to undertake the 8/10 session course and spend the several hundred pounds in Course Fees and Travel Expenses to get their “Certificate” proving (!!) their competence to stand as an Umpire! No thanks! – with both my sons now playing in the Club 1st Xl with neutral Panel Umpires appointed – spectating looked to be an increasingly more attractive option. So this was the virtual end of my Umpiring career!
Still – there did remain Scoring – after 50+ years playing that was something I could do when the opportunity/requirement arose. But NO!! The powers that be driven by their MBA obsessed hierarchy moved inexorably onwards and decided to further improve “grass roots” League Cricket by demanding that Scorers too must be Certificated as well!!
Again – just undertake the 8/10 session course and spend the several hundred pounds in Course Fees and Travel Expenses to get your “Certificate” proving (!!) your competence to sit as a Scorer! Again – No thanks – casual spectating looked to be an increasingly more attractive option. So Scoring is ruled out as well!
So that’s me, now as a mere spectator – but with our Clubs hard won successes, and multiple League promotions, my sons are now playing at SHCL “Championship Level”, and the idea of turning up to watch an afternoons Cricket is not an option.
Despite the evidence of falling participation levels at the very top League levels, this falling participation being particularly apparently amongst many “family” focussed young fathers in their 20’s/30’s, these Leagues are compelled (under misguided ECB delusion) to pretend that they are the “stepping stones” / “feeders” to County and International Cricket! They therefore must, by ECB edict, play a “Longer Format” of the game to prepare the players for “All Day” matches, similar to those played by Counties and Countries!! What absolute Tosh!
Anybody with any involvement in County Cricket, and County Cricket player recruitment and development, knows that young Cricketers who make it onto the County Circuit have been initially identified from the age of 10/12 at the latest. Thereafter they are crafted (mostly ultimately rejected) by the County system who in the end, at the top level, increasingly recruit from overseas. Players do NOT routinely walk out of Premier League Cricket into County sides and beyond!!
So, if I want to go and watch my opening batsmen sons play a Saturday League match, why do I have to leave home as early as 9.00 a.m. (for many away matches) to be present to watch the start a slow moving, multi-break, tedious,120 Overs match that insists on starting at 11.00 a.m.?
Not only that – In Hertfordshire we have a League system that cannot even decide what format of matches it wants to play! So we have the ridiculous situation of playing a League Competition with 2 x Playing Formats, and 2 x Sets of Points Scoring and Rules – but only 1 x League Table!
So – when a spectator arrives at a match he (or she) first has to enquire, or research, “What Format of Match” is being played today!! Really user-friendly! Really spectator enticing!
Additionally, with the long format matches, on days when the weather is moderately inclement, or the pitch rather difficult for both sides, and/or the teams prove mis-matched on the day, one can turn up as a spectator around 4.00pm hoping to catch a bite of tea, or grab a pint, and watch the last 2/3 hours of a game of Cricket with your pals, and find the match is already over!! Sometimes the ground is deserted because the match finished so early everyone has gone, and the Club is closed up!! Great for bar takings and Clubs vital income streams!!
So in recent years even spectating at top level League Matches is not enticing. Whether it is actually enjoyable or FUN (!!) to play in only the players can tell you. Watching, and “Listening” to the inane “Banter” / “Abuse” bellowed across the field these days by “Buddy Fella” it doesn’t appear as if it is much fun!
Personally I now find myself much more interested in watching Sunday National Village Cricket Cup Matches – 40 Overs a Side – Tea between the Innings – 1pm start – 6/7pm finish – a drink in the bar afterwards – Now there’s a novelty! Isn’t this where I started 50 years ago?
So spectating at the current format of Saturday League Cricket, at the level my two son’s currently play, is not really too attractive either!
So after 60 years of involvement with Cricket where am I now?
In summary – Can’t Play, Can’t Umpire, Can’t Score, Can’t Spectate!!
I suppose I need to realise that I’m now just a jaundiced “old Can’t”!!
As they usually say when things are changing beyond all recognition – “It’s a young mans game”. Time to recognise it and move on!
For the vast majority of the time it has been great, great fun!
However I am not going away completely!
No doubt I will still be found occasionally propping up the Club bar saying things like … “the game isn’t what it was …” – … “when I was a boy….” … “I cannot understand why..…”
Apologies for the length of this missive – but your compensation is that it is the last time that you will receive a JQH “View From The Chair”!!
Best wishes, and good luck to you all
(This Occasional column is written by John Heslam Club Chairman of Reed Cricket Club. The views expressed in the article are his own and do not necessarily comprise those of the Clubs General Committee)