Latest news from the Executive Committee January 2014

Secretary’s Report 2013/14

During the 2012 season, the weather proved a major hindrance to cricket and all the Club’s activities. Perhaps as many as a third of that season’s matches, if not more, were abandoned and it is a testament to the hard work of groundsmen everywhere that more games were not lost. Mr Latham again worked tirelessly in 2013, and New Horwich Park continues to be a ground in which to take pride. The new score box will make it even more complete. In light of the severe weather which has battered the country recently, it may be difficult to recall that the 2013 season provided a clear demonstration of the transient nature of such meteorological concerns: as clear as the skies that graced many of the season’s cricket games, in fact. True, temperatures could have been higher and the sun stronger, but it was to our greater fortune not to have to endure a repeat of 2012. This notwithstanding, clouds of a very different nature have gathered along the Club’s collective horizons.

There are two prescient issues and they are no doubt linked. The first is the growing problem of falling numbers of playing members of all ages which is endemic throughout the league. Some clubs are quite evidently struggling to turn out 22 players on a regular basis. Fortunately, Whaley Bridge continues to boast an extensive junior section. The hard work which has gone into creating this in its present form will need to be sustained in order to ensure the health of the junior establishment in perpetuity. For the present, whilst complacency must be held at bay, it is perhaps safe to place these concerns in a lower priority: the threat is not immediate; it has been much recognised; it has also been much publicised and well documented elsewhere; more importantly, measures are coming into action at a League level that are intended to prevent local emergencies from becoming a general crisis. This is not to say that the problem should be ignored. The League’s Clubs would be well advised to scrupulously hold to account those within the League management whose responsibility it will be to confront these issues. Management exists to serve cricket; it is not an end in itself. For the Whaley Bridge Cricket Club at any rate, these problems are far from being of existential significance.

The second issue, however, whilst actually being more pressing, has not been given as much time. The imbalance shall be redressed here. Whilst the fundamental cultural and sociological issues – the perceived root cause of cricket’s dwindling appeal – are long term actors, a financial crisis could spell disaster almost over night. The Committee has suffered occasion to glimpse this problem’s foothills through the ominous clouds. Between October and December 2012, overall Club funds increased by ten per cent. By unhappy contrast, In October 2013 alone, overall club funds fell by over sixteen per cent. It should not require mentioning that such extensive fluctuations, were they to become common place over the period of a financial year, would bring vicissitudes undoubtedly indicative of our endeavouring to operate a coherently managed cricketing structure upon a compromised fiscal foundation. Surely such a position’s untenable character and unsustainable nature need not be made explicit, it being self-evident.

The prognosis need not be entirely dour, however. Indeed, from the perspective of cricket’s sharp end, 2013 should go down as being a very fine year for our Club. There can be no better nourishment for optimism than the attainment of promotion by the First XI from the Second to the First Division. This is fitting testament to a hard fought campaign of sustained energy, executed by players brimming with confidence and ambition, driven on by the enthusiasm and élan of their Captain, Dale Jones. With 53 wickets and 366 runs, it is clear he continues to enjoy leading from the front. Edward Ford also took 53 wickets and the duo make Whaley Bridge’s bowling attack a force to be reckoned with. In 2013, there was a second front-line spin bowler in the squad: Edward Kitchen struck at a rate roughly eight or nine balls slower than either of the afore mentioned, but his contribution of 24 wickets was just as telling as his bowling was parsimonious. Furthermore, the regular appearance of two spin bowlers gave wicket-keeper Luke Schofield an abundance of opportunity – which he seized with both gloves. His final haul of 48 victims for the season was 15 clear of his nearest rival in the League as a whole. Once again, his success, the success of the Club’s spin bowlers, and the success of the Club, will continue to be interdependent.

Concerns and disappointments were given voice regarding the failure to finish at the top of the Second Division. In particular, four significant defeats at the hands of Woodley and Newton quashed hopes of achieving the prerequisite supremacy. The losses to Woodley should not disappoint too much – they were eventual divisional champions. Whilst some have opined that the WBCC First XI is superior to that of Woodley, it was Woodley who produced the performance levels necessary for victory on both corresponding days. Simply, the First XI must continue to find ways of converting its significant latent potential into match winning performances. Conversely, both losses to Newton demonstrated a similarly latent fragility. That energy and drive which facilitates massively when deployed against the opposition from positions of strength has had occasion to become counter productive when it is not properly harnessed or when it is misdirected. Under such circumstances, the capacity for decision making can become overtly strained while the batting can be imbued with a nervous freneticism; whether or not those problems manifest themselves in 2014 remains to be seen. The great challenge will be in increasing the weight of runs scored on previous years in order to secure consistently satisfying margins of victory in the First Division.

This is not to say that the batsmen have abrogated their responsibilities. Neil Woolley was closing on the 500 run mark by the season’s end, eventually finishing on 481 runs. His batting was impressive at times. The sight of him dispatching Hadfield’s fast bowler over wide long-off for six during a clinically executed run chase – which may have proved problematical on another day – will not quickly be erased from the memories of those who witnessed the display. Lee Jones struggled through the early stages of the season but rediscovered the sort of form that, in 2012, brought him his fist century. He finished as the only other First XI batsman to pass 400 runs. In what he insists was his final season, Darren Crompton was also a steady contributor, finishing the season with 378 runs. To come back to my earlier point, though, one of the aims has to be to increase these totals by a significant order of magnitude in the First Division in 2014.

To end the analysis of the First XI positively, it is elating to see a corps of generally youthful players – or, at any rate, players who have yet to reach cricketing middle-age – make their mark and define themselves through their own unique brand of cricket. They are very successfully finding their own way through the trials and challenges that the great game offers, whilst responding duly to its demands of skill and patience. Long may it continue, and long may this team go on developing and growing.

The Second XI did not meet with the same level of success. At times, it appeared as if the lower third of the Fourth Division would be its ultimate resting place in 2013. A series of quite stunning performances, however, ensured that a place in the top half of the table was attained with as many games being won as were lost. Three matches in particular will no doubt leave an indelible mark in the memory, and for many reasons. Different players contributed on different occasions making them genuine team performances. The first saw a brilliant bowling and fielding performance restrict the eventual Fourth Division champions, Broadbottom, to a paltry score of 53 runs which were chased down with relative ease. A few games later, Chapel, having amassed a total of 215, took to the field with confidence. Elliot Simmonds redressed the balance with a rapid century so dominating it ensured Whaley Bridge’s control of the successful run chase. In the very next game, however, all the confidence which had been gained from such a famous victory seemed to evaporate in the course of the first innings as Birch Vale posted 223. Skipper Michael Madden played the anchor role in a chase which looked increasingly doubtful. Wickets fell regularly before Sam Slack and subsequently David Marchington launched a sparkling counteroffensive that breathed new life into the match. In the light of a second collapse, tension mounted, but the Captain carried his bat and victory came by the narrow margin of two wickets. These victories should hold a source of confidence for the Second XI as they make their way through 2014.

Closely paralleling the First XI, the Second XI are themselves beginning to find their feet and are starting to make their own way. This is in spite of the unique operational challenges presented on the field during the course of the season. How well the team continues to perform, its unshakeable positivity, how immaculately its members comport themselves, how closely it works as a unit, all stands testamony to its Captain. Mike Madden continues to lead from the front and by example. Through it all, his vision – which continues to inform his captaincy – has not waned. It may yet prove decisive in shaping the future of the Club, something every member must relish. With 515 runs for the season, he has outstripped all other batsmen, not just in the Second XI, but in the club. He continues to be a consistent performer. Otherwise, the runs were spread around quite thinly. If there is a need for the First XI to increase its aggregate weight of runs, with the Second XI, the need is felt much more acutely. The wicket taking capacity has been similarly problematic. Colin Wild took 30 wickets and Andrew Gibson, 28. Greater penetration will be required from all the bowlers.

These observations are not the whole story, however. As previously stated, there are signs that the team and its members are finding their feet and important match-winning contributions have been forthcoming from a younger generation of cricketers. Dave Marchington, Peter Crowley, Elliot Simmonds, and Sam Slack all made a difference at crucial moments. The same is also true for Alasdair Bailey, Matthew Slack, Luke Schofield, and Declan Ryan in their efforts for the First XI. What is required now is much greater consistency. In 2014, more will be expected of this generation, amidst a more challenging environment, and with older players beginning to move on. Indeed, with a dwindling pool of playing members, the 2014 season may prove to be a great challenge. Sustaining the First XI in the top division whilst the seconds are in the bottom will be another aspect of that challenge.

Fortunately, the Whaley Bridge junior sections boast considerable potential and talent. The trend in the senior teams is one of falling average ages. The number of juniors is increasing whilst some more senior players are appearing less frequently. When juniors do break into the senior sides, it is because they are talented enough and not just because of necessity. One only need cast one’s eye over the statistics and it should not be long before one comes across a junior who has made the most of his opportunities. The merit of those juniors who consistently appear for the senior teams is doubted only by those who have not witnessed their potential first hand. Harry Bold scored 254 runs in the season with the Second XI, second only to Michael Madden. He was progressing impressively as a wicket-keeper before the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune struck, preventing him from continuing in that role. Ole Madden passed 100 runs while Ben Stones, Bruce Glover, Rueben Cutts, and JJ Goldfinch were also regular contributors. Perhaps most impressive were Callum McIlveen and Henry Holden, both of whom have cemented their respective places in the First XI.

It was not surprising then that the Under Seventeens should have been semi-finalists in their respective competition. What did surprise to some degree was their exit at that stage. An overtly nervous batting performance on a sun-soaked evening at Hawke Green prevented them from progressing to the final. That change of fortune will have been a sobering experience, from which it is hoped this closely knit corps of junior players will have learned much. In 2014, they will no doubt again carry with them the hopes of the Whaley Bridge Cricket Club as they continue to progress along Cricket’s learning curve. The Under Thirteens also acquitted themselves extremely well and demonstrated that there is another well of talent – yet to come into fruition – which Whaley Bridge will have the capacity to call upon in time if all concerned are willing to be patient.

That the junior season should run so smoothly was not always certain. In the aftermath of a very sudden decision by Mr and Mrs Milner to leave the Club, certain members stepped into the breach to offer a near perfect example of crisis management. Two factors prove illustrative. First was the hosting of the representative match which was, like so much else in 2013, a qualified success. Secondly, Elliot Simmonds started well as manager of the Under Seventeens. It is too his credit that he helped engineer success under such difficult circumstances. He performed well in the role and made an obvious impression on the team he led. It is a shame that the bureaucratic quagmire should obstruct such an enthusiastic and talented young man from contributing to the sport and Club that he clearly has a passion for. It begs the question: are priorities well enough established? Furthermore, the Club’s gratitude should also be expressed to the other junior managers, non-playing captains, and all those individuals who helped in whatever small way to weather the crisis. Particularly, Andrew Gibson, Edward Kitchen, and Charles Holden are deserving of appreciation in recognition of their effort. The roles they fulfil are not as undemanding or as uncomplicated as some might imply.

But if there is one member especially deserving of our gratitude for his contribution to the 2013 junior season, it is Michael Madden. The task before him was a daunting one. Almost over night, and with immense personal effort, he became qualified to take over the roles of both Welfare Officer and Junior Coordinator whilst continuing in the role which may be best described as the Club’s public relations officer. Surely, if he continues to extend the same ethos and philosophy which guides his captaincy to his efforts to manage the juniors, then the Club’s future can be in no safer hands. He knows as well as anyone, however, that now is not the time for complacency. There is still much work to be done if the Club is to ensure the medium- and long-term security of its Clubmark status. Under the present financial circumstances, it would be a grave error on the Club’s part if it were to turn its back on Clubmark and the funding opportunities it brings. Thanks must also extend to all those parents and carers who gave whatever help they could through the season’s course.

If only more members had been willing to share the burden that was a consequence of Mr and Mrs Milner’s departure. With so much responsibility already at his door, and with few volunteers forthcoming to assist, Mike Madden’s usual efforts towards fundraising were adversely affected. Thus, the prospect of replicating 2012’s fundraising initiatives – such as the relay or the beacon – quickly evaporated. Simultaneously, prospects of duplicating the junior supermarket bag-packing and raffle vanished with Mr and Mrs Milner. If the membership demands an account for the hole that is appearing in Club funds, it may find the underlying truths extremely uncomfortable.

Subsequent to 2012, warnings were publicised that too much might come to fall upon the shoulders of too few. 2013 certainly exhibited concerning signs in this direction. Fortunately, there are ways and means. This may be neither the time nor place to discuss stakeholder management, but our esteemed Chairman’s solution to the problem of players’ teas could be described as a prime example of this. With ever fewer volunteers available to provide the required service, with a Refreshments Committee having lain in effective disbandment for years, with the prices of customised catering packages prohibitively expensive, and with a playing membership consistently unwilling to engage proactively with the issue, the Executive Committee resolved on the only course of action available: functionality first. A repeat of 2012’s situation was not an option. To this end, a deal was agreed with an exterior service provider that met the basic requirements at an affordable price. It did not, however, fit the taste or aesthetics of the playing membership who finally intervened and made the provision of teas their own responsibility. The Committee, needless to say, has never looked back. Moving forward, the prevailing modus operandi will continue to require management so as to certify sustainability. In particular, it needs to be ensured that preparation is made in good time in order to mitigate the need to call upon unsuspecting non-playing members at the eleventh hour. Time may yet betray the policy as being little more than a modus vivendi. Once again, the Club is indebted to all those who have contributed to organising, preparing, and providing teas of especially high quality during 2013. Unfortunately, such a solution to the deteriorating quality and quantity of ground duty observed by the playing membership has yet to be formulated. Responsibilities, as ever, need to be recognised.

This is also true in the case of fundraising. The centre-piece of the Club’s fundraising initiatives during the financial year, the Pub Six-a-Side, was infinitely more successful in 2013 than it was in 2012. Providence brought fair weather, although not necessarily the crowds, thus the success was not unqualified. Incontrovertibly, there can be no blame attributed. In the balance of probability, the qualifications were the consequence of the discontinuity incurred as a result of the tournament’s absence from the 2012 schedule. It was both gratifying and disconcerting to witness the increased involvement of people from outside the playing membership – indeed the Club as a whole – in making the event a success. The Club is grateful for every individual contribution, small or large, towards this key event, but the membership cannot expect extrinsically sourced input ad infinitum, it can only be asked for ad hoc. We need to do more ourselves. We cannot abandon the fate of such events to happenstance.

Unfortunately, the 200 Club has continued its chronic decline. Towards the 200 Club, the attitude from the Club, the Executive Committee, its participants, and its prime-mover, Robert Yates, continues to be of a mould best described as philosophical. It has been argued that the original intention of the 200 Club was not necessarily for it to be the mainstay of Club funds quite as far as it actually became. The Club should, therefore, be glad that it has been such a great success for such a long period of time. Our expectations for its future contribution should also be tempered by this philosophy. To some extent, this philosophy is derived from a realistic analysis of the available facts. For example, the decline in senior membership incurs a similar attrition upon the aggregate capacity for networking. Consequentially, there are fewer 200 Club members. Simultaneously, the prolonged period of economic difficulty, along with the perceived squeeze on living standards in general, reduces the average contribution from that reduced pool. Implicitly, the prognosis derived from these beliefs anticipates a period of normalisation, and assumes that the 200 Club’s decline will eventually level at some future time. This cannot be considered in any way guaranteed, for there are no signs of the decline abating. Finally, the philosophical turn notwithstanding, it is sad to see the 200 Club deteriorate.

One factor which undermines the outlook delineated above is the continued apathy amongst elements of the playing membership; and this goes some way to explaining the shortfall between the ideal and actual levels in the 200 Club’s productivity. Mr Yates may be correct in his assertion that younger generations do not necessarily perceive the 200 Club as a viable – or fashionable – method of funding. The truth is, however, those same generations have yet to produce or propose a practicable alternative. Excuses, therefore, should not be so readily made.

Overall, there was much in 2013 that satisfied, impressed, and which instilled pride. The Club’s cricketers have met with success and their operational concepts and methods have been largely vindicated. 2014 will bring a new set of on-field challenges which the playing membership should relish confronting. There remain off-field issues with which elements of the membership still need to engage. Running a community amateur sports club is not an easy task.

The reader shall be forgiven for feeling that the tone of this report is somewhat pessimistic. The aim has been to portray a realistic impression that will make an impact upon the readership. Ultimately, the Whaley Bridge Cricket Club is in a healthy state, and appears well placed to weather the gathering storms.

Reflect upon the rapidity with which all that exists and that is coming to be is swept past us and disappears… Substance is like a river in perpetual flow… the immeasurable span of the past and the yawning gulf of the future, in which all things vanish. Then how is he not a fool who in the midst of all this is puffed up with pride, or tormented, or bewails his lot as though his troubles would endure for any great while?*

These words should serve not only as a source of comfort, that ultimately the issues which the Club confronts foursquare as it progresses though 2014 and beyond are not insurmountable, but also as a sober reminder, that the enormous efforts that sustain it will be required of its constituent membership in perpetuity. Last year’s report alluded to the conceptualisation of a club being no more or less than the sum of its membership. It is that membership which has within its capacity to dictate a club’s course. It is the membership who will define how successful or otherwise the Club will be. What good is property, community, heritage, or memory without a membership to respect it? Whether or not our Club deserves ongoing success is behoved upon the membership’s attitudes, wishes, and actions.

Peter Crowley

Hon. Secretary