Take Me Away In a White Coat

In 1981 Compstall overcame a valiant Dove Holes in a closely contested U17s Final. Dove redressed the balance the following season, as both teams benefited from a conveyor belt of local youngsters, all keen to learn and develop their variable seams of potential.

Fast forward to 2015, and around 5 or 6 players (and possibly more), from those two games are still fighting the good fight against slower run-ups, deteriorating eyesight and bulkier physiques.

However, the main reason behind their refusal to grow old gracefully has nothing to do with personal vanity, and everything to do with the continual struggle for survival.

Ironically, whilst umpiring at Buxton earlier this season, to the backdrop of a Constable-inspired glorious summer afternoon, it felt as though I was experiencing a cricket renaissance. The home team even organise a Saturday afternoon Third Xi, but sadly, this revitalised, and potentially larger outfit are the exception that proves the accelerating decline of village cricket.

The following month I was greeted with a far more realistic picture, as 77 year old Mike Hawkins opened the bowling for Compstall at Offerton.

“Without Mike, we wouldn’t have a team most weeks” asserted the Compstall Captain.

Incidentally, Compstall’s other opening bowler was a fiery 19 year old, who would walk into Whaley’s First Xi, but was missing the next game because City were playing Watford (Sound familiar?)

Talking of youngsters, some clubs might take junior cricket more seriously than others, but all of them complain about availabilities. The world is a smaller place, and with so many alternative forms of entertainment, you only have to look at the last three team sheets on the Whaley Website, to observe that by and large, it’s usually the older, senior, (or elderly) players, who tend to be available every week.

Some clubs argue that the gap between U17s and Second Xi Cricket is now so small that the demand for Monday night junior cricket is marginal. Others simply can’t be bothered and I genuinely fear for two, (possibly three) teams, whose organisation is strangely reminiscent of my Sunday Morning football capers, with the captains frequently preferring short-term options over long-term strategy.

Just remind again, how many of those old Sunday morning football teams still exist?

Meanwhile, Hazel Grove U17s are forced to negotiate the horrendous rush hour traffic for a 6:30 game at Newton, but don’t make the 15 minute journey to Whaley Bridge.

Every club seems to have a squad of around thirty players, of which only eight are available every week. Teams are conceding fixtures, whilst others hide behind imaginative League Sheets, to avoid the inevitable fine, for not fielding eleven players. One Second X1 finished a recent game with ten men because their opening bowler was attending a Graduation Ball at 6pm. The mind boggles at Tink Taylor’s reaction.

Then there’s the question of ill-discipline, which perhaps due to my Genghis Khan-Ronnie Corbett, style of Umpiring I seem to have missed completely. Sadly, I’ve only received one hint of dissent, and there was a bigger chance of me decking him than reporting him.

So the League soldiers on, like a punch-drunk boxer convinced that he’s still got one more shot at the big time.