By Richard Edwards
5th May 2020
The list of problems facing cricket clubs in 2020 is a lengthy one but with many grounds laying dormant during lockdown, the issue of security is proving to be foremost among them.
A growing number of clubs up and down the country are being targeted by criminal gangs intent, it seems, on not just stealing property but also damaging playing surfaces that have been lovingly curated by volunteer groundstaff.
Back in January, Rotherham Cricket Club saw its square decimated after unknown chemical was used on the wickets at its Clifton Lane home. It was the second such attack in just seven months.
On the south coast, Fawley Cricket Club near Southampton has found itself consistently under attack over the past 12 months. In Bolton, meanwhile, a gang of up to 50 youths caused hundreds of pounds of damage to Heaton Sports and Cricket Club back in January.
Sparsholt Cricket Club on the outskirts of Winchester has been targeted three times in the past three years, with each incident costing the club substantial sums of money – and causing already high insurance premiums to spike still further.
“ It is a big problem,” says Sparsholt chairman, Tony Edwards.
“At least three other clubs got broken into around the same time as we were. These are volunteer-led clubs and security is often one of those areas that gets overlooked.
“A lot of these pavilions are community facilities and while the insurance payouts help, it takes time for that money to come through and premiums keep rising. The premium will jump anything up to £400 a year. We’re now paying upwards of £150 a month, which is a big chunk of money.”
Preventing crimes like this occurring when your ground is in the middle of the countryside is a far from easy task and with cricket clubs under considerable financial strain there is a limit to what can be done to deter those intent on causing damage.
Given the current crisis, there is also a limit to what the police can do to clamp down on them.
We were told one story of how a club had used the Find my iPhone function to pinpoint the exact address that a club iPad had been taken to after a break-in. The police didn’t take any further action, despite being handed all the information they required.
“It’s a national issue isn’t it,” says Chris West, chairman of the North Yorkshire and South Durham Cricket League. “There are always going to be a minority of people that decide to take advantage when everyone else is beset with problems.
“This lockdown has presented a new range of risks and a new range of challenges. A lot of grounds are away from town centres and away from populations. The fact that they’re shutdown for a period of time makes them even more vulnerable. It is presenting a whole new set of risks and challenges at a time when most clubs already have plenty of other things to worry about.”
As previously mentioned, though, this is far from a new problem, just one that has been exacerbated by the current situation. West says that one club in the North Yorkshire and South Durham League has been broken into three times in the past 12 months, and given the machinery stored by many clubs, they will continue to be a prime target both for criminal gangs looking to make quick money and also vandals with their minds set on causing damage.
“We’ve put in additional security measures around the ground because there are some very, very expensive items at cricket clubs,” says Edwards.
“You have rollers that cost upwards of £15,000, you’ve got sit-on mowers. Some clubs will have equipment that costs anything between £25,000 and £30,000. Unless the police can see the person clearly on the CCTV then you have no hope of finding out who is actually carrying out these crimes.
“I think there are gangs going around areas. Is it the same people hitting us year after year? It’s quite possible.”
As repulsive as that notion seems, the fact that some cricket grounds are targeted again and again does suggest that he’s right.
Bigger clubs, which offer facilities for sports beyond cricket are clearly also tempting targets and fighting back is not easy.
“You try and mitigate the risks as far as you possibly can but it’s very hard,” says West. “I recognise that the bigger clubs will probably be better off than the small clubs when it comes to putting security systems in place but that isn’t always a deterrent.
“There are other problems as well, such as anti-social behaviour on the ground. I was up at our ground ten days ago and there was a group of lads playing football on the tennis courts – and this was during lockdown.
“Other clubs have problems with squatters. I think it’s very wise for clubs to get in touch with their insurance provider as they may have specific guidance that you need to follow. You don’t want to find out that you haven’t met one of their conditions if something does happen, because if the insurer doesn’t pay out then clubs can find themselves in a lot of financial trouble.”
In uncertain times, it’s far better to be safe than sorry.