Club Cricket Conference

Tuesday, 28th September 2021

The Local Press – Where did it go

There was a time when the summer months would see cricket front and centre of the national press – both broadsheet and tabloid – while the domestic and recreational game would be covered broadly in local papers up and down the country. 

Young and old would rush to the newsagent on the designated day of the week to pick up the paper and see their name in lights. 

One of the motivating factors on a Saturday – hopefully this wasn’t just me – was to know the threshold of performance that would make the report writer stand up and take notice. Celebrate a fourth or fifth wicket and you weren’t just making your name in the scorebook, you were potentially writing your own headlines in whichever paper covered your league matches. High fives all-round.  

Those days, sadly, have passed. 

Now club cricket has to rely on online platforms such as Play Cricket to truly celebrate the heroes of the recreational game. The lack of a match report, though, fails to give any context to the eventual result.  

It’s a situation that doesn’t look like changing anytime soon with circulation figures for the local press in terminal decline.  

“Club cricket just isn’t a priority, particularly with more and more content going online,” one of the  few remaining local sports editors tells the Club Cricket Conference newsletter. “Sadly, it’s all about click bait now. The market for local sports and recreational cricket in particularly is getting smaller and smaller. Publishers would now bracket it as niche.” 
 

That may or may not be the case, but for generation after generation of cricketers that local coverage was crucial, not just the club itself but also for the companies who sponsored them and enjoyed seeing their logos emblazoned on club shirts or boards around the ground.  

Now, at a time when money is tight in the club game, those companies that plough their money into club cricket get fewer eyeballs than ever.  

In some areas, journalists are taking up the cause on their own. In the south, for example, Mike Vimpany, who worked for the Southern Evening Echo for decades from the early 1970s, keeps local cricket lovers in Hampshire up to date with the action on his ‘Vimps at the Crease’ website. 

The fact it receives roughly 1600 hits a day shows that the appetite for local cricket news is still there.  

“There was a time when a paper like the Hampshire Chronicle would have three photographers,” he says. “They would be sent out on a Saturday afternoon to snap a few pictures. Now there are none.  

“Are clubs being more innovative in the way they cover their matches and in the way they attempt to drive publicity? I’d have to say no. There are a few clubs who will routinely send in match reports – clubs like Fair Oak, New Milton and Lymington – but generally that’s no longer the case.”  

Vimpany provides content for the Hampshire Chronicle, the Salisbury Journal and the Basingstoke Gazette but that is all done off his own back. The help he receives from the clubs is limited. And although Play Cricket does the recreational game a fantastic service, it doesn’t provide the kind of information that players involved in the game are privy to.
 
“Mark Burton at South Wilts is having a fantastic season and on Play Cricket a few weeks back it showed that he had taken three late order wickets,” says Vimpany. “But it didn’t tell me that he had taken a hat-trick – thats the kind of crucial information you miss if you’re either not at the game or you’re not receiving a match report from someone involved.”  

With Vimpany bolstering local coverage of the sport in Hampshire, Steve Bone – formerly of the Portsmouth News – is also providing coverage from Chichester and across the Sussex coast. 

It’s a pattern doubtless mirrored elsewhere. But when the likes of Vimpany and Bone call it a day, will anyone be on hand to carry on their work?  

“It’s very doubtful,” says Vimpany. “When I call it a day I can’t see anyone taking on the website or providing coverage of local cricket in another way. When I started, if you were a local cricketer, you weren’t just well known at your club, you were well known across the whole of the local area. And a big reason for that is that your face would be plastered across the local newspaper once or twice a week.  

“That’s something that we’ve lost in this country.”  

The evidence would suggest that it’s gone for good.