Club Cricket Conference

Thursday, 26th May 2022

Big Geordie

By Richard Edwards

18 January 2022

When it comes to size, few clubs in the country, let alone the North-East, rival South Northumberland, and one of the region’s great sporting institutions has shown a priceless ability to adapt to the unique pressures that the pandemic has created. 

The sheer size of South Northumberland and the facilities the club boasts makes it almost unique in the club game in this country, with its Roseworth Terrace ground doubling up as a home-from-home for Durham when they venture away from Chester-le-Street.

Its influence towers over every other club in the North East Regional Premier League. Michael Richardson – the son of former ICC CEO and South Africa wicketkeeper, Dave Richardson - has been CEO of the club since leaving Durham in 2019 and has witnessed at first hand the work that has gone on to ensure that South Northumberland could continue to thrive, despite the uncertainty engulfing the recreational game.   From the hiring of a marquee throughout the duration of last season, to make socialising a safer and more pleasurable experience, to the use of the Government’s furlough’s scheme, Richardson has guided a club he suggests, with justification, is probably the biggest in the country, through one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.   And as he prepares to leave Tyneside and head to a new life in Switzerland, he tells the Club Cricket Conference, that he’s optimistic for both the club’s future and the grassroots of the game that he and his family are synonymous with.  “The numbers and the programmes that we run are just massive,” he says. “The club employs five people, with groundsman, an office manager, a bar manager, myself and then a director of coaching.  “Then we’ve got casual staff, assistant bar staff and others who come in for functions. We try to run a professional team but on a shoestring budget. How many people would come and watch us at the weekend? Sometimes you can work up a bit of hype around the national knockout competition, and teams like Barnard Castle always bring a lot of supporters with them but Newcastle is quite a tough sell.
“Even when it’s hot during the day, as soon as you lose the sun it’s bitterly cold. We don’t get huge numbers of people in on a matchday but Id like to think that we still create a good family atmosphere.” 

During the pandemic, Richardson and his team were pulling all the levers available to them - utilising the government schemes and local business grants - in an attempt to ensure the long-term stability of the club.
The club was also innovative when it came to harnessing the power of the outdoors during a time when many are reluctant to set foot inside a busy bar.

“I suppose the most frustrating thing was that we couldn’t really get too excited about anything,” says Richardson. “We had so many events cancelled in 2020 and then in 2021 all our staff were still on furlough so we really just went into the season without any real pre-season. 

“But I think it was very important for clubs to think on their feet. We haven’t really been able to help out other clubs but there has been open dialogue when it comes to things like the best use of changing rooms. 

“We hired a marquee at the start of last summer because we wanted people to feel as comfortable as possible when they were with us. We didn’t want any stigma attached to people being at the club, we didn’t want people thinking ‘should I be in this clubhouse when there are 25 other people here as well.

“We hired it for the entire season in 2021, with one open face so that people could sit and watch the cricket in it. We also had beer festival-type benches so people could feel like they were outside. During the Euros we also bought two 65” TVs and stuck them in there as well. That was pretty cool and really generated some atmosphere. 

“Do I think that 2022 will be some normality? I’m going to say yes, but not based on anything scientific, that’s just pure guess work. I think people are really ready for things to get back to normal, I think there’s a lot of fatigue after everything that has happened in the past two years. And a lot of frustration too.” 

Nowhere is that more keenly felt than at cricket clubs up and down the country, some big and some small. Some thriving despite everything being thrown at them, and others involved in a daily struggle to ensure that the next season isn’t their last. 

So what does Richardson make of the future of the club game in the country he has called home since moving from South Africa in the early noughties. 

“I think the club game in this country is in a pretty good place,” he says. “I’m consistently amazed at the kind of talent that there is in this country. I would also say that the kind of base we’re appealing to has probably doubled in recent seasons. We’re now appealing to people from all ethnic backgrounds and we’re also seeing a boom in interest in women’s cricket too. 

“We’re seeing kids starting to play the game earlier. I’m still not too sure on the Hundred – Im don’t know if cricket in this country really needed another format – but I think it has got more people involved and enjoying the sport. 

“Our All Stars programme was almost at capacity anyway, and we’ve run the Dynamos programmes for girls only because we already had our holiday programmes in full swing. I think there was definitely a pent-up demand for kids to come back to cricket, so we saw record numbers last season. 

“Hopefully we can maintain that and even increase it.”  

The biggest club in the land could be about to get even larger.