27 January 2022
The humble cricket committee is often the club game’s unseen hand, guiding some of the country’s oldest sporting institutions through good times and bad. At big clubs, the odd person stepping down can often go unnoticed, with more people involved in a club it therefore stands to reason that the pool of those willing to step in is far greater.
At clubs like Bury, currently in the second tier of the Greater Manchester League, though, the loss of committee members represents a huge challenge, with the kind of experience and knowledge lost when someone leaves their role, almost Coping lower down impossible to replace.
And after a period when some have reluctantly withdrawn from the sport due to concerns over Covid, it’s an issue which is likely to hitting smaller clubs hard up and down the country.
“It has definitely been a challenging few years on the committee side of things,” says James Weston, a Bury player who doubles up as the club’s head of communications. “We had our AGM this week and we’ve lost three members of the committee, we’re now down from ten to seven. We’re all confident that the club will still be here in the future, but you need to find those volunteers who are willing to chip in and help out.
“I’ve been on the committee for three years but it’s only really me and one other player who are on that committee. It’s about finding those people who want to get stuck in, which is becoming more difficult. I don’t think the pandemic has helped that either. People don’t want to put their name forward and we’ve had a real problem with that.
“Once people leave a club it’s very unusual for them to return. If you’re a younger person on the committee – as I am – then there are naturally going to be certain things you don’t know about. If you get a few players who volunteer, are they going to be able to go and find the club a main sponsor? You need those experienced people to hang around a bit longer but it’s not always that easy, particularly at the current time.”
That problem is clearly exacerbated if you don’t have a large number of volunteers in the original instance. And the problems in the committee room are mirrored with potential issues on the field if players walk away from the game as well.
“The pandemic has definitely impacted the way that different clubs can bounce back from it,” says Weston. “You can’t fault the support from the ECB and Sport England and the size of the club didn’t make too much difference in that respect.
“I guess if you’ve got a smaller squad in the first place, then keeping those players involved is far more difficult for the smaller clubs. I think the bigger clubs are naturally going to be better placed moving forward.”
“I don’t see the amount of money we spend massively increasing in the coming years, where at other clubs it probably will.
“Whether that means we go backwards in terms of divisions on the field, then so be it.”
It’s a pragmatic approach and one which illustrates that clubs such as Bury are about far more than the XI who take to the field on any given Saturday. Like hundreds of other clubs from Lancashire to Cornwall and Cumbria to Suffolk, they’re there to serve their community and future generations of cricketers.
“Particularly over the last year, we’ve had to rethink a number of things,” he says. “We’re trying to get younger players through the club but, probably most importantly, we’re trying to be there for the community.
“In the 2020 season, it wasn’t about trying to win games. Everyone was going through a terrible time, there were several members – it was probably a 50/50 split – who weren’t too keen on going down to the club and getting involved because that was really at the height of it all.
“There was so much uncertainty around. I led it because I wasn’t really too comfortable about us not opening up our facilities. Everyone was going through such an awful time that I thought it was really our duty to our members to do everything we could to open everything up. I didn’t mind going down and getting stuck in, although a lot of it was pretty tedious – I remember we had to wipe down the stumps after two people had had a net. Some of it was bonkers.
“That year did hit us, more in the junior set-up that anything else. Once the season ends, the juniors will have a month off and then train the whole way through the winter, which helps to retain the kind of numbers we’ve traditionally had.
“We couldn’t do that during the pandemic – we only got a month and a half of junior training in and in the winter, it didn’t happen at all. Last season we didn’t have an under-9s team, which is the first time I can remember that happening. We just didn’t have the numbers. We hadn’t been able to get the kids in and then keep them. In terms of the seniors, we haven’t had too much of a drop-off.
“We’ve just a new junior head coach, whose job is working in schools coaching cricket anyway. So, we’re hoping that will help bring some more juniors in and we’re constantly advertising to try and get new people in. It’s not always that easy. Where we are in Bury, there are probably 13 or 14 clubs around us. There’s a huge amount of competition here.
Now, more than ever, club cricket is about the survival of the fittest, and some are clearly in better shape than others. For a town that lost its football club not too long ago, they need no reminding of just how brutal sport can be. The clubs small army of volunteers has never been so crucial.