By Richard Edwards
18th October 2022
It was 11 May when Ben Wilson decided to put pen to paper and write an open letter in a bid to raise the plight of a local cricket club – Bayford and Hertford Nondescripts CC - which had, for the first time in its 70-year history, had to concede two matches as a result of not having sufficient numbers.
In that letter, Wilson issued a rallying cry.
“...the fundamental issue is what can be done to save village cricket,” he wrote. “In our view, there needs to be an urgent discussion about a long-term strategy to support and rebuild the game.”
His warning came at a time when there was a worrying hike in the number of league fixtures failing to be fulfilled. The idea of @savevillagecricket – which quickly found a following on Twitter – was to offer clubs a platform to highlight when they were short of players and also provide a forum for clubs looking for a match to able to find one.
@Savevillagecricket isn’t alone in providing that service. Over the course of the last two years, other accounts such as @CFixturelist and @TheFixtureMan, have all been created with the intention of enabling cricket clubs to both arrange matches and prevent existing fixtures from being called off.
It would be remiss not to mention the Club Cricket Conference (CCC) and National Cricket Conference (NCC) here too, with the organisations fixture bureaus having played a key role in getting games on for the past 60 years. The CCC and the NCC continue to play a key role, year-on-year.
What the emergence of the latest interlopers illustrates, though, is the collective will to ensure club cricket continues to thrive.
Wilson, though, isn’t just looking to highlight the issues facing grassroots cricket, he’s looking to extend his offering to get more adults playing the game.
“There are a number of people trying to get fixtures on but where I think we’ve come in and filled a gap is to emphasise things that are interesting in the recreational game,” he says. “The cricket twitter community is excellent here. We’ve grown organically - trying to promote the plight of recreational clubs and their struggles.
“The ECB have invested huge amounts in youth cricket, which is obviously fantastic, but if there’s no pathway, and no clubs for these kids to go on and play for then what’s the point? I think a lot of people out there have watched the Freddie Flintoff documentary and loved what he was hoping to achieve.
“But he had to put his hand in his own pocket for it to happen. I thought Rob Key made an excellent point, when he said that the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes don’t start their career journey at Lord’s. Everything starts with club cricket. The key to the game’s success is collaboration. People need to work together to make sure that the pathway from club cricket is still there, not just for this generation but for future generations.
If we can get more kids playing the game, then great. But if we could also get more and more adults returning to the sport, then even better.
That’s the bigger picture. This season, though, these Twitter resources have been preventing clubs from getting in a flap when it comes to making sure that fixtures are fulfilled.
“It was getting to the stage when I was calling up mates, some of them non-cricketing mates, just to fill up positions,” says Danny Higgins, cricket development officer at Ingatestone & Fryerning Cricket Club in Essex, one of the clubs who has been active on social media when it comes to attracting new players, or finding pitches for their fixtures.
“This year I took on the role of youth cricket coach – taking on an under-13 and an under-16 team – which meant we had a great pool of players to choose from on a Saturday.
“We didn’t eventually forfeit any games, which was obviously a huge bonus. But there were a couple of games we only played with 10 players.
“We do use the platforms available and always tag in our local Essex in the community man, Graham Pryke, who is good at forwarding on requests. He also does a weekly newsletter for all those clubs who have needed help in the past.
“That’s another opportunity for them to come back and say ‘we’re looking for a friendly fixture on a Sunday’.
“In terms of finding fixtures or just fulfilling a fixture, then Twitter is the best one for it. It may not be the most targeted way of doing it but people will generally retweet requests or like posts, so the message does get out there.
“It does work. You get there in the end, is probably the best way of describing it.”
During the Covid-impacted season of 2020, all club officials really received something akin to a crash course in fixture organisation and, Higgins believes the lessons learned during that difficult period have been invaluable moving forward.
“I think that experience has been very helpful generally,” says Higgins. “I think if you’ve got three or four teams as well as a Sunday side, then these kinds of services are absolutely invaluable because in the lower leagues you do get a greater number of fixtures falling by the wayside. You also get teams such as Basildon – one of the biggest clubs in the area – looking for fifth team fixtures, for example, so it works both ways.”
From a standing start, @SaveVillageCricket now has almost 1500 followers, @thefixtureman, meanwhile, has nearly 3000. As the season draws to a close, these numbers are only going to grow as we move in 2023 and beyond.