Club Cricket Conference

Saturday, 15th June 2024

March 2012

Club Cricket Conference continues to evolve

Times have moved on for the Club Cricket Conference. The modern-day organisation is helping the ECB to further the cause of recreational cricket and, above all, to increase the number of adult players.

The CCC has been working on initiatives to heighten interest in club cricket and maximise ground usage -- from parks to Focus Clubs. The traditional work on behalf 1,000 member clubs and leagues remains the fixture bureau, the handbook, organising two tiers of inter-league competition, setting up tours and arranging high-quality representative matches, including a chance to play at Lord's.

A new knockout competition for southern clubs was started in 2009 to fill the void caused by the demise of the Evening Standard Challenge Trophy, the London area cup. In 2011 a panel headed by Alf Langley (Shepherd's Bush CC) produced an exhaustive report analysing how the CCC could champion club cricket to maximum effect.

The CCC was founded in 1915 to help clubs cope with fixtures during the Great War, but the organisation lost its way in the 1950s and 1960s. This was a dark period when the CCC could justifiably be regarded as reactionary and even destructive while aspirations of so many club cricketers were beginning to change. In the post-War era a rule in the CCC's original constitution was used to block all attempts to introduce competition and coaching in the south. That sort of behaviour is completely disowned by the CCC nowadays.

Duncan Stone, a Huddersfield academic from Surrey and an acknowledged expert on club cricket, wrote an academic article in 2011 about amateurism and the Club Cricket Conference's influence on cricket in the south. For a long time club cricket was dominated by class-conscious gentlemen from the public schools and Oxbridge universities.

Early attitudes opposed club leagues

At the very first committee meeting on April 1, 1916 the CCC -- known then as the London Club Cricket Conference -- agreed on the following membership rule for clubs: 'It shall be an indispensable condition that this London Club Cricket Conference shall neither recognise, approve of, nor promote any cup or league system'. The CCC continued to argue that no member club could embrace league cricket because of this 'condition of membership', but after World War Two this entrenched position came under challenge, and a 'competitive cricket' sub-committee was created simply to think up ripostes to any future attempt to establish competitive cricket.

Stone said: "Sadly, this meant the CCC argued against the improvement of playing standards, against the production of county or international players -- 'not the duty of the CCC' in their own words -- against professional coaching, against better timekeeping and against the increased public and press interest generated by leagues."

The stand against coaching, even where affordable, was especially regrettable and unwarranted, though the Surrey Association of Cricket Clubs were much more active in this regard, sending Surrey schoolboys, including a young Bob Willis, to the Alf Gover School.

The CCC had gained influence and considerable respect through association with those who had founded the Club Cricketers Charity Fund in 1910. The excellent CCC fixture exchange was run successfully from 1920, but the outmoded reaction to advances in the game after World War Two damaged credibility.

Well known names joined the first committee

The inaugural committee could boast an impressive array of men who served the game well. It was led by the most ardent of cricket enthusiasts Sir Home Gordon, a well known journalist, prolific author and, later, secretary of Sussex County Cricket Club. There were several eminent former county players on the committee, such as Ted Dillon (Kent), Charles Green (Essex and Middlesex) and most notably the former Test batsman Charles Fry (Sussex).

Sir Home, an Etonian, watched thousands of days of cricket in his lifetime, including no fewer than 70 Oxford-Cambridge matches at Lord's, and he must have seen his future CCC colleagues -- Dillon, Green, Fry and Lionel Wells --- gaining their Blues. He helped out Sussex during World War Two and was eventually elected president, a well deserved honour. Dillon, as with Andrew Stoddart in his era, played rugby for England.

Other members of the original CCC committee included WH Wheeler, an excellent North Middlesex CC batsman, author WH Long, John Bowstead, who was 37 when he made his one appearance for Middlesex, and John Besch, secretary of Hampstead CC.

Besch's main claim to fame would have been his part in the Hampstead-Stoics match of 1886 before declarations became part of the game. Besch (98) and Stoddart (485) put on 214 together for the second wicket as Hampstead amassed 813 during the day. Wheeler played for Middlesex seconds, and in a match against Lancashire at Old Trafford he was left stranded at No 3 with four runs in a total of 18 all out, Walter Pennington taking 7-7.

Evening Standard campaign fizzled out

The life of the CCC started very promisingly, but after Hitler's war there was a lack of vision as society changed. Stone's research found that the Evening Standard newspaper called for more meaningful, progressive and talent-producing cricket and seemed ready to take on the CCC in the late 1940s. Essex clubs organised a meeting, but the campaign fizzled out when the newspaper suddenly softened its standpoint, despite the Beaverbrook press's reputation for establishment-bashing.

Stone said: "It was this social deference towards the CCC, as it would have been with other establishment organisations in post WW2 Britain, that undermined their own campaign. Specifically, on the evening of a crucial meeting in Essex the Standard questioned the impatience of the prospective league - almost everyone who promised to attend, stayed away - killing the project."

Stone added that the simple threat of excommunication was enough to foil any attempt by elite, middle-class clubs to form or play in leagues until the Surrey Clubs' Championship was established in 1968. The fear of losing 'plum' fixtures, often decades old, at the best grounds was strong. The CCC exemplified middle-class respectability. To leave such a social clique would have been tantamount to a self-imposed exile for certain clubs, especially elite clubs, elite wandering sides, the banks and so on. This is why leagues such as Gilligan's in Sussex were established with working-mens' clubs, as they did not suffer from the same social hang-ups.

"Club cricket, like much of Britain, especially England, was still controlled by the social elites," said Stone. "Even in the 1960s it would appear that the classes did not interact on or off of the cricket field as they had done prior to World War One. The ability to choose ones opponents was constantly cited as a reason why leagues were undesirable."

Surrey clubs prompt change in thinking

One of Stone's interviewees noted the presence of 'class clubs', with old boys teams, affluent town clubs with Blues at one end and village and works teams at the other. It was only after the introduction of the Flora Doris Cup by the Surrey Association of Cricket Clubs in 1946 that these clubs got to play each other regularly. "Arguably the rejection of competition cricket was to maintain this social distance, something the clubs were guilty of as much, if not more so, as the CCC were," Stone concluded.

Despite a fusty image in later years, the CCC had much to be proud of. As many historians noted, the CCC worked to preserve private cricket grounds, and other sports grounds, from the start. The Conference became highly involved in the early days of the National Playing Fields Association, and much good work was done in reducing the rating assessments imposed on many clubs -- something very much in line with the aspirations of the modern CCC.

In 1930 the CCC, with some member clubs, assisted the MCC in testing experimental larger wickets. Of approximately 175 club reports on the larger and wider wickets submitted to the MCC, 89 per cent were in favour of the new wickets. The CCC was consulted on new LBW Laws in 1934 - alterations that were rejected in no uncertain terms. During The War and afterwards the CCC helped clubs obtain equipment and petrol.

On-field experiences go global

Representative cricket began in 1922. The first CCC match was against the MCC at Lord's, and in succeeding years the list grew to include President's XI games against clubs celebrating landmarks and even against the touring national teams: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and finally Sri Lanka. In 1930 the CCC played Australia in a two-day match at Lord's, Don Bradman and all, and in 1961 Richie Benaud's Australians were beaten by eight wickets at Blackheath.

History took another turn in 1971 when, in response to a request from their old friends the Australian Old Collegians, the CCC undertook a first international tour to Australia. Since that initial step into the unknown, when air travel was much less accessible to ordinary people, the CCC have returned six times. There have been trips to Hong Kong, six times, the Caribbean three times, New Zealand and Singapore twice, and Dubai, Kenya, The Netherlands, Sri Lanka, South Africa & Namibia and Zimbabwe once each. In 2012 the CCC are scheduled to visit Oman on a short eight-day tour.

Many, many top quality club cricketers have now had the opportunity of touring abroad and experiencing different conditions. In 1991 the CCC even played against a young Shane Warne, a seemingly rare occasion when he was on the losing side, taking 1-18 off his five overs.

Names who toured with CCC include Mark Lane (South Africa 1994 & Zimbabwe 1999), later coach of England women, Richard Halsall (Australia 1997), who became involved in Ashes triumphs as England fielding coach, and Hampshire seamer Cardigan Connor (Australia 1983), who became a leading sports figure in his home island of Anguilla.

A few players such as Tony Stockley, Alan Holley, Richard Hayward and Neil Pattison all found something they liked about the countries they visited and went to live in either Australia or New Zealand.