By Richard Edwards
8th May 2023
When the tragic news broke of Simon Prodger’s death last week I listened back to our most recent chat. I had called him to talk about the cost of living crisis facing clubs up and down the country and, as ever, he spoke with great sense and passion about the challenges and opportunities this posed for the recreational game in this country.
We spoke for an hour and 45 minutes. I had to exit the call to go on school run – incidentally, he was always as interested in my own children’s fledgling sporting careers as England’s latest exploits or West Ham’s relegation struggles but we could easily have spoken for double the time.
Simon’s responses to any questions were always considered. In fact, despite having written about cricket for the best part of 20 years, I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken to someone who could answer questions so eruditely across such a broad range of topics connected with the sport. Indeed, his responses were always so thought-provoking that you always ended up feeling that the supplementary question was the one you should have asked in the first place.
The morning after England won the World Cup in the summer of 2019, I picked up the phone – as I often did during moments of national importance for the nation’s summer sport – and asked him what he hoped the impact of that stunning success would be. I dug out the piece I wrote the other day. His comments on that sunny July Monday morning, are as prescient today as they were back then
. “The hope is that very, very quickly – and this does need immediate action - the ECB understand the potency of what happened yesterday and it’s potential PR value for the game as a whole,” he said.
“You would like to think that it would motivate them to find more funding for the recreational game to enable more clubs to open themselves up to more young people. And senior cricketers too – more adults as well. There is so much work that has to be done.
“We’re still in this miasma of not knowing the best format of club cricket to keep people involved and playing in the game for longer. All the factors that were concerning club cricket before the World Cup most definitely still apply. There are still too many clubs going to the wall because not enough people are playing the game and not volunteers are available to run what have traditionally been the focal point of a village or an area.
“What I hope Sunday achieved was to encourage young people to dream that they too could one day be a World Cup. All of which should place a massive focus on youth cricket and ensuring that youth cricket is given the fillip that it needs.”
I had never used the word ‘miasma’ in any piece before. And haven’t since. But lexical wizardry aside, Simon, as usual, hit the nail on the head. Yes, a World Cup win was fantastic – and a brilliant excuse for a national knees-up. But it was largely pointless if the benefits were not felt further down the cricket pyramid.
You could argue that the same can be said for Bazball and the impact of England’s all-conquering side under skipper Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum.
We all love it. Even people that scarcely paid attention to that World Cup triumph almost four years ago are enthused by the cricket played by this side.
But there’s no point to it unless it encourages more people to play the game, more people to stay involved in the game, and more volunteers to give up their time to allow that to happen. So, on the eve of the season, this is a rallying cry.
Simon was only one of many to give up countless hours of time to give back to the sport he loved – he was no mean player either, as those who know him best will attest – but his commitment was never time wasted. It was an investment. In the sport he loved, and in the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of cricketers who benefited from his listening ear and expertise.
So, for all those volunteers out there – and I’m one of the them – keep up the great work and redouble your efforts to make sure the next generation of players learn to love the game as much as you do. For the ECB – do all you can to support a grassroots game that needs you now more than ever. And for all the clubs out there, remember this is a sport for all. Let’s see provision for girl’s and women’s cricket continue to boom. Let’s also see greater efforts made to support disability cricket in this country as well.
But most importantly, as a cricket community, let’s make sure this summer is fun.
And, when we have a quiet moment for reflection, let’s raise a glass to Simon and celebrate a legacy thats as great as any in recreational sport.