Club Cricket Conference

Saturday, 15th June 2024

Cricket down the Mine

By Richard Edwards


10 June 2024


Cricket down the Mine



















“These cricket grounds weren’t just where the match took place – they were the absolute hub of the community, every Saturday would feel like a party, they were special places,” says Richie Gibbons, the chairperson of Blidworth Colliery Welface Cricket Club.  


This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike – an event that shaped British society like no other since the Second World War. From March 1984, the NUM waged a battle against a Government that was determined to stand its ground and not give the Unions an inch. That was the big picture. In areas like Nottinghamshire the impact on small communities and families was far more complex and endures to this day. 


“You still have brothers not speaking to brothers, sisters not speaking to sisters,” says Gibbons. “It’s hard to think of anything to compare the strike to. I would wake up at 5am and hear the pickets chanting. These guys were two or three miles away. That should give you an idea of just how intimidating a time it was. Because there were such a split between the miners who came out on strike and those who didn’t, there were quite a few fixtures cancelled because some sides refused to play others.”  


Gibbons for his part, went out on strike for six weeks but returned out of necessity – he was just 20 years old with a young family to support. But across Nottinghamshire, the picture, like any attempt to resolve the crisis, was complicated. The NUM – led by Arthur Scargill – had refused to call a national ballot, leaving some in Nottinghamshire to continue working, while others joined the picket line.  


Andy Afford, the former Nottinghamshire spinner, suddenly found himself at the heart of the crisis. He was dating a girl in Clipstone – home to the Clipstone Colliery – at the time and would be routinely stopped by police, who were clamping down on anyone suspected of heading to the picket line.  


“I would be trying to get a bus to Trent Bridge after staying in Clipstone for the weekend,” he said. But the police would be stopping anyone they suspected of heading to the picket line. 

  

The Bassetlaw League was home to many of the county’s colliery cricket clubs, many of whom had a heritage dating back to the late 19th century, when the mining industry employed millions of workers up and down the country. 


“In many ways, the colliery cricket clubs were at the forefront of the professionalisation of the sport,” says Gibbons. “They would go out and employ the best cricketers, give them very light duties and then pay them handsomely for playing club cricket at the weekends. These guys were some of the first professional cricketers in the country.”  


By 1984, the majority of Colliery Clubs in Nottinghamshire and neighbouring Derbyshire and Yorkshire, were doing very well for themselves. The income providing by the Miners Welfare ensured that they could maintain handsome club houses capable of hosting parties, weddings and weekend knees-up for the local villagers who would pour into the ground to watch ‘their’ teams play. The cricket clubs, like the mines, were a source of enormous local pride. 


Forward-wind 40 years, and the landscape of the Bassetlaw League has changed out of all recognition.  

“A lot of teams have changed and a lot of them have ceased to exist,” says Gibbons. “The ECB Premier League and everything beneath it has made a huge change. A lot of the cricket is based on who has the most money.  


“Colliery Clubs had to cut their cloth accordingly. As I said, Saturday afternoons used to be a special time. You would have hundreds of people coming to the club. 


“Every Colliery would have a massive welfare but a lot of them are unsustainable now because these clubs can’t afford to heat them. A few clubs have sold part of theirs off to the council. They were all quite similar – you would have a ballroom, a snooker room, a big function room. Once the pits shut all that had to change because it was just completely unaffordable. 


“At Blidworth, we’ve still got pipes under the ground, under the wicket, under the outfield, that run from some old pit buildings all the way past the pitch and past the old Welfare.”  


Those pipes aren’t the only symbols of a bygone era. Relations are now cordial in the Bassetlaw League, but that wasn’t the case in the summer of ‘84 as Nottinghamshire tore itself apart – mirroring the splits that emerged across the north of England, Wales, Scotland and some parts of Kent.  


“Shirebrook were playing against another colliery side,” says Gibbons. “I can’t remember which one it was, but Shirebrook were very militant and the colliery side they were playing hadn’t come out (on strike). A load of miners from Shirebrook came out in the tea interval and started digging the wicket up. There are plenty of other stories from that summer too. You would have striking collieries serving up horrendous teas to those who had stayed at work.”  


With the country’s last deep coal mine at Kellingley closing in 2015, an industry around which hundreds of communities were based is now consigned to the history books. Those who suffered during the strike and the years that followed, a living, breathing example of neglect from successive governments who had no plan in place once the mines had been closed. 


In many ways, the cricket clubs that remain are as potent a symbol now as they were 40 years ago. The ‘Colliery’ element of their name a final act of defiance and a celebration of everything the coal industry meant to those communities.  


“That word isn’t going anywhere,” says Gibbons, now 61. “I’ve been involved in this club for 50 years and as long as I’m still here, then Colliery will remain in our name.”