Club Cricket Conference

Wednesday, 22nd May 2024

Huddersfield University academic lifts lid on CCC's old reactionary days

By Charles Randall

17 January 2012

The Club Cricket Conference was a worthy organisation that evolved into a reactionary, even destructive, force when the club scene began to modernise post-War, according to research at Huddersfield University.

A rule in the CCC's original 1916 constitution was used to block all attempts to introduce competition and coaching in the south until as recently as the 1960s. Duncan Stone, a Huddersfield academic from Surrey, has become an acknowledged expert on the subject, and in his latest academic article 'It’s all friendly down there’: Amateurism, the Club Cricket Conference and Rule 4’s influence upon the southern meaning of cricket he describes a long era where club cricket was dominated by class-conscious gentlemen from the public schools and Oxbridge universities.

It was an era that still influences the meaning of cricket today, though the old reactionary attitudes off the field have been completely disowned by the present-day committee. The CCC has committed its energies to furthering the cause of the recreational sector and, above all, to increasing the number of adult players.

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 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.

Stone's research found that the Evening Standard 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."

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. The inaugural committee 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).

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.

Any enquiries or further information on the above narrative that readers would like to provide, can be passed on to Duncan Stone.

University of Huddersfield Cricket Research Centre