Jan 012013

These are my thoughts on what 2013 could bring for league cricket in the CLL and East Lancashire.

These are not ‘official’ – they are a few ideas and thoughts for the season. Take them for what they are and let’s look at how to improve regional cricket.

2013 is a huge year for the Central Lancashire League as we know it. It’s 120 years old and in all this time – including two world wars and the odd change of rules – nothing resembling the changes that lie ahead has happened. I think this will be the year we start to see the end of the CLL and the restructure of local league cricket into a fresh, exciting new concept.

This year we have two divisions of eight teams. The top eight and bottom eight from 2012 (replicated in second team cricket). This, of course, means sides will play each other an incredible four times as well as the traditional Wood Cup. It was voted on and accepted by all clubs and there is no doubt something had to be done to stimulate the league. The quality of facilities at once great clubs have slipped to appalling levels and it is unfair for the clubs who, be it off their own back or through the vagaries of location, have made their grounds a pleasure to visit to have to put up with away facilities that are frankly shocking and local people who are utterly apathetic when it comes to their local club. Something had to change.

And so we arrived at two divisions of eight. It’s a major compromise between seeking to restructure the league and trying to preserve the CLL status of a few clubs who should be seeking to play their cricket elsewhere. And it could be thrown into chaos before the season starts if clubs like Oldham and maybe Ashton decide enough is enough and either fold or move to play in leagues that are far more accessible and far more sensible for them.

But to start with let’s look at what two eight team divisions will mean. It will mean, on the surface, visits to and from the better supported clubs with better facilities in the top division. It will also mean the better players will concentrate themselves in the top division (not juniors, hopefully, but the seniors). It will lead to some clubs deciding to betray their loyal volunteers and pay players to play at their clubs. I’ll have my rant at that shortly. It should, in theory, mean less meaningless games in both divisions, more competition, better cricket. It will also lead to, in the lower division, soulless games on soulless grounds with inferior players. It will lead to a further lack of interest from local people in some of these clubs.

So let’s look at what this will mean for the top flight. It might be a great idea for a club like Heywood to play Norden four times in a season. Two good days of weather at Crimble could bring people into the ground. However, we all know familiarity brings contempt. You’ve been to Clifton once already this season, can you be bothered to go again? Oh, I’ve seen Littleborough play Rochdale twice already this season, I’ll do something else today. The variety and rarity value of a big match will be gone. What were big matches now become mundane, commonplace, taken for granted.

As for the lower division, this will exacerbate the problems these club will face. If people are sick of going to the clubs with better facilities, who will want to go to the clubs who are in almost terminal decline? Not me, I’ll tell you, and probably not many people. Sure, the possibility of promotion may be enticing but this in itself will cause problems. Will clubs pay to try to get promotion? Can they afford to? Can they afford to play drab games? Will players want to play drab games? I say no.

Something had to be done, there’s no doubt. Heywood and Walsden were both walking games towards the end of the season, as were Norden, among others. There were no contests on so many occasions that you knew you weren’t missing things by missing a game. And some clubs need a kick up the backside and look at how to improve their facilities.

But in my view, this structure won’t and can’t last, and this is the first phase in a new, leaner and more competitive league structure around East Lancashire. An East Lancashire Premier League. Because teams will get bored with this system, as will fans. We will want more variety and to see some different faces.

Over the past decade there have been many attempts to usher in change. The idea of a Lanacashire-wide Premier League is doomed to failure as people’s time becomes more precious and the cost of travelling becomes greater. Then there is the Lancashire League, so deeply embedded in a time warp they still think they are playing in the era of Learie Constantine and Sydney Barnes. We could have been playing in a proper, mixed CLL and Lancashire League many years ago if clubs had stopped being so parochial.

But even the Lancashire League are talking about change, linking in with the Ribblesdale League is one idea. And that, on a wider stage, has to be what happens to the CLL and other leagues in East Lancashire. It is now easy to get to Blackburn and Burnley, Tameside and South Manchester. Where a trip to Stockport, although a great day, was fraught with problems, getting anywhere around East Lancashire is now a doddle and won’t cost a fortune in petrol. There are strong clubs all down the edge of the Pennines, in the Lancs County, the Saddleworth, the Bolton Leagues, the CLL, the Ribblesdale League and the Lancashire League.

If there is a will then big change can happen. Leagues can be restructured and an East Lancs Premier League can be built, bringing the best players together in good leagues, but with excellent lower leagues on a more local basis that still retain the heritage and tradition. Second team cricket could stay the same or it could be changed – it depends on the ambition of the clubs. Local cricket could be great again.

Maybe it’s a big step to say the two divisions of the CLL will bring this about. Maybe it’s a flight of fancy on my part. But I believe this new structure in the CLL will expedite change. As people get bored of the same old faces they’ll seek change. There’s scope for all sorts. A group system of a Lancashire Cup, perhaps, played on Sundays. League matches only on a Saturday. More cups against more different clubs across Lancashire. Tour matches, national cup matches – a bit of thought will be needed. All this happens in the York and District League already, which is vibrant and full of excellent players. It allows players to choose a little more when they can play and means you play different clubs on a regular basis. It can only promote interest.

Anyway, there’s a few thoughts on the future. Not too coherent, maybe, but something to think about. I’d love to see Heywood playing at Rammy, or Denton, or Greenmount, or Nelson on a league basis. Something different. Whether is improves the cricket for Lancashire or not, I’m not too bothered. The signing of Simon Katich has put paid to any interest I have in Lancashire. But it could and should lead to better cricket, a desire to upgrade facilities and better standards. It will also encourage that most repugnant of practices – clubs paying players – but good clubs with a good set-up will be able to keep their players.

Here’s to 2013!


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 January 1, 2013  Tagged with: , , , ,  Add comments

  13 Responses to “My Thoughts On 2013, The New CLL And Why The Future Could Be So Exciting”

  1. First of all may I wish everyone there a happy (and hopefully successful) 2013.

    Another very interesting read Scott in which you highlight the plusses and minuses associated with the change in the league format.

    It’s interesting that you see this only as a short term thing and only a stepping stone to bigger and better things in terms of linking in with other leagues and creating premier leagues etc. I wouldn’t be too sure about that because as you also say, traditions die hard in some quarters and the obstacles may be too great.

    I expressed a view when this topic was originally being debated on here that all of this could be very damaging and I remain of that view. Clubs will inevitably be lost and no doubt a lot of players will be lost from the game for a variety of reasons – is this really good for the game?

    As you say in your article Scott, I think it will become quite boring to be playing the same teams four times in a season and to be honest, whilst I really missed not playing last season, I’m not too sure I will miss the 2013 format quite so much.
    Whilst some derogatory remarks are made about some of the grounds, I quite enjoyed going to them all as each has it’s own character and each carries it’s own memories. The variety of venues, different standards, different people etc are what made the game so enjoyable for me – it’s not all about being best in class.

  2. Happy New Year Hilts! I know you’re a big fan of the CLL and the old clubs, but they can’t exist on tradition and former glories for ever. If all the clubs were thriving then the CLL would still be a fun place to play. I remember when we were rubbish when I played (no co-incidence) but we could still sometimes give the better teams a game, and you usually had decent games against every team. Ashton and Oldham, Werneth and occasionally Crompton (Les and Tom playing). Heywood, Walsden and Norden have good sides, not wonder sides, but towards the end of the season some of the games were just ridiculously one-sided. You knew we couldn’t catch Walsden because no one could give them a game. There are few old heads left in the middle order to dig in, wily old bowlers etc. They have all gone. Something needs to be done to stop what happened at the end of last season because some of the games were dire. No disrespect to our lads – they were excellent. But the opposition was just not good enough and something needs to be done to improve standards and improve the watching experience. In my view, anyhow

  3. Absolutely take your point Scott but you always tend to get two or three teams who are better than anybody else in any sport at all levels whether it be in cricket, football, rugby or tiddlywinks (look at the premier league for example – United, City and Chelsea – forget the rest).
    Would we have been quite so bored with life and promoting all this if we had not been one of those top 3 – probably not?

    Don’t forget things go in cycles for individual clubs and the league in general and fortunes can change for the better or worse for anyone. You mention above the time when ‘we were rubbish’ – yes it could easily have been us ‘condemned’ to second division cricket now.

    Cricket is for everybody – talented or lesser so – and even the lower level clubs occasionally unearth a raw talent or two. I will be amazed if the league doesn’t lose a handful of clubs and more than a handful of players as a result of this. Sorry but that cannot be good for the game of cricket in general.

  4. It all makes for good reading and all players should have a view on this as it affects the game we have loved and played, or indeed are still playing.

    I do not like the two leagues as it will lead to the “demise” of certain clubs who never again will play Heywood. This may be because they no longer exist but more likely that they just play their cricket elsewhere. This is not just those clubs that are in the second division – some First division clubs will more than likely find that they prefer to play their cricket elsewhere and they decide not to play against traditional CLL sides in this format. Like Scott, I cannot see it lasting. Reasons for this are far ranging, but are likely to include for some, disenchantment with the format, lack of profitable games, further drop in the quality of cricket played and players attracted, a desire to challenge a higher grade of cricket etc. You can see that some of these reasons may not only come in to play for those clubs that are struggling but also those that are thriving but feel they are held back by the current format. So some clubs ( and not just those that are considered in a second or inferior tier ) will be sadly lost to the cricket records of our club.

    Now, having said that, something had to change and those clubs that have accelerated a deterioration of standards by not investing in youth cricket or facilities should not forever be allowed to hang on to the shirt tails of those that are.
    I would be in favour of some sort of gold standard of facility / investment / youth policy, laid out for all CLL clubs, that must be maintained and any club failing for 2 consecutive years to meet all those standards would be instantly expelled from the league ( and replaced with any club within a reasonable geographic catchment that met same gold standard who wished to apply – immediately if possible). I do realise that specifics / timescales / additional detail on how clubs are rated, would have to accompany this, but I feel it would be possible. The end result would be to at least maintain and more likely IMPROVE standards, and I think there would be a trickle of lost clubs ( just two strikes and OUT ) and new clubs in the league to keep things fresh enough.

    Anyway, I’m off now to sample one of Joey Holts’ finest

  5. Joey Holts???? You know my views on their lager and how I am forced onto the cider whenever we go to a Holts pit stop venue – and Shag continually tells me that all lagers taste the same!
    Enjoy anyway Mark – cheers!

  6. The immediate advantage and excitement of the 2013 season is that nearly every game will be meaningful. Unless someone runs away with the title and two teams have an absolute disaster and are cut adrift at the bottom then until almost the very last game there will be the prospect of challenging at the top, challenging for Lancs KO spots or fighting to stay up. The teams in Div 2 will, until almost the end, be able to put together a run of wins and push for promotion.

    However the fact is that (including T20 and Lancs KO that we know about) we will play Norden, Rochdale, Middleton and Milnrow 5 times in 2013. This is without the prospect of advancement in the Wood Cup and T20 in which case a sixth meeting in entirely feasible. This for me takes away greatly from the enjoyment of the annual “derby” game at home and away.

    However, as everyone above agrees, something had to be done.

    I do agree with Scott that this will only be a stepping stone through a transitional period.

    It is my firm belief that within a matter of a short few years there will exist some form of local Premier league. Other leagues are also struggling and most are accepting that the current system is failing. For the first time there is genuine talk of a forum for discussion led by the LCB which is fantastic news.

    For Heywood (and indeed many CLL clubs) change is novel. We view our 120 year association with the CLL as rich heritage. Other clubs do not and have shown before that they have a propensity for movement into whichever local league they feel most suits them at that time.

    This means that there is a genuine prospect that a Premier League structure would work. Many clubs are prepared to accept change if they see the benefit.

    And the benefit of a Premier League is not just for those clubs at the top of the “pyramid”. After the initial shake up it will take a few years for everyone to find their “level” and games in all divisions should become more closely fought. Clearly exceptions occur when a team suffers a loss of players or when a single professional or player has an outstanding season. But essentially all of the players, if pushed, would admit that they would rather play more competetive games, more often.

    The next advantage of the pyramid is that it gives the administrators teeth to police standards of clubs and their facilities. Promotion to the subsequent division can only be achieved if a certain set of criteria is met (adequate covers, sight screens etc). Unfortunately the CLL currently has nothing to threaten clubs with (except fines which exacerbate the problem) and we therefore see no improvement.

    The system would enable existing league administrators to work together to run the whole thing. It would allow umpires to be pooled together and umpires reports would suddenly become meaningful as the better umpires found themselves with more top division games.

    It enables clubs who are currently struggling to enjoy some more competetive games, to play younger players, to mprove their own facilities and ultimately to aim for promotion at which point they might seek to employ a better professional to take the next step.

    The long standing argument against a pyramid is travel. But, as Scott rightly points out, the M60, M62 and M66 mean that there are a huge number of clubs within a not dissimilar travel time to the journeys that players are asked to make now.

    The problem in creating this structure is partly in convincing leagues and clubs to buy into it and then in the huge task of administration. However there are many Premier Leagues already in place in the country and the basic structure is already set out.

    The difficult decisions would be in relation to junior cricket, should this mirror the senior system or can the existing structure be maintained at junior level. It seems difficult to dismantle a league and it’s traditions and then ask the administrators to continue to run the junior section.

    There is talk that due to the Liverpool Comp being a Premier League that no other PL can exist within Lancashire. I would be amazed if the ECB, if presented with the facts, adhered to that policy. They are responsible for the game of cricket in this country and will do what they feel is best.

    All Heywood can do is to continue to improve our infastructure. To continue to imrpove the quality of the coaching on offer, to improve the practice facilities, the wickets, the surrounds and the clubhouse. To plan long term for the construction of the new changing room block. To give ourselves the best chance to continue to improve as a club.

    And, until the administrators organise what I believe will eventually become a pyramid Premier League structure, we have the 2013 season to look forward to. There is no point being negative about it, we came second in the league last season to a good side in Walsden. We want to go one better this time around regardless of the number of teams in the league.

  7. Hilts
    I can confirm that the extra cold, extra fizzy, extra bubbly , extra chilled, and extra all the same ( despite there being fifteen pumps taking up all the bar ) wherever you go lagers , – are still available in too many pit stops.
    Happy new year


  8. Bobby
    That’s an excellent vision for the future and now that the change process is potentially underway it would indeed be some kind of utopia for those who seek the best standards for English cricket.
    I can’t imagine this is going to happen overnight and in the meantime I hope nobody gets bored with playing the same teams potentially 5 or 6 a season and there are no casualties at the lower level in terms of clubs and players.

    You know where you are with a lager (Joey Holts excepted) unlike the stuff you drink. How many times have we pit stopped and you guys have ordered a pint of Cats Ankle or Alberts Armpit (or some other similar curious sounding name designed to attract would be CAMRA members) only to find it’s an undrinkable warm sludge and you have to try another sludge for your second pint!
    Happy days!

  9. Mark.

    Hilts is obviously more informed on the future of league cricket than he is on draught beer.
    I think the sun has finally got to him, time he went for a long walk in the desert, would serve him right if the first oasis he came to was full of uncle joe’s.

  10. Oh hello I wondered how long it would take you to get in on the act Mr Fare. Hope you are well and in training for the new season!
    You are probably right I know nowt about beer but it’s always worth a wind up. I have already had several long walks into the desert here – usually after I’ve been despatched without troubling the scorer!

  11. I have to say i have watched these comments with interest. I am somewhat surprised that a number of seasoned veterans have failed to identify the biggest downside to the new structure, that i am almost certain will not have been considered by the CLL executive !!

    Could this split be the start of the end for the “PIT STOP” ????

    One has to ask how many times in a season a visit can be justfied to the Cemetry or the Tandle Hill Tavern ??

    Trips to Ashton, Oldham, Crompton, Radcliffe to name but 4 have always brought with them the knowledge of a quality pit stop at locations such as the Dog & Pheasant, Puckersly, the Black Lad & the Eagle & Child.

    It was only 2 seasons ago that after successful season of 2nd team pit stops it resulted in an extra special end of season stop, with taxis !!

    Such stops have been the breeding ground for team spirit. Anecdotes get passed on by the veterans as they pass their expert opinion on the brews on offer. Virtually every senior Heywood player will be able to remember their first pit stop or have a pit stop tale. Who can forget the entire second team playing bingo on a Walsden pit stop ! They have also been the training ground for helping develop the next generation of Bitter drinkers despite the best efforts of Hilts !!!

    Come on CLL Executive we need a solution in the short term to resolve the pit stop situation until a premier league structure is formed and a whole new world of pit stops dawns .

  12. At last, some sense of being made of this whole episode; well done Sheriff.

  13. Roger you bloody fool!!!!!
    I bet you thought I was talking about the cricket when I said that it could become very boring – easy mistake to make of I suppose!
    I was of course talking about the pit stops with many of the usual haunts disappearing off the forthcoming routes home under the new set up.
    I suppose the up side is that you may get 2 games of bingo at Walsden this year!
    You must keep the tradition going Rog and if need be blame the necessary detours on a dodgy sat nav.
    The end of season special pit stop at the end of the season before last at Tandil Hill Tavern must go down in the annuls as one of the finest pieces of logistical planning ever organised – planned to the finest of detail and one which Fieldmarshall Montgomery would have been proud of.

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