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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