Club Cricket Conference

Thursday, 21st June 2018

Freuchie CC fight complacency to arrest rapid decline

By Charles Randall

22 March 2017

A few cricket clubs disappear every year through a shortage of players, financial problems or sheer complacency, but they can regenerate. Freuchie CC discovered this in nick of time last year before their sensational return to the East of Scotland Cricket Association's top tier.

The cricket community reeled at the shock news from local media at the start of the 2016 season that Freuchie, one of Scotland's most famous clubs, feared they could fold through a shortage of players. Yet one year later Freuchie wait eagerly for the start of a new season in the Championship with the club restored to health.

Problems for cricket can arise through isolation from communities, but this was not the case for Freuchie, based near Falkirk. Sheer complacency could be blamed after they had achieved fame through winning the National Village final in front of hundreds of Scottish supporters at Lord's in 1985. According to outside observers, they spent too long "living in the past".

Complacency contributed to the demise of Dover CC in 2004, one year short of their centenary. Twice winners of the Kent League in the 1980s, they allowed debts to build up to £10,000, mostly in rent arrears for their Crabble county ground. The declining membership did not seem have the stomach for fund-raising their way out of trouble.

Mick Rogers, captain at the time, said after the final decision: "I am very sad that it has to come this because we wanted to keep the club going, and so did the other players. But the debts are just too great to pay off. It's ridiculous how they were allowed to mount up over recent years."

Freuchie's amazing Lord's team grew old together, and the club's influence gradually waned. In recent years they started to struggle fielding a second team in the East of Scotland pyramid. This meant cricket opportunities for youth players became increasingly restricted and closure looked more than possible in the near future, as one team would not be sustainable.

Freuchie launched a desperate recruitment drive a year ago, and the club's spirit revived to such an extent that the second team became oversubscribed and the first team won the Division One title.

The captain Ian Stonebridge said this week: "The way the club pulled together was fantastic. Recruitment worked well and we even had chaps coming back into cricket. The atmosphere has been absolutely great and has drawn people to the club."

Freuchie finished as champions in a tight league, the highlight being Scott Gourlay's 143 against Linlithgow, and Alan Wallace topped the division's batting averages. Robbie Wright, a former captain and all-rounder, has rejoined the club for 2017.

Shrewdly the committee decided to switch their second team to the Strathmore League. This was viewed as a chance to involve youth players in a more friendly environment, and there are plans to start a Sunday development team, an unlikely prospect only a year ago.
Invariably a few clubs have not survived. For example, Almondburians CC decided to fold after 40 years of existence instead of joining the Drakes Huddersfield League. John Headey, secretary, said: "The bottom line is that we struggled a few times last season to field a second XI and now we have lost the nucleus of our first team, sadly. We have tried to recruit over the winter, but that has proved spectacularly unsuccessful." Occasional cricket is likely to continue at the King James’s School field in Almondbury, and club has not ruled out reforming.

Many village clubs over the years have been stretched for players. Just one example  is Hales CC, with its picturesque Valley View ground near Market Drayton. They decided to withdraw from the North Staffordshire & South Cheshire league for 2017 after an alarming drop in player numbers, though they are trying to organise some form of cricket there this summer, perhaps on Sundays.

The existence of Bourton Vale CC, in the Cotswolds, is under threat because over £250,000 is required to replace their old clubhouse. Kevin Langley, chairman, said: "The clubhouse, part of which is nearly 100 years old, is severely decaying and will not survive more than the next season. The redevelopment project is essential to the ongoing success of our club."

Sudden rental increases and land owner disputes can kill off clubs. Denholme Clough CC  had to resign from the Spenser Wilson Halifax Cricket League because they were not sure if they had a ground for 2017. They had more than enough players to fulfil fixtures, but they decided they had to leave their Denholme Gate ground when a new land owner demanded £625 a month in rent.

Perhaps the biggest threat to club cricket remains the social environment. Robbie Book, chairman of the Club Cricket Conference, said: "The game has probably never been more popular at youth level, where clubs can hardly cope with demand, but when players join the work force and build careers, things change. If wives work - and many do so - they need their husbands at the weekend. Players want to give less time to cricket."

Book added: "Most clubs know they have to run to stand still. It takes more resource to run clubs than ever before. This includes looking after health and safety requirements, criminal record checking, insurances, playing equipment and all manner of compliances. It isn't getting any easier."