GMCL REFLECTIONS PART 2: 3 MONTHS ON
3 months after expressing our commitment to join the GMCL, Club Sec Paul looks at how attitudes at the club and around the leagues are developing. Opinions expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect a club or committee perspective. (Polite!) feedback welcome via Twitter to @drpbuffy
It's been almost 9 months since I first wrote down some stream of consciousness thoughts about the proposed Greater Manchester Cricket League (GMCL), and some 3 months since our club formally resigned from the North Manchester Cricket League and became a founder member of the GMCL. In the intervening period, there's been an enormous amount written, said and otherwise aired about the future of local cricket, whether from an individual, a club or a league perspective. Much of it has been positive - especially from clubs like Tottington St Johns who stand to gain an enormous amount from the new structure, and some negative, especially from what might be perceived as "bigger" (though not better) clubs in the region. I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on both sides of the story and bring my own perspective to bear on this, and also try and figure out just how and where we're going to fit into the new structure.
At time of writing (August 18th), we've just had our formal inspection from the GMCL reps, and have been assured we'll know our place in the structure within the next few weeks. So where exactly do we expect to be placed? I suspect for many of us, the overwhelming desire is that the regionalisation of the league at levels below the very top mean that we could conceivably be placed alongside the likes of 2nd XIs from Greenmount, Walshaw, Woodbank, Elton, Radcliffe, Brooksbottom and more - effectively a "Bury league" if you like. This makes sense from any number of perspectives - from a playing viewpoint, we'd be keen to see how we could match up with these clubs, and naturally we'd very much welcome the opportunity to play on better quality surfaces and bigger grounds than our 1sts have been faced with in the NMCL. One of the ironies of the NMCL as it has always stood is that the lower leagues are filled with 3rd XIs from Bolton League or Association or other Lancashire-based clubs - meaning that our 2nd XI has regularly got to play at the likes of Edgworth, Greenfield, Greenmount, Farnworth Social Circle, Bury, Woodbank, Elton etc - good grounds with excellent facilities. Playing on those week in and week out brings its own benefits.
Perhaps an even more important benefit of such placement is that we have extremely strong ties with many clubs around our area - many of us played junior cricket in the region (myself at Woodbank), and have friends at many clubs. We have our annual Boxing Day match with Brooksbottom, where again we have many links, and we have especially close ties at Walshaw (our nearest neighbour and former home of several of our players), Woodbank (who pre-season tour with us and regularly come to the club to socialise) and Bury (again, former players etc). Not only do we believe this will lead to some great banter on the field, it will also renew old rivalries and also massively help both post-match socialising and match attendance, which are vital for us both for revenue and for growth. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to take to the field against friends and local rivals again, with a decent crowd watching, and the promise of a good night, win or lose? One of the issues facing us at present is that with the distances involved in travelling around the NMCL, and the turnover of players at some clubs, sides can often play a match and disappear 5 minutes afterwards and barely exchange a greeting - there's not the same spirit or understanding between clubs that have no local ties. I'm equally sure that the Rochdale or Oldham based clubs against whom we currently compete will welcome playing their neighbours from "better" (again, to use the term advisedly) leagues. Shorter travel times, closer rivalries, local games, revenue growth ... it all makes sense.
One of the negative things that's often mentioned by players, officials or 3rd parties that don't know our club is how our existing league and clubs are perceived. "Chip shop" and "tinpot" are adjectives used quite a bit by players who simply have no concept of how much clubs like ours work off the field to progress - of course there are clubs that have little to show or who don't have the same drive or ambition, but spend 5 minutes with any of our committee and you'd quickly understand exactly what we're all about, and how rapidly we're progressing as a club OFF the field. Visit Irlam and see how good a setup they have (and indeed how good a young side they have). The detractors also don't realise that improving playing standards on the pitch isn't easy when you are surrounded by 12 "bigger" clubs with professionals, coaches, and junior systems established for 50 years or more. But we're getting there via fast-tracking coaches, through our ties with the LCB, especially on the women's side, and the adoption of mixed boy/girl junior cricket ... aside from Heywood's Kate Cross who coaches our kids and is a good friend to the club) and a couple of the Bolton League sides, how many clubs within 20 miles can boast as many Lancashire county standard girls at age levels from U13s to the senior Lancs captain and current overseas pro? The fact that our club was approached to host and develop womens and girls cricket should tell its own story.
I've watched with interest and indeed some abject horror at times, as the various factions in the new Pennine League, the Bolton League, Bolton Association and the former CLL and SDCL have bickered and engaged in slanging matches. People, especially club and league officials, really ought to know better. If Club A chooses to stay in League 1 while Club B seeks pastures new, so what? Good luck to both. If Club C doesn't want to join the GMCL then good for them - of course it really would make sense in the long term for all clubs to compete in one structure and promote the best possible cricket, but it hasn't happened in 150 years and it's not likely to anytime soon given the attitudes of some, and the near-impossibility of folks to agree on a unified approach. On a personal note, I find the bickering really sad - aren't we all cricketers? Don't we all want to strive to be as good as we can, individually and for our clubs? I'm not actually sure that come next year we're really *that much* better off in the region. From my and our our club's perspective it's light years better, but for cricket in Greater Manchester as a whole? Only time will tell - and the potential for other leagues to expand and draw on the professional clubs will ensure that movement continues well into the coming years.
Another disappointment has been the slagging off reserved for clubs such as Greenmount who have served the BCL brilliantly and been one of that league's best sides for decades - the superb achievements of Mark Stewart and colleagues this year (and another congrats to Stewie on his BCL wicket taking record) have been tarnished by those who choose to paint them as "GMCL terrorists" or such absurdities. There have even been factions saying the recent Hamer Cup final was "BCL v GMCL" which was an incredible bit of disrespect for TWO clubs who currently play in the Bolton League - and indeed to the league itself. NOBODY plays in or for the GMCL at present. Though selections for the washed out League v Association were also tarnished with news that "GMCL bound players" had been overlooked - petty and a total nonsense.
I will mitigate that previous paragraph a little by saying that some of the abuse has come from "our" side too - we're all well aware of those who seek to have a go at clubs who have chosen not to move with us into the new structure. I also think that's totally wrong - if it's player power that has voted for many clubs to move to the GMCL then it's almost certainly player power that has kept others away (at least I hope so, rather than any bullying from committee level). Seeing individuals and clubs targeted for abuse is really disappointing - though when you see that some of the output comes from club or league officials it makes it doubly disappointing. Look, we'll all rise when provoked, and I'm well aware I've put in my own two penn'orth from time to time, but there's no need to abuse fellow cricketers, other clubs, and those seeking what's best for their clubs is there? The hard work of individuals such as Martin and John has also been abused many times, which has been especially poor. There's no "war" going on here, just clubs seeking what's better for them and their players. At the end of the day, for 99.9% of us affected, we're amateurs who play to have fun and let off steam - it really isn't the be all and end all. If you think it's more than that, you need to have a look at yourself.
To end on a more positive note, I have to say that the GMCL has definitely given me more enthusiasm for the game once again - the prospect of local rivalries, midweek 20/20s (please!), wider sponsorship opportunities, and the continued development of our club's ties with those immediately surrounding us is nothing but positive. Speaking as Club Sec, we should almost certainly benefit on the playing side too, now that we're on a more even playing field and with higher levels to aspire to. Whatever the reality that 2016 will bring, I remain hugely optimistic that we're entering the first part of a whole new chapter for our club. Bring it on. Oh and if you enjoyed and joined in the #localcricketfilms and #loclcricketmusic fun on Twitter, many thanks - some light relief and good community spirit that really is what we should all be about.