For obvious reasons 2020 has been a year like none before with a whole new set of challenges presented to us. It is often in times of difficulty that you find out the true strength of your club and how everyone is prepared to pull together to keep the ship afloat.
About a month before the season was due to start it became clear that this was going to be a truncated season at best and at worst there would be no season at all. We were lucky in some ways because the lockdown came just after our annual Cricket Dinner in mid March. It was another brilliant evening expertly organised by Leslie Orchard and the monies we raised from the evening provided the club with some much needed funds at the right time. There was a sense we were heading into the unknown and we needed to be prepared for all eventualities. One of our biggest challenges was financial because we had no resources to fall back on following a difficult 2019. At the same time bills still needed to be paid, none more so than the maintenance costs of keeping our grounds and facilities in good condition. Grass still needed to be cut and wickets still needed to be maintained and kept ready for cricket.
In March and April we would normally be collecting our annual membership fees which go a long way to providing us with the funds we need to cover our costs during the season. Our other main income comes from sponsorship but understandably this was clearly going to be an issue for our sponsors due to tough trading conditions and no certainty of any cricket being played. More than ever we needed the support of our members to get us through this period.
It was felt unreasonable to charge memberships at the start of the season with no prospect of cricket at the time so an appeal was made to our members for donations to enable us to cover essential and unavoidable costs. The response was excellent and I’d like to thank each and every one of you who made a donation at the time or later in the season. There is no doubt that without this support the club would have been in a very perilous position. It bought us crucial time and enabled the club to tick over during April and May as the prospects of some cricket during the season slowly began to improve.
In June we were allowed to start net practice albeit initially under very strict conditions and with very small numbers. As those conditions started to relax we were able to introduce more meaningful practice for both junior and senior members. My thanks to our Head Coach Kris Nissen for putting together at short notice an excellent summer programme for the juniors and my thanks also for the parents support as the attendance was very good throughout. It was so important to keep the youngsters engaged with the club and with cricket as a sport because a lost season would have had a significant impact on participation rates in the future. It was also pleasing to see the boys and girls play a number of intra club matches later in the season and my thanks to Kris for organising this and to Graham Seymour and Robert Joseph for organising some friendly matches against other clubs after the League season had been cancelled.
The seniors also managed to get some meaningful net practice during June and the attendance was excellent as players were keen for some form of cricket. Organising the nets provided us with many logistical challenges to ensure we had sufficient Covid restrictions in place and were able to conform to ECB regulations. My thanks to George White who did an excellent job in setting up a booking process and ensuring we had everything in place. Thanks also to the Cricket Centre staff, Arthur in particular, who provided great assistance.
From the 2nd week in July we finally got the go ahead to play some games. There were a number of on field restrictions imposed but players soon adapted to this. The main difference was off the pitch as there was no clubhouse access, no bar or showers and no tea provided. A bit of a shock at first but quickly everyone got used to the new normal where essentials for your kit bag were sandwiches and hand sanitiser! All in all the season went as well as anyone could have expected in the circumstances. This year it was more about the participation and enjoyment rather than the winning. The League decided to run a season of 9 games with no promotion and relegation but League tables were still produced and there was plenty of pride at stake. A number of regular 1st XI players decided not to play this season which gave us the opportunity to blood some younger players in the 1st XI. It was always going to be difficult at first but it was the right thing to do and the experienced gained will hold those players and the club in good stead for the future. In all the 1st XI games we played at least three 16 year olds and the average age of the side for all games was in the early or mid 20s. In the end we had a respectable season as performances and results improved towards the end. In fact we won our last 2 games to finish 7th which was very respectable and better than we had anticipated.
The 2nd XI was a bit weaker this year as a number of players stepped up to the 1st XI. That said, the team still finished 4th following a double promotion in 2019 and can look forward to next season with confidence. The team was bolstered by a number of players returning to the club having missed the past few seasons for various reasons. The 3rd XI had an excellent season following their double promotion in 2019. This year under Ciaran Woodcock’s leadership we won all our games to win the Division comfortably. Again this bodes well for next season for another promotion push. The 4th XI also had a strong season finishing 2nd in their Division. Thanks to Kris, Ciaran, Rich Evans and Victor Childs for their hard work both on and off the pitch during a challenging season. Thanks also to the rest of the committee (George White, Chris Stanley, Darren Poynton and Frank Orchard) for their hard work and support during the year. As I mentioned before we couldn’t have survived the season financially without the donations we received from many of our members. We were also indebted to our main sponsors Landhold Capital and CeX who were still able to support our club during these difficult times plus our other vital sponsors Motilal Books, Southall Travel, Gingerbread House and Karcher. Sincere thanks to you all. Further details of all our sponsors are available on the club website. We were also grateful to receive a grant from Sport England to help towards our ground maintenance costs.
The season may be over but the work still continues. The day after the last game was played on the Main Ground work began on improving the quality of the square and outfield. This was a significant project and my sincere thanks to Ray McLennan for raising the considerable funds required to make this possible and for project managing the work. Once the work takes full effect we should have one of the best squares and outfields in the county. There will be a separate detailed account of all the works that have been carried out, including photographs, and this will be posted on our website shortly. Look out for an email communication soon with more details on this.
The net facilities are now coming up to 7 years old and whilst we have carried out regular maintenance and repairs over the years the time has come to have a professional assessment of the nets and invest in their improvement. Chris Stanley is leading a project to bring these improvements and as I write we are assessing a number of quotes we have received to determine what we can achieve within the budget we have. The intention is to have the work completed before the start of next season and again we will share this news with you in due course once the picture is a bit clearer.
We don’t own our ground of course but our relationship with our landlord is currently good and that helps as we try to gain more autonomy in our use of the facilities to provide any even better experience for our members. 2020 was in a way a step forward because due to the exceptional circumstances we took over the ground maintenance costs instead of paying our usual rent. This provided some certainty for our landlord during a very difficult summer for him as all the hospitality business at the Centre had to be cancelled. The situation has prompted us to explore with our landlord the possibility of taking over the cricket operations ourselves in the future to leave him to concentrate on the hospitality side when normality resumes. This will not be a straightforward discussion or negotiation and there is no certainty that anything will come from it. It may be a slow burner but the fact the owner is prepared to have the conversation is a positive step forward. More on this to come as things develop.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our groundsman Arthur Falcao for his helpfulness and dedication to duty which enabled us to play the cricket we did during the shortened season. Nothing was too much trouble for Arthur and his positive attitude was a great help to me during challenging times.
Next year will present a new set of challenges for our club and we will need to prepare for all eventualities. Fingers crossed we will have a more normal and full season. In the meantime we hope to provide indoor winter practice from January through to March/April. At the time of writing autumn training has been suspended due to the lockdown restrictions and the recent government announcements make it unlikely we will be able to restart in December. We have to take our lead from the English Cricket Board who are in constant contact with the Government. Let’s hope things will look a bit more positive in the new year. Thanks again to Kris for organising these sessions and to those parents and players supporting the programme.
Finally I would like to mention our AGM which is held every February. The 2021 AGM will cause some logistical challenges and may have to be held online. No date has been set yet but this will be announced in January. If anyone is interested in seeking election for a committee position or would like to offer their help in a different capacity please let me know. The position of Web Manager is currently vacant and we will also be looking for a new Membership Secretary. There are other planned committee changes afoot which will be advised in the AGM notification communication in January. Some further detail on this can be found now on our website in the ‘Club Development Plan’ section which has been recently updated.
That is all for now. Good luck to all and I hope you have an enjoyable Christmas and New Year!
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