My dad always told me you should avoid three subjects in polite company: finance, politics and religion.
I’m not suggesting Sports Monday isn’t polite company, but along with playing myself in slowly and hitting the ball along the ground at the start of my innings, one thing I’ve never been very good at is following advice.
Let’s start with finance.
If you’ve read my cricket column before, you will know I’ve been playing for Airedale Cricket Club in Keighley, for 20 years now.
That means 20 years of turning up, saying ‘subs are how much?!’, ‘when do I need to pay membership?’ and the old favourite ‘I forgot to go to t’cashpoint, can I pay me subs next week?’.
It is only since I have taken on the mantle of captain that I realise just how annoying those words are to hear. Every week. From the same players.
Running a cricket club is an expensive business. At Airedale, where we play next to East Riddlesden Hall, we pay rent to the National Trust, which owns our little patch of paradise.
We pay insurance, rates, electric. We have a shop to stock, teas to make, all sorts goes into running our club without which we wouldn’t survive.
It’s the same everywhere, but we have a couple of secret weapons.
Trevor Cox and John Pollard.
Trev and Polly are handymen.
Every club has them – I know that because every time we play away games, there’s a wicket marked, a pavilion cleaned and an outfield mown – and those things only come if each club has its own Trev and Polly.
I’m not entirely sure how Trev makes a living during the summer because you’re guaranteed to find him atop a lawnmower at our ground every day of the week during the season. Thanks to him, our ground (visiting teams say) looks the best it has in years.
Then there’s John. Not only is he a qualified builder, always down the ground doing bits and pieces of DIY – for nowt – he also reminds us that he’s always down the ground, doing bits and pieces of DIY, for nowt... constantly.
He’s our club’s Eeyore, and every team has one.
We could be top of the league, unbeaten, and John would be warning us this weekend’s game will be a tough one that we might well lose, or if we don’t sort out the finances the club will go under.
If a batsman snicks a four while we’re bowling, the cry of ‘oh god, here we go again’ always comes from the corner of the field where John has been stationed.
Never in the history of the game has so much negativity come from one man. I recounted to the lads last weekend a story about how a few years ago John, wicket-keeping, was chuntering about how rubbish my bowling was... as I was halfway through my run up.
Which brings me to the politics of a cricket club.
About a month ago I faced a problem at selection committee: a half-pint-pot and a pint to hold it. A squad of 18 vying for 11 places does not a happy cricket club make. I had to drop someone. Actually, I had to drop seven someones, but one of the someones was not happy at being dropped at all.
I’m not going to say which someone it was. If you’re good at the YP crossword, or have the detective skills of Inspector Clouseau, you’ll work it out.
This someone came down to the ground for that game, to support the team. Or so I thought. When he saw who I’d picked, he wasn’t happy and made his feelings quite clear. Loudly, for a sustained period.
The fallout from this incident has raged on for over a month. We even called a committee meeting to deal with this single incident.
You’d think it would be simple. We have two teams and about 30 players. Every Saturday we pick 22 to play. Eight miss out. The following week we do our best to give the other players their go in the field.
Having been in the background of the club, stepping into the spotlight as skipper has snapped into focus the stark reality of just how much political to-ing and fro-ing goes on behind the scenes. So-and-so won’t play for the firsts if whatsisface is in the team. Thingy wants to play this weekend because he has friends playing for the opposition.
And the egos. You have no idea. It often feels less a cricket club and more a mothers meeting in an upwardly mobile middle class neighbourhood. The only thing that keeps me from going mad is that I know I’m not the only skipper putting up with these political wranglings. That, and I know if I get a little better at Machiavellian machinations then I could somehow fernagle free pints out of this.
Which brings me to religion.
There is much more to be said on this subject than I’m going to fit here. However, since I started penning these columns, I have had several people ask me to write about the issue of integration in the Craven League. In my club we have a good mix of Asian and English players. The Asian lads are mostly Muslim, which means a little consideration when preparing teas is always appreciated.
One official in the league, who asked me not to use his name, said he sees many clubs with an attitude of ‘them and us’.
“There is a feeling that ‘they’ don’t do enough to help the clubs and that ‘they’ don’t get involved,” he told me.
All clubs in the league are run by a small core of people. If the Asian players of a club happen not to be a part of that small core, it’s a coincidence – it has absolutely nothing to do with religion or race.
There are plenty of other players in every club, whatever their colour, who just turn up, play and do nothing to help.
So there we have it. Politics, finance, religion. All in one little Craven League Club.
Just one of a thousand reasons why I love this game called cricket.
and another thing...
The spirit of cricket. It’s easy to say you understand it, but a little harder to define it.
One of the things I’ve made really clear to my lads this year is that I want us to win – but I want us to win in the right way. It’s difficult to explain exactly what that means. Bolton, our enormous, ginger-haired, rugby-playing, full-hearted lad, has stepped over the line once or twice when his shouting in the field has been aimed at the batsman on strike. He has also been brilliant, loud and boisterous in his support for his team mates while we are fielding and that’s wonderful.
He respects the spirit of the game. Last weekend we played against a team (I won’t name them, but I hope they read this) who had a young lad bowling. He bowled a no ball, which the umpire correctly called and I, standing open mouthed at the non-strikers end, watched as this lad turned round and argued with the umpire.
There was no grey area, what the bowler did was wrong. It reminded me of Stuart Broad arguing with Billy Bowden at Headingley. He – and all who play – have an important part to play in respecting the spirit of the game that brings us so much pleasure. The Spirit of Cricket needs looking after by all of us – even if we can’t quite define it.