How York Cricket Club plan to make most out of ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity

England's Jonny Bairstow: Former York CC player.
England's Jonny Bairstow: Former York CC player.
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“IT’S just starting to sink in really,” says Nick Kay, the honorary secretary of York Cricket Club, who doubles up as the second-team captain.

Earlier this week, the club was named as the venue for Yorkshire’s County Championship match against Warwickshire that starts on June 17 next year, the first time that Yorkshire will have visited their capital city for a first-class fixture since 1890.

For Kay and everyone connected with the Clifton Park venue (the game 128 years ago was played at the now defunct Wigginton Road ground), it is the proverbial “dream come true”.

Although Kay and his colleagues had an inkling of it for some time, they were sworn to secrecy ahead of the announcement, like those about to be invested as knights.

“It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says former first XI captain Kay, a 39-year-old who has served the club for 22 years.

“The circumstances are that Headingley is going to be under siege from cricket next year (with the World Cup and the Ashes), so to be thought capable by the county of hosting a Championship game, and certainly one of this magnitude, is the biggest honour that we could probably receive.

Jonny Tattersall (Picture: Caught Light Photography)

Jonny Tattersall (Picture: Caught Light Photography)

“There’s a lot of members and a lot of committee members at York who’ve worked tirelessly hard to make sure that we came into consideration, and for all of us it’s reward for a lot of hard work. We’re just delighted and hope that we can do it justice.”

There would appear to be no concerns in that regard. Clifton Park has proved itself a more than capable host of Yorkshire second team games in recent years, while it successfully staged two Yorkshire Diamonds matches last summer in the Women’s Super League – and will do so again next year.

Around 10 years ago, however, the idea of staging a Championship game there might have seemed fanciful. Facilities were not as they are now, with the club’s infrastructure having improved significantly.

“Ten years ago, we were in old decrepit changing rooms with communal baths, and we were a long way away from this,” says Kay. “But the vision was to create a sports club at Clifton Park that would be the envy of most clubs in the north of England, and we’ve built a new clubhouse, new changing rooms, new function suites, and then once that was finished we focused on the ground and how to make our pitch good enough for first-class cricket.

We’ve improved the square, we’ve relaid the outfield, we’ve improved the covers and sightscreens, and we’ve been lucky because Yorkshire have supported us, giving us second XI cricket for the last 10 years.

Nick Kay

“We’ve improved the square, we’ve relaid the outfield, we’ve improved the covers and sightscreens, and we’ve been lucky because Yorkshire have supported us, giving us second XI cricket for the last 10 years.

“We want to continue to improve, and, if ever there’s an opportunity for cricket to be taken away from Headingley again in the future, that York will be top of the list for consideration.”

Yorkshire intend to play a List A game at Clifton Park in 2020 and in 2021 as part of a three-year arrangement. The county are also keen to see cricket return to the likes of Bradford and Sheffield in future years.

Kay estimates that the combined cricket, rugby, squash and tennis operation at Clifton Park has invested nearly £1m in the complex during the last decade.

Former Yorkshire batsman Jim Love is the head coach at Clifton Park

Former Yorkshire batsman Jim Love is the head coach at Clifton Park

York are also grateful for help received from such as the Rugby Football Union and the England and Wales Cricket Board, along with generous private donations.

“It’s not just a bottomless pit of money we’ve been able to dive into, and we’ve had to make every penny count,” says Kay, who added that capacity for the Championship match will be around 4,000 (including around 2,000 temporary seats), with provision for around 2,000 cars.

“There’s been a few sleepless nights for the membership and the committee, but anybody who visits York now would, hopefully, accept that we’ve spent the money well.

“In addition, the ECB have very generously offered us a grant of £30,000 to allow us to spend on key elements for next year’s match, so there’ll be a new scoreboard, better side covers and run-up covers, new sightscreens, and, potentially, new wicket covers, too.

“That’s tremendous, and it ensures that if we have a monsoon the day before, we can still play cricket the following day.”

York CC have plenty of Yorkshire CCC connections: England international Jonny Bairstow once played for them, while current Yorkshire players Jack Leaning and Jonny Tattersall turn out when they can.

In addition, former Yorkshire batsman Jim Love is the club’s head coach.

“It’s a great chance for us to showcase the club and also the city,” says Kay. “We’re on show, and we want it to be successful.

“There will be, no doubt, one or two areas when we sit down after it’s all finished and think, ‘we could have improved this and that’. But we want everybody who comes along to say, ‘wow, what a great club and what a great match’.”