by Reg Nelson
As the Bradford Cricket League enters its 117th year in 2020, and begins a new decade, it could be an appropriate time to contemplate how things are going since it widened its geography in 2016.
After losing several inner-city clubs in the decade, the chance to replace them with top outfits like Methley CC, Wrenthorpe CC and Townville CC from the Central Yorkshire League must have sounded appealing to the Bradford Cricket League Board. This league was losing more and more clubs to the Bradford Cricket League, and with Methley CC being tipped to be the next one to go, the death knell was sounding. After amicable negotiations it was decided that most of the Central Yorkshire League clubs would join the Bradford Cricket League, and the others would relocate to the Drakes Huddersfield League, or in the case of Wakefield Thornes CC, to the Yorkshire South Premier League.
It meant that the Bradford Cricket League would acquire the three aforementioned clubs, and also pick up clubs like Hunslet Nelson CC, Carlton CC, Liversedge CC and Ossett CC who had fine grounds. They would also have to cater for some smaller, lower ranked clubs who were perceived by some purists as lacking in real Bradford League potential. This view might turn out to be right, but the likes of Pudsey Congs, New Farnley and Woodlands all emerged historically from a very modest cricket base.
The new structure was seen in some quarters as a great lift to the league in an era when they were granted ECB Premier League status. The likes of Methley CC, Wrenthorpe CC and Townville CC were formerly the power base of the Central Yorkshire League and were capable of shaking up the old order, and some of the other new clubs would certainly stiffen the second sphere of the league. That had been a bone of contention for a number of years, as the old second division had deteriorated beyond recognition. Now, the league had the honour of being granted Premier League status when it normally only applied to county regions, and had a much stronger base of clubs.
The downside was the league’s inability to provide enough umpires for a league which had more or less doubled in number. There were also widespread murmurings on social media about the increased travelling distances, and also continued dialogue about the strength of the lower clubs that had been accepted. Those making the latter point failed to acknowledge the fact that some of these clubs had no immediate league to go to with the demise of the Central Yorkshire League. If the Bradford League had simply `cherry-picked’ the more fashionable clubs, they would doubtless have had to answer to the Yorkshire Premier League Cricket Board if clubs went out of existence. Some of these clubs might not be seen as top flight sides for the foreseeable future, but they can develop with Clubmark (ECB Accreditation) and find their level as part of the league pyramid.
Another criticism was that the Bradford Cricket League was titled as such in name only, as the membership spread out as far as the outskirts of Leeds, Castleford and Wakefield. There were some calls to rename the league structure West Yorkshire ECB Premier League. However, the Yorkshire Premier League Cricket Board recognised the historical strength of the league, and obviously agreed that its very name carried enough kudos to headline the new structure.
The reputation of the Bradford Cricket League has always attracted new clubs to join, and there has been disquiet in the past about the travelling involved. Yorkshire Bank joined the league in 1974 when there were much less people with cars, and the trek to Moortown was considerable. After a couple of years, players, officials and spectators could not imagine the league without the Bank, as they enjoyed the ground and hospitality. Those that resisted Yorkshire Bank in the beginning would eventually bemoan the situation when the club eventually folded.
Hanging Heaton CC was regarded as a trek when they joined in 1980, but what an asset club they turned out to be, and nobody grumbles now!
The Bradford Cricket League has lost many inner-city clubs in the last few decades, and this number includes Eccleshill CC, Laisterdyke CC, Lidget Green CC, Great Horton CC and Manningham Mills CC. There were also clubs away from the inner cities like Salts CC and Idle who perished. The changing demographic in the city has had a role to play in this, but this is not wholly the reason. The aforementioned clubs ended their days with either an all-Asian team, or very nearly so. In an era when virtually all the `street cricket’ was played by Asian children, it was obviously a good player resource for clubs, and one could acknowledge that they kept these clubs going.
However, the culture of family members and friends of players keeping the club going by buying raffle tickets, frequenting the bar and helping with basic fundraising began to dissipate. The falling membership of such clubs led to poor administration and shrinking committees, and when crisis dawned, there was a mass exodus of players leaving the club few options to continue. When Salts CC perished it was said that not one player attended the winter crisis meeting.
The one exception to this theory is Bowling Old Lane, another all-Asian team, who have found a way to not only survive after historic vandalism, but have built their workforce within the community. Astonishingly, they have not been the beneficiaries of any major grants, despite ticking all the right boxes in a deprived area, and surely possessing the right postcode for financial assistance.
In an ideal world, all the inner city clubs would have survived, and the league would have retained more of a Bradford feel to it. But, when a club like New Farnley, who have a Dales Council tradition, can grow as a club like they have in the Bradford Cricket League, there is compensation in spades. Some of the traditionalists will never be convinced, but sport never stays the same.
Look at the West Riding County Amateur Football League- once the most powerful amateur football league underneath the non league feeder leagues in Yorkshire. Now the league does not exist as clubs like Silsden AFC, Brighouse Town, Albion Sports, Hemsworth Miners Welfare, Silsden, Steeton, Campion and Golcar have climbed onto the ladder of non league football.
Some say that the Bradford Cricket League has lost its glint, and is not as powerful as the old days. This could be said about every senior league in Britain given the collapse of U17 cricket, and the declining numbers in junior sides below that level.
Others would argue that it must still be the most competitive league in Yorkshire when one notes how Methley CC struggled all last season against relegation from the Premier League despite having Yorkshire players Matthew Waite and Jarrod Warner in their ranks!
There are still issues and we all have opinions on how we can improve the structure. My take is that the Premier and First Division divisions should remain the same, and the last two divisions regionalised. It’s a fact that the smaller clubs in the lower divisions have more trouble staffing teams to travel from the wrong side of Bradford to Wakefield or Pontefract. This extreme journey might just apply a couple of times a season, but it can be off putting to the less ambitious cricketer, and those that work Saturday mornings.
Regionalisation could be awkward bureaucratically, but non league football can cope with far wider areas to consider. Look at Silsden AFC who have had to move from Northern Counties East to Northern Counties West in the football non-league structure.
On the plus side there appears to be nothing wrong with the Bradford Cricket League when one looks at how many contracted Yorkshire players played in the league last season- James Logan (Farsley), Joshua Poysden (Farsley), Tom Kohler-Cadmore (Cleckheaton), Tim Bresnan ( Hartshead Moor), Daniel Revis (Bradford & Bingley), Matthew Waite (Methley), Jarrod Waite (Methley), Jordan Thompson (Pudsey St Lawrence)and Matthew Revis (Farsley)- to be joined next season by Ben Coad (Townville – pictured below) and Moin Ashraf (Morley).
Reg Nelson is an unofficial historian of Bradford Premier Cricket League, a Woodlands CC League Delegate, Saltaire CC Life Member and local league ground-hopper. You can read his history of the Bradford Cricket League on VINCIT from this link.
Follow Reg Nelson on Twitter: @regnels1
Thanks for visiting VINCIT, the online journal of Bradford Sport History which is code and club agnostic. You can find more features about cricket and other sports from the drop down menu.
Future planned articles will feature the original development of Park Avenue in 1879-80; the history of sports journalism in Bradford; the politics of Odsal Stadium; the history of Bradford sports grounds and the history of crowd violence in Bradford.
Pictured below Roberts Park, home of Saltaire CC