I wouldn’t get too upset with the obvious current hostility to Lancashire League cricket clubs paying ‘amateur’ players for their services. The fact (as alleged) that, to date, the two most successful teams for 2017 are new to the League is likely to be more of an agitating factor than anything else.
If you have played Lancashire League cricket for a large number of years, and maybe if you recall times when most clubs employed an internationally renowned professional, and, if all other teammates were genuine amateurs, I think it natural that you would feel sad, disillusioned or even angry that times have changed. Any player falling into that category shouldn’t be harshly judged for expressing an opinion based on their experience, their loyalty to their club or their opinion that such paid players aren’t fit to lace their boots.
I can look at this objectively from a distance and I’m certainly glad that twitter wasn’t around when I played. God knows the exchanges following Nelson v East Lancs at Seedhill in 1994. Perhaps this match deserves an explanation in the fullness of time, but I guess that twitter would have been in meltdown after that abandoned match. Scorecard here:
I look back with pride at a time when East Lancs were among the favourites for silverware every year – not just because we were fortunate (for the most part) to employ world-class professionals but because the team was stacked with excellent amateur cricketers who trained hard, and who were well led and well coached. Although speculative, this team had six players who would easily be ‘paid’ and indeed 4 of them ultimately were at other clubs as professionals. The fact that the team and club (for 2XI cricket was strong) enjoyed success without paying amateurs was a source of pride and the loyalty to the badge was strong. Once you had played at ‘Headquarters’ it was hard to envisage cricket anywhere else. There were rumours of payments at other clubs but that didn’t trouble us for we frequently steamrolled most teams regardless.
I recall being envious of Accrington with two additional ‘professional’ Lloyds-one starting and one finishing. Ramsbottom had Price, Monkhouse and Fielding (B). There are many more examples and, to bring things up to date a little, the brilliance of Burnley with Anderson, Clare, Brown (x2), Harvey (x2), Tripathi (x2).
Much has been made of Darwen playing Alex Davies…but why not? A homegrown player, making it in First Class Cricket and coming back to play for your club has got to be the aim for all clubs. My club hasn’t achieved that (the nearest was Kevin Hayes in 1980 but even Kevin was raised by Cherry Tree), and I think that says a lot. Hats off to Accrington, Burnley and Ramsbottom but also to Enfield (Barker) and Haslingden (Simpson, Austin) and several other clubs (apologies for not listing) for producing players good enough to secure professional contracts and then enjoy the opportunity of the ‘boy-made-good’ returning to play for the home club. It happens all the time around the country. It is expected in Yorkshire that players are first and foremost club players and this is one simple reason why cricket is so strong there.
The issue of essentially ‘amateur’ players being given boot money is not new. Rife in most other leagues for many years and commonplace in semi-professional (amateur really but semi-pro has an attractive cache) football for as long as anyone can remember. Is it fair? This is my view:
Historically let’s say that clubs paid £10K for a professional (or £20K if you were Rishton); then why shouldn’t clubs spend the same £10K on 3 or 4 players? If they can afford it because they have beer festivals, car boot sales, health clubs etc and turn the club into a real business then surely it is their money to spend. Effective business plans should be a feature for all clubs and it could be argued that League officials should do more to support business development across all clubs.
There is one issue though which is a sticking point. Why aren’t clubs asked to declare who is and who isn’t paid? Aah-the Inland Revenue! I don’t know if there is a way around this but I always believe that if things are out in the open it is likely to reduce any tensions among clubs and cricket followers.
I do know this: if I was still playing and came across a Clitheroe or Darwen, I would be so fired up to take on certain players and prove myself as an equal. Less of the sour grapes needed, more of the rising to the challenge required so that standards, which have suffered a little, rise again.