‘Amateur’, ‘Paid’ or ‘Professional’: A sticky wicket debate.


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.


Sifting through the essentials and the non-essentials

Over the last term my career has taken a change of direction which, a year ago, I did not envisage. Ten years as Headteacher at one Lancashire LA school has been a privilege and, like all posts of this kind, hard work. I have been fortunate to recruit many brilliant colleagues and promote an equal number into posts of influence helping carry the school ever forward meeting the challenges laid out before us.

The call to step in and support another Lancashire LA school was unexpected; I had not noticed that, in the passage of time, I had slipped into the company of the greybeards-hastened no doubt by the quickening pace of Headteacher turnover across all schools.

The planned 3 day a week contract (full time practically) was a notional estimate of time required for the new post with my team back at base organised and ready for the opportunity to open the windows, let in some air and prove that claims to outstanding capacity for leadership really were true.

I hope that I have made an impact at my new school. The new and very different experience has certainly broadened my outlook and given me scope to open and put to use the leadership toolkit acquired over time in previous senior roles. I had never worked in a school classed as “Inadequate” before and it was something of a shock to witness at first hand the psychological effect that such a grade has on the confidence of a staff. I wasn’t prepared for the deferential positions adopted by colleagues who clearly saw me as someone with the directions out of the ‘inadequate maze’. Reflecting on this experience I can now see that it is an instinctive human reaction; when confidence is at a low ebb the sure footedness leaders would want to see in colleagues is missing. Caution takes over and the sense of mistrust creeps in as individuals shut down in order to protect themselves. Such a scenario needs breaking with, in my book, open & straight talk something appreciated by all. Touching base with individuals on a human level has been a significant factor in regenerating things. In particular, this has made me appreciate, once again, the importance of leaders making colleagues feel good about themselves. It is possible to do this whilst maintaining the difficult conversations a leader has to have with colleagues and which are part & parcel of school improvement.

Anyone who has worked in a school which is ‘in a category’ will appreciate the pace life expected and it would be fair to say that this has been a characteristic of my leadership throughout my career. It may be an exaggeration but it has felt at times as if a whole year’s work is being squeezed into one term. Unsustainable? Yes-although it depends on who is shouldering the burden and if there is a willingness among colleagues to change. I have to say that my new colleagues have been fantastic in accepting the challenges laid before them with the natural focus being a transformation of Teaching & Learning; it was imperative that lesson-by-lesson experiences of the pupils would not only be positive but that they would report higher expectations in every way. With behaviour not being a particular problem it has been easy to focus on very obvious classroom tools familiar to all skilled classroom practitioners.

In a number of ways there has been a rekindling of focus on questioning, effective feedback, prompt lesson starts and ends, classroom climate, relationships & pupil attitudes. There is nothing that is unrecognisable in such basic toolkit skills in the organisation of effective learning. Staff who have shown a particular enthusiasm have developed and shared an interest in flipped learning and a necessary focus on work scrutiny has helped to develop the concept and use of DIRT (e.g. Alex Quigley at http://www.huntingenglish.com/2013/10/12/dirty-work/). What I didn’t appreciate in my and others’ enthusiasm for sharing these skills was that for many staff there was some confusion as to what was important. Should they be seriously planning questions (YES!) or building a resource bank of QR codes so that they could flip their classroom (NO!)? What then was essential and what was non-essential?

plPaddi Lund’s excellent ‘The Absolutely Critical Non-Essentials‘ (CNEs) was another guide to fall back on. Readers familiar with the Australian Dentist’s work will know that in Paddi’s business it is the the little things make all the difference. The actual quality of dentistry  had much less of an impact on customer satisfaction than he had thought. Paddi Lund discovered that he could do his dentistry in a variety of ways and most people wouldn’t really know what quality of care they’d had. And yet, Paddi’s customers maintained the perception that the quality of his dentistry was high, extremely high. Why was this?

Because the tea was served impeccably; because their names and their photographs were actually on the door of their personal lounges; because they were greeted by name by their own Care Nurse when they rang the doorbell; because these and a myriad of other little things were all done with great care and consideration like, the Dental Buns, the cappuccino machine, the fresh flowers, and the array of dried fruits and nuts.

Sir Clive Woodward made rich capital out of Lund’s ideas when transforming English Rugby in the late 90’s. Woodward applied the concept of CNEs to all aspects of the English game and the results of his endeavours are there to see.

blinkAmerican Psychologist Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘Blink‘ (I cannot recommend it highly enough) gives further insight into this idea. Essentially focussing on the value of ‘snap judgements’ and how these are usually more effective than cautious decision, Gladwell extends Lund’s ideas to doctors and their vulnerability to being sued over malpractice. Apparently their ability as a physician makes little difference. What is apparent is that “patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care AND something else happens to them.”

Gladwell continues “What is that something else? It’s how they were teated, on a personal level, by their doctor.” The book explains this in a more detail.

HSo, back to the pressing issue in school. What is important for your team of teachers when there is a united desire to move forwards and improve things? I’m sure some will disagree with the lists but what is important is the concept. What are the essentials, non-essentials and critical non-essentials when changing the culture of Teaching & Learning in a school?


Focussing, for a second, on the essentials, it is hard to move beyond this list of effective tools and factors which all teachers need to ensure that pupils are getting a good deal. The purpose of this blog is certainly not to knock, for example, Flipped Learning & Solo Taxonomy (non-essentials) for I have colleagues who use both extremely effectively as additional tools to drive motivation and achievement in their classrooms. I also work with teachers who have never used these (and never will) and yet are brilliant practitioners delivering consistently high quality learning experiences to children.

For the CNEs, I’m sure it would be possible to list more. I’ve deliberately not produced a longer list to encourage others to think about what they would include.

main thingDelivering this to my new colleagues should have helped remind them about the fundamentals of their work in the classroom. Sifting through this has helped maintain a focus on what is important.  In Covey’s words “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing…”

PMO April 2015