Wednesday, 20 March 2013


The upcoming season will be NSSCL’s fourth as an ‘open league’ for player payments, the fourth since the league’s management gave up the ghost / bravely faced up to the way the wind was blowing / abrogated its duties (delete as you see fit). I felt – and indeed wrote – at the time that the move might slowly corrode clubs’ identities by provoking increased player traffic (perhaps for the simple status of being paid) and diverting hard-earned revenues away from facilities, equipment and the basic administrative costs of running a club. Time will tell how it all pans out – I only played one year under the system – but in particular I felt that it could have a negative, destabilising effect on young cricketers, whose egos would no doubt be regularly massaged by rival captains seeking to strengthen yet unable to afford the going rate for proven players.

Of course, it was already becoming harder and harder to recruit top overseas talent: the encroachment of international cricket schedules on the English summer, then the T20 boom, meant that players from certain countries were less and less available, while fears surrounding international terrorism led to more stringent border controls and thus made visas harder to come by. So, clubs were already looking for local talent where once they’d shopped abroad.

On the face of it, this was a shame, since pitting your wits against international players is without question one of the treasures of club cricket. Then again, Moddershall’s ‘glory years’ – starting with three championships in four seasons – were ignited by a man who lived but three or four miles away, just about close enough to steer a van full of pottery clanking and clinking and chinking down Stallington Lane after a night of post-victory lubrication. That team – which did a lot of drinking together – featured such exceptional (cricketing) talents as Jon Addison, Iain Carr, Andy Hawkins and John Myatt, as well as several others more than capable of making the decisive contribution to the game. However, the wave of success finally crashed against the rocks in 2009, since which time it’s fair to say the club’s on-field stock has fallen a little with the 1st XI suffering one relegation and two near-misses without the playing strength of yore. The on-field struggles were mirrored beyond the boundary, where an air of neglect or shabbiness hung over the old pavilion.  

Nevertheless, as one era was breathing its last, the resolve, the will and the energies of folk at Moddershall who wished to revive the ailing patient and rebuild (literally) the club was already kicking in – new plans, new duties, new facilities, new fittings, new blood, new hope. People such as Jim Elton, Andy Housley, Andy Hawkins, Tricia Williams, Paul Bagnall and many others – people who, if sliced in half (heaven forbid!), would have CARPE DIEM running through them like sticks of Blackpool rock – have undertaken the many tasks, large and small, that slowly but surely shall see Barnfields – beautiful, glorious Barnfields – again become a stronghold of local cricket.

At the heart of that revival will be the plentiful young talent emerging through the club’s academy. Although my circumstances have taken me elsewhere, it was immensely heart-warming to drop in to Little Stoke en route from London to Nottingham last September to see Moddershall Under-17s pick up the final part of a treble in a season in which they swept all before them. A truly special achievement and, as a stick of Modd rock myself, one that I hope augurs well. All of which brings me back to where I started…

Had a team such as last year’s U17s emerged twenty years ago it would be almost guaranteed that they would stick together. And, provided they continued to improve as players, provided they became streetwise as competitors, it would be almost certain that they would go on to success together as seniors. No longer. 

Modd U17s: treble winners

As I say, the cash inducements of an open league bring destabilising effects – on young minds, on clubs’ planning. Bathing in sweet nothings all winter, it is easy to see how some youngsters might get an inflated sense of their ability (as opposed to potential), with themselves likely the biggest loser in it all. This is a simplification, of course: it isn’t always about status; in cash-strapped times, it may genuinely be about hard economic realities. Still, it’s easy to see how a club’s carefully cultivated fruits might be cherry-picked by a couple of Charles Darwins and an Adam Smith, after which there’s a revolving door, a dust cloud, and another search for players. In effect, the situation would be a mini-replica of player power in football.

However, there may be a lesson for Moddershall’s immediate future in the previous ‘golden era’. The nucleus of that team stuck together for twelve, fifteen years. We were mates – mates who squabbled and bickered at times, true, but mates. Without cricket, some of us may have had little in common, little to bind us, yet we looked forward to each other’s company, to practice nights as much as matches, to playing and, hopefully, celebrating together (the drinks then were not isotonic, nor even gin and tonic, but good old Jim’s Carling, otherwise known as “a pint of gloat”). It all mattered deeply to us and as a consequence victory was so much the richer. And at the heart of all that, I think, there was a subtle distinction in attitude: wanting to play a game of cricket on a Saturday, versus wanting to play cricket for Moddershall on a Saturday. (As I see the tots learning the joys and mysteries of cricket in their subsidised club kit, I feel happy that there are yet more sticks of rock being made.)

But that was then. To this emerging generation – cricketers who’ve already had some noteworthy successes in senior cricket (and whose relative failures are all assets in the bank) – I have a simple message: the grass is not always greener. In fact, it is unlikely that the grass, in a cricketing sense, will ever be as green as on that hilltop looking out over Shropshire, a view without equal in the whole of Staffordshire cricket.

From what I’ve seen and heard, this U17s group has the raw ability to build a great new era at Moddershall, a dynasty; they have the potential to propel the club on the same journey we made in the mid-nineties: from the lower reaches of the second tier to the top of the local pyramid. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come along all that often (for some, never): the chance to savour victory with people you’ve struggled alongside not just for twenty-two matches, but for ten years. These will be some of the sweetest moments of your lives. Rolling from team to team for a couple of grubby banknotes and some well-practised flattery will be empty by comparison.

As the club dusts itself down, as new energy and new air breeze through old bricks and mortar, I’m reminded that everything has to adapt and change. That is life; that is nature. Moddershall CC is no different, a lesson that has been learned the hard way. Yet the principles of what makes team sport so rewarding – the camaraderie, the fighting for a common cause, mucking in – will endure, eternal as the Wrekin.

I hope very much that this generation can bring some magic back to this magical corner of the world and eventually become a legendary team. Irrespective of results, though, cricket – for all abilities – will continue at Barnfields. Or should. Recent history underlines that a club is only ever as strong as its members’ devoted efforts – a truth that’s physically embodied every time you see Jim get up to fetch you a strawberry whip or Tricia come bundling through the clubhouse clutching her papers – and a healthy club will only increase the chances of success on the pitch.

So, to finish by butchering a famous quote of JFK’s: ask not what your club can do for you, but what you can do for your club. With such an attitude, the greatest beneficiary will be your own cricket.

This was my first column for 'Barnfields Buzz', the Moddershall CC monthly newsletter. I had a fair bit to say this time but will try to keep it snappy hereafter. And for the pedants: yes, one of those three championships was Section B.

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