‘One year to create a history’: Greater Manchester Cricket League set for ‘new dawn’

Cricket in Greater Manchester is on the verge of perhaps the biggest transformation in the county’s history.

The creation of a Greater Manchester Cricket League (GMCL) has been a long, arduous process, but on Saturday April 16 play will get underway, with 53 clubs spread across four divisions, with further regional divisions below and promotion and relegation throughout.

The new league has drawn clubs from several leagues across Greater Manchester and Lancashire, which have previously all viewed themselves as the elite division in the region.

At the helm of the change has been Martin Kay, who is serving as Chairman for the GMCL, after previously holding the position for the league’s steering group and the North Manchester Cricket League.

And Kay told MM that it was crucial for cricket in the area to become more integrated to stop the rot of clubs closing in the area.

“We’re dying, we’re losing clubs not gaining them,” he told MM.

“This league is very much about creating support structures for our cricket and raising standards.

“Everybody was looking to change, everybody was looking to expand, but the leagues wanted to expand individually. Myself and some other chairmen saw that as harmful, so we put our heads together.

“We had opposition from the leagues, but the clubs have voted with their feet.

“A lot of people wanted change, but didn’t know what change was going to look like. But over time they’ve understood the philosophy we’re trying to create.”

That philosophy may sound like a simple one, but it is a step towards fixing a sport that has seen participation drop in recent years, despite sustained success by the national team.

It follows a basic premise – how can we get as many people playing cricket in the area as possible?

And to manage that, Kay believes it is vital to acknowledge that times have changed.

“We live in the 21st Century now not the 1940s, kids operate in a different way,” he said.

“We’re about giving people an opportunity.

“We’re convinced that there are kids out there that haven’t been given the opportunity to play at that elite level, or could be developing late, and we feel that we’ll uncover some of that through the work that we’re doing.

“The league cricket that we were providing 12 months ago wasn’t the best for modern participation, and I think we’ve proved that by increasing the number of adult teams and increasing the number of youngsters that we’ve taken in and embracing a different manner.

“The tradition will never go away, the people, the clubs and the leagues will be there in history forever.

“I think tradition is important, it’s about learning from the past, but we’re also looking at a new dawn and a different era.”

So far the new era has seen an increase in the number of clubs in the area, the number of youngsters ready to kick off the season with youth teams and seen greater participation with schools.

The next step will be for the top division in the league to be awarded Premier League status.

In 1997 the ECB introduced the leagues to bridge the gap between the club game and First Class cricket.

But despite Premier Leagues in Liverpool, Cheshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester have remained unrepresented.

“Creating that elite Premier League protects our young people,” he said.

“They don’t have to go to Cheshire, Yorkshire or Liverpool to play the highest level of cricket possible – they can get that within the boundaries of Greater Manchester.

“We have to prove that we’re capable of delivering what we’ve said we will next year, but the aim is to be a Premier League next year.

“We’ve already had the ECB people up to the North of England, they know exactly what we want.

“The only thing we haven’t got is the history, so we’ve got 12 months to get that history, to show what we can do.”

But although the long term vision remains the most crucial role of the GMCL, the short term goal is purely to see people playing cricket under its jurisdiction.

And Saturday will signal the point when all the hard works finally pays off for Kay.

“It’s just pure excitement now,” he said.

“Let’s get it on and enjoy it, because that’s what it’s all about.” 

Image courtesy of Geograph, with thanks

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