What are you actually trying to achieve as a club and how should your team objectives differ for each XI? Rich Evans investigates.
In the winter of 2015, six members of my local cricket club, myself included, attended several strategy meetings as we attempted to identify the top five challenges our club faced and map out a road to improvement. Here’s what we came up with:
- Strengthening the club’s relationship with its landlords – we don’t own our ground
- Broadening the management team of the club
- Player recruitment and retention – including strengthening the junior player pathway and finding quick solutions to reduce the average age of the teams by actively recruiting 18-30-year-olds
- Building financial strength – establishing ring-fenced and growing reserves to help us meet any unexpected challenges or opportunities
- Finding and managing the right overseas player/coach arrangement
Other notable mentions included maintaining facilities, instilling a better training culture within the club, forging a stronger sense of belonging for our members, and improving the selection policy and process. These were well-intentioned men devising logical plans, but objective two, expanding our volunteer pool, has, like many other clubs, been a constant struggle. The discussions also lent themselves to our club development plan, part of our bid to maintain our ECB Clubmark status.
Club cricket participation numbers dropped by 64,000 in a single year from 2013 to 2014, meaning growth, retention and junior player pathway became increasingly important. The ECB’s template club mission statement is naturally participation-based, establishing clear road maps for juniors, women and girls, disabled people and those from ethnic minorities, while encouraging clubs to become integral to their local community. If you wish to receive central funding, you must tick a lot of boxes. You don’t need to be perfect, but you must prove you’re trying to address areas of weakness.
Aim one of the ECB club mission template is ‘To harness and develop all young cricketers so they have the opportunity to contribute to the game of cricket at all levels and play a central role in club cricket life’. In the last decade, many clubs have made a thriving junior section central to their mission. Finchamstead CC’s mission statement is ‘To ensure that every boy and girl is introduced to the game and is given the opportunity to progress through a structured coaching and support programme’. They also identified the need to reach out and provide coaching to children in local schools.
When Michael Brown, president of Burnley CC, is asked what his club’s primary objectives are, he doesn’t need a moment to reflect. “There are three goals,” says the former Middlesex and Surrey batsman. “One, to ensure the performance of the first XI is of a sufficient standard to deliver a product to attract new players and new kids. Success is attractive for sponsors and supporters, and you get revenues from people coming to watch. Two, sufficiently investing in our junior section, through coaching and facilities, to grow the quantity of kids coming through our junior set-up. And three, running the business in a prudent manner yet not being afraid to invest in future growth.”
Brown’s chief objectives have all been addressed in recent years. Burnley CC recruited three top-level batsmen in the off-season to boost on-field success – players of the right age, character and pedigree to hopefully become club mainstays. They’ve also invested in a whole new net facility and increased their coaching budgets, with a Level 4 coach now overseeing training. The Lancashire club have also gone from £70,000 of balance sheet debt to a net cash position. They’ve also spent a large chunk of their UK Sport grant on improving the function room, which in turn generates revenue.
Burnley is a big club, but on-field success needn’t be the key driver for all clubs. During one strategy meeting at my club, the sub-committee proposed that the first XI was the shop window of the club and therefore should strive to reach as high a level as possible. This was met with resistance from our chairman, who insisted success should be a by-product of a well-run club and that a club shouldn’t set out to reach a certain level. He had known clubs who had paid mercenaries and reached for the stars only for feeble foundations to crumble into extinction. It was a sobering point.
“We want to get into the Premier League but why do we really need to?” says the chairman at my local club. “We don’t have a divine right. Why is being in Division One a disaster? People are still enjoying their cricket; why make success and promotion the be-all and end-all? Laying the foundations is so important. You can have a target of trying to reach the Premier League in two or three years, but that doesn’t drive everything – that should be the outcome of doing everything else correctly. You shouldn’t buy or hurry success. If you try to force your way in with weak foundations you’ll crumble. You’re not just managing a first team.”
This club stalwart is no fan of short termism. “There was a team who were on par with us three years ago,” he recalls. “We both got promoted to the Championship. Rumour has it, they paid lots of players [legal in the Championship] and got promoted to the Premier League. We got relegated. But this year they’re bottom of the table and have lost all their games. They’ve lost a lot of players. Their second team have also got relegated and their third XI conceded many games. They tried to hurry success but can only compete by paying players. When the benefactor leaves, what do you do? It creates a downward spiral. All the second XI go into the first XI and every team in your club gets weaker. Two clubs in our league asked to be relegated; one of them wanted to be relegated four divisions. In two or three years you can lose the soul of the club trying to chase a dream.”
He acknowledges these points will induce accusations of negativity and of lacking ambition, but they outline the potential perils of fabricated growth.
It’s vital to have a club mission statement but it’s not viable for each tier of the club pyramid to embrace the same values. So how do objectives differ for each team at Burnley CC? “In percentage terms, the first team is 85-90 per cent about winning and 10-15 per cent about trying to offer a pathway for young players, assuming they’re good enough,” Brown affirms. “The second team is more weighted 50/50. It’s about bringing young players through and giving them more experience in senior cricket, but you want them in a competitive team with senior heads. If the second team wins the league, it’s an added bonus, but it needs to be coinciding with bringing through junior players.”
And how about the lower echelons? “The third team is mostly about development as opposed to success. It’s the reverse of the first team: it’s 90 per cent about developing players and 10 per cent about winning. It’s about making sure you have the right mix of players: a few senior players to set the standards but giving younger players an opportunity to bat and bowl in a longer game – for some of them, it’s their first opportunity to play in a 40/45/50-over game.”
It’s paramount for any club to know what it’s trying to achieve and how it plans to get there, especially those aspiring to reach or maintain Clubmark status. It’s good to aim high, but only if you have the foundations in place to level up. A thriving youth section will help to both future-proof your club and safeguard club cricket at large, and while each team may have a different set of aims and values, they must all feed into the overall club mission.
Brown stresses the importance of marrying cricketing ability with business acumen, and would like Burnley CC to be considered “a well-run club with good knowledge in both cricket and business, with a desire to give opportunity and higher quality facilities to all its members and future members”. Is it about time your cricket club reconsidered its objectives?