To the Present...
Old County Ground 1996.
The second in a series of three articles written by the President of Brentwood Cricket Club, Malcolm Webb and published in the 2011 Lashings World XI Match Day Programme. The first and third instalments, “In the Beginning…” and “And so to the Future....” can also be found on the website
Brentwood Cricket Club - 1881-2011.
To the Present...
Brentwood Cricket Club were founder members of the principal Essex League, currently sponsored by Shepherd Neame, in 1972. It’s fair to say that until the Millennium our performances in that League were indifferent. We were mostly under-achievers, given our facilities and our position of prominence in the town. Sure, we had a few quality players from time to time – notably Nick Knight – but by and large we were also-rans.
Much of our membership was itinerant: people would move to the town because of their work and naturally want to join the best club in the area, play for a few years and then move on again with their job. It made it hard for the Club as a whole to put down deep roots. We did our best: we set up a Colts Section in the 1970s which has been probably THE success story of our entire 130 year history to date; through the County Ground Club and with the assistance of our brewers, Greene King, we built a new pavilion complex shortly after our Centenary, and we had the square completely re-laid over a three-year period 1993-96. But we still lost far more games than we won. (Far more than most of the other teams in the League, actually).
We had our moments. The 1st Xl finished third in Division 1 in 1975 and 1990. The 2nd Xl won their Division 1 in 1976 and finished third in 1980 and 1991, and the 3rd Xl won their Division 1 in 1990 and were third the following year, but this was not much return for a Club of our size. We were at best a sleeping giant, and by 1997 our 1st Xl was back in Division 2.
Matters started to improve gradually. In 1997 we started a 4th Xl for the first time, playing in the Morrant 3rd Xl League under the captaincy and tutelage of Ken Hobbs whose name will always be synonymous with our the achievements of our colts. In 1997 too the 1st Xl bounced back into Division 1 as runners-up which, whilst a relatively modest achievement in the greater scheme of things, did in fact set a ball rolling that has not stopped to the present day: it meant that we collected a pennant at the League’s annual Awards Dinner – and we have collected at least one pennant or cup every year since! Indeed, since the League was restructured and Premier Divisions and 4th Xl Divisions added in 1998 there has only been one year in which none of our sides has actually won its Division! (That year was 2001).
In 1998 our 4th Xl were elected to the newly-formed 4th-team Division of the Essex League and by 2000 we were flirting with the idea of a 5th Xl and had started a ladies’ side. Things were definitely on the way up – or so we thought.
Then in 2001 it all imploded at the top end of the Club. Our 1st and 2nd Xls were both relegated to their respective Division 2. Senior playing membership was not great and availability even worse. We could – and continued – to attract any number of colts, but somehow the conveyor belt seemed to stall before these lads reached 1st or 2nd Xl standard. Something was “not quite right” in the Club.
After a winter of soul-searching, we came up with far-reaching and radical plans to re-structure the Club, principally in the way it was run, with the mantra of getting things right off the field with a view to getting them right on it. We realised that so-called ‘recreational cricket’ was in fact becoming anything but. Professional (or semi-professional) players, whether ‘overseas’ or home-grown, were to be found in most clubs. Many clubs (not us, sadly) had lucrative sponsorship deals or wealthy benefactors connected with them. It was becoming a seriously expensive exercise, running a cricket club. And then there were the legislative issues to attend to. Not just the increasingly onerous requirements of the League but matters such as health and safety, child protection, and countless other issues that meant that the good old days of the Hon. Secretary devoting a couple of hours now and then after a hard day’s slog in the City were of necessity a thing of the past.
So we set up a series of sub-committees to deal specifically with cricket matters, marketing and social issues, our colts, and the house and ground. And we appointed a Club Administrator. All these sub-committees worked incredibly hard and single-mindedly. We knew it wouldn’t change things overnight, but we set ourselves a ‘five-year plan’, by the end of which we expected our 1st Xl – the side by which the Club is measured – to be in the Premier Division.
It is fair to say that there were a few sceptics amongst the membership, and the committee knew that a few feathers were likely to be ruffled. On the cricket side, we adopted the attitude that if you wanted to be a playing member, you played. The cancer of ‘cry-offs’ was removed – along with a few senior players from the top end of the Club who didn’t seem to share that mantra. Paul Webb arranged a full programme of lucrative social events and gradually persuaded a number of local businesses to support us to the extent that whilst ten years ago “social income” was no more than about £1,000, in 2005 it was almost £20,000. The Colts Section continued to thrive under its dedicated committee to the point where we now have 100 junior members and run a week-long Coaching Clinic in the Whitsun half-term. And through the efforts of the house and ground committee we improved our facilities by laying a grass square on the ‘back pitch’, purchasing new sightscreens for that pitch, and acquiring an electronic scorebox for the main ground. In short, the Club was much better organised and operated. It was better disciplined and far more professional (note the small ‘p’) in its approach.
And the outcome? Our sides started to win their Divisions. We experienced a regular sequence of promotions to the point where our 3rd and 4th Xls were not only in their respective Premierships, but were winning them. The 2nd Xl reached their Premier Division. The 5th Xl, who had been competing in the 4th Xl League since 2001, were joined by a 6th Xl in 2003 – making us the first club to enter six sides in the League. And the final icing on the cake: the 1st Xl were promoted to their Premier Division for the first time at the end of 2005. One year earlier than our original ‘five-year plan’ had budgeted, and, with the sublime timing that our batsmen have displayed in that top division, coinciding with – our 125th Anniversary.
So having achieved that particular goal we needed a new ‘five-year plan’, a new aim to target and a new focus. Having won promotion the new aim was clear – the 1st XI should win the Premier League and the other XIs should establish themselves as forces in their leagues. Things had already started to change for us, players stayed with us, others wanted to join us and all wanted to play for us and be a part of what we were becoming, not because we offered them fortunes, far from it, we have very strict policies where remuneration is concerned. No, players wanted to join us because of the club that we had become and the success and the atmosphere that we had created both on and off the field. Pretty quickly the 1st XI established themselves as very much a part of the Premier League and a club that was expected to not only be there but also to do well. A couple of back-to-back 4th place finishes suggested we were there or there abouts. A relatively disappointing 8th place finish in 2008 suggested otherwise and the prized title continued to elude us.
In 2009 however everything went right. We had built the team and the club that was now in a position to seriously challenge for the title. And how?! We swept everyone before us, winning 13 or our 18 league games and finishing a massive 62 points clear of our nearest rivals who, mathematically, finished closer to relegation than they did to us. We won the league with games to spare and had finally achieved our goal, once again, and with startling symmetry, one year earlier than our ‘five-year plan’ had budgeted.
With the other XIs also enjoying a strong 2009 season and our colts beginning to really demonstrate the fruits of the hard labour that had gone into building that part of the club we couldn’t have wished for more…or so you’d think. We looked around us and decided that we weren’t satisfied with one Premier League win and the success of one side. Our next aim was to not only retain our title but also to emulate that success lower down the club in 2010 and in years to come. How far we’d come in less than a decade that the achievements of the previous season weren’t enough for us.
So to 2010 and a season of the highest expectations. Once again the 1st XI were the success story, once again they won 13 of their 18 league games and once again they achieved our aim. Whilst the winning margin was closer than it had been in 2009 we still won with games in hand and finished 37 points clear of second place. But our aim was not only to reproduce that success but also to replicate it in our other XIs. It was satisfying then that the 4th XI secured promotion on the last day of the season to share some of the limelight. Add to that the outstanding achievements of the colts and the many awards that we won off the field and 2010 must surely be one of the most successful years in the clubs long and distinguished history.