By Stephen Chalke
(taken with permission from County Cricket Matters : March 2023 Vol 14.)
It’s November. The nights are fast drawing in; the next cricket season is a long way off. What better way is there for die hard cricket-lovers to bring back the sunshine than to meet up with friends and enjoy good cricket talk?
Up and down the country, through November alone, there were maybe 2000 of us sitting in cricket society meetings. Listening to Graham Gooch in Leicester or Ashley Giles in Cheltenham, Devon Malcolm in Sheffield or Fred Rumsey in Hereford, Paul Farbrace in Hull, Ed Smith in Bath or Bill Athey in Hove.
Twelve of these groups gathering once or twice a month, hold their meetings at county grounds: Bristol, Cardiff, Chelmsford, Chester-le-Street, Edgbaston, Headingley, Hove, Leicester, Old Trafford, Trent Bridge and Worcester. There are also groups in Barnsley, Bath, Cheltenham, Chesterfield, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hereford, High Peak, Hull, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Romsey, Sheffield, Southport, West Norfolk and one in Dorset that meets every Thursday afternoon at a sports centre near Bournemouth Airport.
When I first went to Dorset in 2005, they were in a little upstairs office with sixteen chairs. There were seventeen of us and when I got up to speak, the man standing slipped into my chair. Now they are in the main hall downstairs, attracting an audience of 50. They are mostly older folk, hence the afternoon slot; many of them are renewing friendships formed on the fields of their playing days.
It helps to have big names, but sometimes the lesser known can be enthralling. At Bath we had Kirk Russell, a physiotherapist, who threw a fascinating spotlight on his time with England. He was pitched in at the deep end with an Ashes Tour of Australia, where he discovered that four of the squad – including two key bowlers – could not complete a lap of the boundary.
The big names do draw a larger audience, as was brutally pointed out to me, when as a little-known author, I first spoke in Chelmsford. A committee-man greeted me and, as we walked to the bar, I asked him how many they were expecting. “About fifty” he said and, without thinking, continued, “We used to get a lot more. And the trouble is, once the numbers go down, you can’t afford good speakers!” …
The full article can be read in this month’s copy of County Cricket Matters ; March 2023
Annie Chave who spoke at Hove recently is the Editor : if you wish to subscribe or order this or other editions : visit the shop at countycricketmatters.com