Organised cricket in the UK has been played since the 17th century, if not longer. These games were organised and played between parishes and villages. The game of cricket is accessible to anyone who wants to get involved, village cricket especially. Normally you will meet a mixed group of players from all age ranges. Ability isn’t usually a problem within village cricket, meaning you don’t need particular talent or high levels of ability to play. The endearing adjective ‘village’ is actually used as a descriptive word within the game when an example of this inability is shown.
Unfortunately in recent years there has been a mass decline in numbers within teams as less youth players are wanting to play or are unaware of the game and it’s set up. Statistics from 2016 showed that only 278,600 people in the UK regularly played cricket – this is nearly half of what it was 20 years prior. In a generation bought up with T20 cricket some may argue a long game day on a slow wicket isn’t popular anymore. Others have said that there is little marketing for 30-50 over cricket games whereas the high hitting and entertaining T20 games have evolved to a platform for the 21st century. Modern generations seem to have less time for just one event within the day.
The first recorded cricket match in Suffolk was between Stradbroke Cricket Club and Finningham in 1743 (although Stradbroke as officially formed in 1843). 275 years of cricket shows genuine passion and gives historic significance for the game. As someone who has played since their youth up through into the first team I have seen this change first hand. After playing with full teams of the same age from around 11-15 by the age of 16 and upward there was an obvious lack in numbers for the 1st teams on Saturday and Sunday. Since this time it seems to have got worse with the club struggling to get consistent numbers week in, week out. The worrying part of this is that reflectively Stradbroke CC have had pretty good numbers compared to a lot of the nearby clubs who have had to regularly concede games.
I spoke to Michael Hugman, long time chairman of Stradbroke Cricket Club. Mr Hugman regularly sends monthly club updates to the local village magazine. I asked him his thoughts on the steady decline of youth engagement for entry level cricket. He made the suggestion that there are three main issues; society, education and cricket itself.
“People work different hours nowadays, & while there may be an increase in leisure time, not everybody is free at weekends anymore. Young people have a more sedentary lifestyle. We continue to preach the health & wellbeing properties of playing a sport or exercising, but support for this must come from health professionals & education. They can also get all the fulfilment they crave without leaving the sofa. There is more emphasis on 20/20 cricket. A shorter format may appeal to kids & hopefully lapsed players who now have families. They may gravitate to the longer form if they enjoy it. We also live in an age of instant gratification. Even googling a question is instant, instead of looking through a book for the answer, so a cricket match is deemed to be ‘too long’ to keep people’s interest. By selling TV rights to the highest bidder (satellite companies), impressionable youngsters no longer have easy access to watch cricket ‘free to air’. This extra revenue has not filtered down to grass roots cricket.”
(Excerpt from Stradbroke Monthly, March 2018.)
I also spoke to Richard Pierce-Saunderson, captain of the first team in Stradbroke. He shared similar sentiments but also highlighted that more recently people have less time due to economical reasons so have to work more. Due to this a lot of possible players decide to spend their free time away from cricket. He too wrote a piece in 2013 relating to the issue which can be read here; http://tettig.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/how-ecb-sky-and-tories-are-destroying.html – Since this time he says the bureaucracy has only increased.
“Another thing that’s happened since 2013 is that smartphones have become ubiquitous, which means that many more young people are choosing to socialise via social media rather than in person, and this has led to a decline in participation in all sports. Adding to this the economic situation is even worse now, more people are spending six days a week working, many of them working shifts and/or more than one job just to make ends meet, and they just don’t have the appetite to play cricket; they want to spend what spare time they do have with their families, and who can blame them?”
Time will only tell if recent efforts locally and nationally will entice future generations into cricket. What’s certain is if strong local characters keep igniting the passion for the game then there will always be an interest or someone willing to help keep the numbers up. Traditional cricket may have to modernise it’s approach toward a technologically driven society in order to stay relevant but many hopeful and are engaging in ways to find the right balance for everybody.
Interview transcript on separate word document.