I wrote an article not so long ago about Glasshouses Cricket Club and their very real struggles to stay afloat for another season. One of the comments came from George Owram, joint chair at Harrogate Cricket Club, who shared his thoughts on loaning out juniors to Glasshouses, Pateley Bridge and others.
It got the grey cells firing on a number of fronts, not least how bigger clubs map out their future ambitions while also collaborating with others in the local area.
I’d also spotted on Twitter that Harrogate Cricket Club had held a series of Vision Evenings to lay out plans for the next 3-5 years of their journey.
Thanks to George and the club’s other joint chair Stephen Clark, I’ve now seen that and they’ve kindly contributed to an in-depth look at what’s in the immediate future for the club, as well as longer-term plans.
1st XI squad signings
Harrogate men’s 1st XI play in the 12-team Yorkshire Premier League North with the likes of Castleford, Scarborough and York.
They finished eighth last year in the top tier that was won by Driffield Town and have freshened up their squad this time around with some new signings.
According to George and Stephen, Harrogate aim to run a combined squad for the first and second eleven to “promote healthy competition for places but also a collegiate environment between the two teams.”
Left-arm pace bowler Craig Broadley joins from Masham where he impressed in Division One of the Nidderdale Cricket League (47 wickets and 444 runs in 2022).
David Stiff, a Bradford League stalwart for Hanging Heaton, has moved to Harrogate with his family and re-joins the club that he represented in the late-2000s.
He will bring county experience; you can expect rockets delivered from the heavens and late-order sixes biffed onto The Stray.
Seam bowler and lower-order batter Matthew Stewart adds more Premier League nous, this time from another county. He joins from Neston Cricket Club who are in the Cheshire County Cricket League.
Ben Carr has moved to Leeds from Nottinghamshire and also has experience of Premier League cricket; a clear strategy to win those key moments in tight games:
“We’ve managed to sign some experienced cricketers to add to our pool of talented junior cricketers. Our squad has been very young for a number of years now. This has been driven partly by our desire to promote as many junior players as possible but hopefully this season we have a little bit more experience to get us home in some of the closer games we lost last season.”
Mat Pillans, the former Yorkshire and Surrey fast bowler, is back with Harrogate for a second year as player/coach. Tuesday nights see him working with the third and fourth team players, as well as juniors, while training and running sessions on Thursdays with the firsts and seconds.
Meanwhile. Harrogate’s overseas player Ishan Abeysekara also returns for 2023, after a strong season with the ball in the Yorkshire Premier League North.
With the enforced exception of Covid, it’ll be his fourth season in a row – consistency that pays dividends in lots of obvious and nuanced ways. A different pro every year has a crackle of excitement but whatever their CV, will they bed into a squad? Perform? Get to know the kids they’re expected to coach?
Harrogate don’t seem to have that lingering question mark: “Ishan is a lovely and generous man and someone who has achieved a lot for the club over his three seasons. He helps with senior and junior training. He loves playing cricket and has an enthusiasm which is infectious.”
Harrogate are also very clear, including in those Vision Evenings I referred to earlier, about their approach to paying cricketers and where an overseas player sits in that philosophy.
“Our clear aim is to only pay an overseas player and an English player/coach and then build the remainder of the time from our junior section and from other people who live in and around the Harrogate area.”
Yorkshire league pyramid – success?
As one of North Yorkshire’s biggest cricket clubs, I’m curious to find out what they think of the great Yorkshire pyramid. Arguably, the most impressive cross-county collaboration since the dawn of time – but certainly not without its critics.
Playing devil’s advocate, it would seem to suit the largest or highest-profile clubs who will naturally attract the top talent, allied with better facilities, sometimes at the detriment of other sides in the surrounding areas.
Has it been successful? There’s now a clear pathway up but are there any downsides, perhaps further down?
George and Stephen were unequivocal: “We are a massive fan of the pyramid. We think the pathway is a good idea and lower down the divisions the league have worked really hard to regionalise to ensure the lower teams don’t have to travel really long distances.”
Harrogate 1st XI were in the old Yorkshire League which had some whopping away games – the 212-mile round-trip between Sheffield Collegiate and Scarborough was a clear candidate.
Harrogate’s take is: “The old Yorkshire League was weaker for not having relegation and so the pyramid structure was a great move. We are lucky to have such a well-run league. The Yorkshire Premier League North and York Senior League have a really good management team who are often proactive in making decisions and proposing new ideas.”
Now, to tackle a thorny subject…
The vacuum effect
Something I hear quite a bit about bigger clubs is that they pick up local talent from others and then don’t necessarily have enough spots in their teams.
So, how do they strike that balance between developing the talent pool they need with being supportive / collaborative in the local area?
As joint-Chairs, George and Stephen told me: “We do not want to just hoover up players from every club in the local area. We very much want other clubs in the local area to thrive. We want to home-grow players through our own junior section from Under 7s through to adult cricket where possible.”
Part of Harrogate’s mission, if you like, is to attract talented cricketers locally who want to play at a higher standard in the Premier Division or Championship West of the Yorkshire Premier League North.
“We would never sign someone from another club and then not have a spot for them in a team. We try and be open and honest with every player about where they would play and what role they would undertake.”
As part of this juggling act, they recognise that supporting other clubs, where possible, is part of the symbiotic relationship.
Instead of launching a Saturday fifth team, Harrogate have linked up with Nidderdale Cricket League clubs who need extra players. This season, the goal is to send out loanees to Pateley Seconds, Goldsborough Seconds and possibly Glasshouses (pictured above).
Women’s and girls’ cricket
Women’s and girls’ cricket is on the rise across Yorkshire and Harrogate has been at the forefront of that. Well ahead of the momentum actually.
“This season, we have three (possibly four) girls teams across three different age groups spanning under 9s to under 15s. The aim being to grow them through to adult cricket and enter a team in a full adult women’s league.”
There are star names on the coaching team to add extra incentive for new members:
“In terms of coaching, we did have Phoebe Graham prior to her moving to Lancashire but we are now lucky to have Rachel Slater. We think it has been really important to have a female role model for our girls and both Phoebe and Rachel have been fantastic coaches and role models.”
It did surprise me that Harrogate didn’t have a women’s cricket team but they certainly host enough fixtures and there’s now momentum to plug that gap.
Harrogate will compete in Division 1 of the East Yorkshire Women and Girls Cricket League with the likes of Goole Town, Driffield Town, Yapham and Sessay.
One problem for cricket clubs of a certain size is finding enough cricket grounds to cater for all of their teams, allied with giving over their HQ to the local community too.
It circles back around to the need to work together with other cricket clubs. Harrogate are in need of an extra ground because they already host Yorkshire girls, Yorkshire ladies, plus their own juniors, seniors, boys and girls teams and, phew, schools looking to get a game at St George’s Road.
Goldsborough Cricket Club have allowed Harrogate to use their beautiful ground one day a week in the past. (If you get a chance of afternoon tea at Goldsborough Hall or a meal at The Bay Horse Inn then grab it, both are superb).
Other collaborations have been with Pateley Bridge Cricket Club as well as Asheville School which has worked but signals its own challenges with Harrogate’s site only having two pitches, either side of their impressive clubhouse.
Sense of identity
I’ve always played at small clubs, generally 2-3 teams, and you felt you knew most people and it had a communal, cross-generational feel.
At cricket clubs with dozens of teams, it must be hard to replicate that so what defines Harrogate CC? How do they create that sense of belonging in a larger club?
“We often talk about a one-club mentality. We have tried really hard to create an environment where the players in the first team talk and socialise with the players in the fourth team.”
That struck me as important because naturally you get to know your own team and depending on the timings of other games, you might not see other squads unless you make the effort.
“All of the senior teams meet back at the club at the end of each Saturday. The ones and twos teams often finish before the threes and fours and are encouraged to go and cheer on the cricket that is taking place on the second pitch.”
Harrogate are in the process of a mentoring programme where a junior player links up with a senior cricketer. There is also a drive to get more experienced seniors to get their coaching qualifications and help out with juniors’ training.
There is even a social committee blending seniors, parents of juniors and non-playing members whose role is how different members can be brought together.
Part of that is volunteering, not easy whatever the size of club but something with both practical and communal benefits:
“We have tried to create an environment where every member volunteers for the club. We have hosted a series of grounds maintenance days where all sections of the club are invited to come down and help with the repair of different parts of the ground and then socialise together afterwards.”
Blending ages is something that cricket tends to do very well. Families have been going to club cricket for generations. At Harrogate, they’ve identified walking cricket as a means to offer something different and there’s a club that meets once a week during the season.
That introduces a new audience to Harrogate Cricket Club – walking cricketers are now attending match days on Saturdays and getting to know younger players and supporters.
So, there you go.
A lot happening at Harrogate in any given week of the year. I notice their crowdfunding efforts are going extremely well – at the time of writing, they were over 60% towards a £30,000 target for a four-bay all-weather nets facility. For any club going this route, the quality of the rewards, along with consistent promotion across the month, are vital.
Their three-year masterplan (2023-2025) is ambitious and very exciting for cricket in North Yorkshire. Beyond that, there’s a longer-term strategic aim to build an indoor cricket school and Harrogate’s 150-year anniversary in 2027.
Photo credit: Caught Light Photography – https://www.caughtlight.com – Thanks to Mark for use of his stellar images of Ishan Abeysekara, a boundary being launched in the evening sunlight and the drone shot of the parched St George’s Road square.
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