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Richard Wilkinson’s dad was one of these that wore every single hat from secretary to chairman; Richard would follow him as he played all weekend and midweek. The Wilkinsons are a cricketing family; one of many in Yorkshire with grandfather, father and son all heavily into the game.
A young Wilkinson would hover expectedly in the hope that there was a last-minute withdrawal, ready to don the whites. After persistent badgering (his words), he played his first game, aged eight, and went on to play senior cricket for Barnsley, aged just 15 in the ECB Yorkshire League.
At that time, Barnsley was a hotbed of cricketing talent. Richard reels off the calibre of those who represented Barnsley in schools cricket with the South Yorkshire side boasting three international players and four county players.
Progress ensured a place in the Yorkshire schools XI who also included Ryan Sidebottom, Gareth Batty and six or seven others who went on to play first-class cricket.
For Richard, the Yorkshire Academy beckoned under the tutelage of Ryan’s dad, Arnie Sidebottom who coached the side which was based out of Bradford’s Park Avenue ground.
Meanwhile, a scholarship to Worksop College in Nottinghamshire helped steady a rocky education but perhaps, he acknowledges, at the expense of his cricket which at the time was on the up. Juggling half a season of college cricket with trips to represent Yorkshire Academy took Wilkinson’s game backwards.
Post-college, Richard’s game picked up and he was offered a junior pro contract with Yorkshire County Cricket Club. He transformed from a batter who bowled a bit of spin to one where his spin bowling came to the fore but competition was fierce for finger twirlers.
Yorkshire had an enviable seam attack – which dominated the bowling – of Darren Gough, Matthew Hoggard, Silverwood, Alex Wharf, Gavin Hamilton, Paul Hutchison and Craig White.
For Wilkinson, competition for places as the Yorkshire spinner meant getting in front of the likes of Stemp, Fisher, Middlebrook, Batty and Dawson. He recalls duty as twelfth man at one game:
“I remember Goughie just whispering in my ear, saying “I’m not sure there’s a future for a spinner at this Club!”
If playing for Yorkshire was limited to just the one first-class game against Cambridge University in 1988, his coaching has launched an alternative career as he captained and coached the Yorkshire Academy for a number of years.
Still time for playing, mind. At the weekend, nowadays he turns out for Hoylandswaine in the Drakes Huddersfield League and bagged a hat trick this season against Holmfirth with a season haul of nineteen Premiership wickets at 13.21, at the time of writing.
Work too is cricket-related as he is bedding into a new role with the Yorkshire Cricket Board (YCB) as Cricket Development Manager for North Yorkshire & Teeside which broadly involves working alongside the 215 affiliated Clubs in the county (of N Yorkshire).
How the YCB can help each Club will clearly be on an individual basis; whether facilities, grounds, fundraising, coaching education or volunteer recruitment to name a few.
It is a fact across cricket clubs in every county that a very small number of volunteers manage the activities and affairs of a huge amount of people playing cricket across England and Wales.
Therefore, it’s not surprising to hear Richard talk sensibly about the need to help cricket clubs of all sizes lay foundations to enable them to be run effectively for the long-term:
“One thing from our perspective is to try and create sustainability within the Club. The biggest challenge you’re going to get with any cricket club is that you get one person that wears many hats. What happens if that person goes?”
As Richard outlines, a cricket club has to think like a business in some of its dealings and there is support to tap into like Sport Leaders and Sport England who do workshop sessions regarding accounting and marketing to help their operations.
Outside of the club environment, coaching delivery in primary and secondary schools, player recruitment and leading into clubs hence the importance and success of schemes like Chance to Shine. Editor’s note – you can read a feature on this here.
As for North Yorkshire region specifically, there are pockets of rural areas, sometimes quite remote and many stand-alone clubs with only the one or two teams.
With some small populations to service those clubs, there are challenges to tackle different to say inner-city cricket in somewhere like Middlesborough.
If variety is the spice of life then Richard must like a curry (I didn’t ask him…) as North Yorkshire has both ends of the scale from small cricket sides just ticking along to massive large-scale, successfully-run clubs like York which he picks out as a model of good practice:
“We’ve got some high-performing clubs like York, National Champions; prolific in the Yorkshire League, really well structured and well organised.”
But there is no one-size-fits-all so taking the York model and trying to encourage volunteers at a club in a rural North Yorkshire village club to do the same is just not going to work.
We wrap up with a look to the future and what would in a few years be a success in terms of cricket in North Yorkshire? One word rings out: retention.
With funding pressure on cricket from Sport England, the numbers really do matter. It’s not about bean counting or stark stats but there is some degree of needing to justify funding.
Consequently, ensuring the region is maintaining its numbers of people playing cricket, at whatever standard, and hopefully boosting that number remains paramount.
As does ensuring clubs have the tools to continue and prosper long into the future.
On which note, good luck to Richard in his role and if you’re in North Yorkshire or Teeside and have any cricket or club query relating to playing, coaching or running a Club, you can reach him via [email protected].
TO LISTEN TO THE AUDIO:
*If you would like to listen to the audio interview where Richard outlines his own club career and early promise with Yorkshire plus consideration of the issues affecting grassroots cricket, particularly in North Yorkshire, then just click the orange arrow button below: