You’ve got to hand it to the waitress who keeps sauntering up to take our order but the menus have stayed closed.
Since the moment we sat down in this bustling cafe that’s my local default for interviews, we’ve just dived into talking cricket.
The cooked breakfast will have to wait.
Steve Archer is the Yorkshire Cricket Board’s Head of Region for West Yorkshire which is a job title that falls criminally short of explaining how huge his job is.
To give you the briefest snapshot, hundreds of clubs are under his remit in an area bigger than most counties. Factor in schools, disability cricket, the expansion of opportunities for women and girls, Clubmark accreditation, funding – and that’s just for starters.
West Yorkshire is positively awash with cricket and as the governing body for recreational cricket in Yorkshire, the YCB is to promote the game at every level and encourage increased participation.
Frankly, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
I’ve known Steve for years, he’s incredibly supportive of what I do at Cricket Yorkshire and catching up with him in person is to get a sense of what it’s been like during a tumultuous couple of years.
Like me, he’s a little camera-shy but pictured below in the white top (recognisable to many in West Yorkshire cricketing circles) at a recent meeting between Quaid E Azam Sunday Cricket League Secretary Naheem Malik, QEA Disciplinary Officer Taj Butt, Paul Cummins (Director YCB), Steve Archer (YCB Head Of West Region), and Mahboob Hussain (YCCC Equality, Inclusion & Diversity Manager).
When Covid struck, the Yorkshire Cricket Board furloughed their staff with the exception of a few members, Steve included.
Inevitably, it placed a huge burden on those left to firefight, as well as those stuck at home on furlough but uncertain what the future would hold.
Everyone wanted answers and none were forthcoming. The YCB came in for plenty of flak as everyone clamoured for information, not least around the return of cricket and how to facilitate that.
I felt for those fielding hundreds of emails and phone calls after Government Ministers would grandly declare cricket was returning in a matter of days while the reams of regulations that club volunteers had to understand and comply with was yet to be decided.
The Yorkshire Cricket Board was on its knees at this point.
Trying to function and deliver on its remit but with a fraction of the resources. Imagine the volume of stakeholders in cricket across the region, the complexities of everything relating to a global pandemic and the complete lack of certainty.
Somehow, the storm has been weathered and the YCB is now, more or less, back up to strength. Yet, there are many more challenges this year and beyond.
Women and girls’ cricket
As the hash browns arrive and tea refills land, we move on to an area of cricket that is doing very well.
With funding and collaboration between the YCB, clubs and volunteers, women and girls cricket is on the rise.
More clubs, more teams and opportunities to play soft ball or hard ball cricket.
The first all-girls cricket league in West Yorkshire has been happening in 2023. A total of 14 hardball teams in 3 divisions throughout West Yorkshire, Northern, Central and Southern Regions. In addition, 19 soft ball teams will play across 3 divisions throughout West Yorkshire.
Girls also have the chance to join the MCC Foundation Hub for Leeds or Bradford. These are 10 weeks of intensive cricket coaching, matches and talent ID opportunities. Add in strength and conditioning, mental health and nutrition support and it’s an impressive offering for 11-16-year-old girls attending a state school – and free.
(See more on the women and girls cricket website for West Yorkshire)
Steve talks me through the progress in the women’s game which is still evolving and being refined. Having softball competitions aimed at beginners has given more chances to play the format at the right standard.
There can still be mismatches in any league but even then, I was struck by how supportive both sides are, judging from the Archer Cup this season.
Cricket clubs and housing
Another side to Steve’s role is club disputes. Clubs will get in touch with the YCB about absolutely anything and they’ll try to advise, intervene if they can or flag up resources.
I’ve been doing this job long enough to know that the YCB can rub people up the wrong way.
They are custodians of recreational cricket in Yorkshire and, a bit like selecting the England Test team, many think they can do a better job. There’s no problem with that, the YCB like every other organisation including Cricket Yorkshire, won’t get everything right.
But equally, and he won’t like me writing it but Steve goes above and beyond to help, judging by the feedback I’ve had over more than a decade.
What does he like about the job?
“Just helping anyone who needs it, really. No two situations are ever the same. One of the things we’re seeing more of is the challenge for cricket clubs in relation to housing developments and how they co-exist.”
Crossflatts Cricket Club has been one such case on Steve’s patch but there are others. It doesn’t matter that clubs were there first, they can end up having to pay for and maintain enormous protective fencing or netting to safeguard houses.
Even then, a stray cricket ball can lead to a complaint that kicks off months of admin, mediation between the YCB, ECB and Sport England with cricket clubs and a council or home-building company.
YCB Contacts in West Yorkshire
Of course, it’s not a one-man band by any means. Such is the breadth and volume of cricket in West Yorkshire, there’s not a day that goes by without planning, playing, umpiring, scoring or teaching.
Coaching, disability cricket, funding and grants, safeguarding, schools, All Stars and Dynamos, you name it.
Nick Boyes and Stephen Coulthard are Club & Community Development Managers with the remit to work with clubs to deliver and grow the game, including ECB central programmes, standards, safeguarding, welfare, facilities development and investment.
Katie Stewart is the region’s Women and Girls Club and League Development Manager and as we’ve already mentioned, there’s plenty going on. We caught up previously to reflect on the first edition of the West Yorkshire Women and Girls Cricket League last year.
Shakil Manir (SEND Officer) delivers the SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) programme including table cricket and softball.
As Core Cities Community Development Officer for Kirklees, Soyeb Kayat has organised events like the Yorkshire Ramadan Cup. Tape ball tournaments feature prominently and there was even a Christmas Day tournament at Al Hikmah Centre in Dewsbury.
(The Core Cities programme was set up in 2018 by the ECB and Sport England to focus on cities that had the largest South Asian demographics to drive the growth of the game).
My apologies to others not mentioned here, there will be time no doubt to reflect on the mountain of cricket happening every week of the year somewhere. Not just in West Yorkshire.
For the Archers, cricket is ever-present, although as a football dad, Steve gets to stand on the sidelines while his son plays and admits to trying his best not to jump in and take over. The rollercoaster of being a Leeds United supporter also features prominently in his very witty Facebook posts.
He’ll often email me late at weekends catching up on a backlog but keen to offer some encouragement about Cricket Yorkshire.
Insanely busy, Steve’s not immune to taking on new volunteer roles himself and is getting stuck into life as an U16 football coach.
Once we’ve demolished a late breakfast, he’s off to more meetings while I get my sleeves rolled up to knock this article into shape.
For more info on the Yorkshire Cricket Board and their remit and programmes, visit yorkshirecb.com.