The Ovington Cricket Club ground

Ovington CC at play

Dear Cricket Monthly,

Warm, pre-season greetings from York, historic county town of county cricket's historically top county. And greetings more specifically from Ovington CC, almost certainly one of the most historic clubs ever to have graced the YO23 postcode district of the aforementioned shire.

As Ovington club secretary, I write to present you a behind-the-scenes perspective of a seemingly unglamorous northern suburban cricket team at the start of 2017. More specifically, I write to explain a few of the toughest opponents we face. Most of them are not cricketers.

I should confess at this juncture that I'm not a Yorkshireman. I am instead what my grandfather (who was) might have called an off-cummed-un*. As such, my subsequent opinions probably should not be relied on wholly.

Being a Freeman of the City of York, Maurice has the right to graze cattle on the outfield. Sadly, Maurice doesn't own any cattle

The opinions you should take note of are those of our chairman, Alan Fletcher, more properly known to friend and foe alike as Fletch. If ever there was a clubman, then that fellow is Fletch, and if you want to know anything about anything, he's the chap to ask. I must warn you, however, that if he pins you down in the corner of the South Bank Social Club, in the flickering, jabbering light of the fruit machine, after a mediocre weekend showing, and you ask him what's going on, you'll need to prepare to be there for a full five days.

It was at that social club that it all began for Ovington, probably in 1928, but no one - not even Fletch - is quite sure. What we do know is that younger players at South Bank Cricket Club weren't getting a game, so they formed their own team, taking their name from the terrace South Bank's club house stands on. Nearly 90 years on, South Bank CC has long gone, while Ovington prospers, with three senior teams, an evening-league team, and half a dozen junior teams. Vindication, I'd say.

The chap whose work Fletch is building upon is our president, Maurice Bell, who joined Ovington a startling 65 years ago. Over all those decades, Maurice has served in pretty much every club position available, including half a century as groundsman. Being a freeman of the City of York, Maurice has the right to graze cattle on the outfield, which is an excellent grass-management strategy. Sadly, Maurice doesn't own any cattle.

Neither does our treasurer, Sam Prangle, though he's good with magic beans. Sam possesses financial acumen at least on a par with the UK government's, but despite this we somehow stay afloat. Fletch frets but he knows that if we ever really run short of funds, we can simply sell the secrets of Sam's utterly unplayable stock delivery, the Prangdrake, to the IPL.

Did a game ever take place if there wasn't anyone to watch?

Did a game ever take place if there wasn't anyone to watch? © Liam Herringshaw

Dougie, our welfare officer, doubles up as the main lawnmower driver; Dr Neil, our award-winning GP is a hunter of runs, wickets, and big-money sponsorship; Josh, the only person who understands IT, takes charge of our website and (most) social media; Barry, Dick, Kareem and Jed try to control the senior teams; Puck and Reggy are the handiest of handymen. Finally, there's me.

Most of what I do is hardly worthy of recall here: meetings, minutes, registering players, putting together funding applications. I liaise with our neighbours at York Racecourse to work out when we can best rattle our collecting buckets and encourage the thousands of tired and emotional racegoers who march past our pitch to part with some of their winnings. When the season is underway, I enjoy writing match reports too, and occasionally, just occasionally, they might contain a dramatic flourish, an embellishment, or an alternative fact. You might think it unlikely that one of our second-team debutants last season was a viscount, but I couldn't possibly comment.

My more officially complex tasks tend to relate to where we play, on the Little Knavesmire. Perched on the muddy shores of an Ice Age lake, in the shadow of the old chocolate orange factory, this ancient common is also where Dick Turpin met the executioner's noose. Had he hung on for a half-century, till 1790, old Turpers would have had a prime view of the Knavesmire's first cricket match. Over the subsequent two-and-a-bit centuries, many teams have called this place home, but now it's only us, the last team in York to play on common land.

Once again, Lake Humber reclaimed the Mire. Deep fine leg became a description of the condition you could acquire fielding on the boundary

Maintaining even that situation is a challenge. We rent our ground from the city council, and they have allowed the lease to expire. We are assured that a new, long-term agreement is forthcoming, but this season's main task will be the resolution of the details, especially if they are going to apply for the next 35 years.

As its name suggests (and its geological history proves), the Mire has always been boggy. In 2011, the council agreed to remedial drainage work, promising it would not affect the club's matches. Then, in mid-May, a team of contractors arrived and dug a series of trenches across the outfield. "We were completely shafted," recalls Fletch. After a peripatetic period, the outfield was made playable again, thanks to the efforts of the club stalwarts. In December 2015, however, York was hit by catastrophic floods. Once again, Lake Humber reclaimed the Mire. The waters had retreated by last spring, and the square was in remarkably good nick, but our outfield was not. Deep fine-leg became a description of the condition you could acquire fielding on the boundary.

We do have another pitch, up the hill on the South Bank proper, in the grounds of our local secondary school, well away from the floodwaters, with a fine view across the city. Unfortunately a new school trust has plans to build a multi-use games area on the field, and cricket apparently has to give way. No one in authority has yet spotted the irony.

The view from the scorer's room

The view from the scorer's room © Liam Herringshaw

Building another wicket on the Mire might be the only solution, but this will take time and effort, and our currently cosy clubhouse would have to expand. It is a repurposed Second World War air-raid shelter, and no one could claim it is the most elegant of structures, but it's an important piece of 20th-century heritage. Demolition is not an option, at least in my mind, but if our first team wants to climb the new Yorkshire Cricket Pyramid, not only have we got to win our league, we also have to provide an infrastructure that will stand up to higher scrutiny, and serious work costs serious money.

Then there are our juniors. Without supporting the boys and girls, it won't matter how good our pavilion or our square is, we simply won't have anyone to keep the club alive. We have got to find the coaches. It's easy to see why other teams in our league, and so many clubs across Britain, have shrunk or folded.

Someone has to buck the trend, though, and if Fletch has anything to do with it, Ovington will continue to be a bunch of buckers. I know pride comes before a fall, but we are expanding, diversifying, and - generally - succeeding. I am proud to be part of this club. And with the curator of the MCC's Taking The Field project describing us as "warm, friendly Ovington", I know I'm not alone.

Yours in cricket,
Liam Herringshaw

*This is a real Yorkshire term for an outsider, I assure you, and not a description of my stock seam delivery, but I strongly discourage you from searching for the term online.

Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who helped establish the Cricket Association of Newfoundland & Labrador in 2010. He can now be found hunting fossils and cheap wickets around northern England.