Fenstanton a sad loss for village cricket

FOLLOWING this weekend’s snowfall, the cricket season is likely to be the last thing on many sports’ fans minds. However, for Richard Corbett, the now former secretary of the defunct Fenstanton Cricket Club, the game has dominated his thoughts throughout the winter months.

Last week, Corbett and his fellow committee members got together for an extraordinary general meeting – at the end of which, the club was no more…

TRUDGING over virgin snow on Sunday morning, Richard Corbett wanted to show us the inside of Fenstanton Cricket Club’s mothballed pavilion – and, as he unlocked the door and led us into the building, which was erected in 1932, he talked about the problems that the Cambs Junior League club has faced over recent years.

“The fact is we just didn’t have any youngsters coming through,” he said. “Clubs like Godmanchester and St Ives are really geared up for youth development. They have lots of teams, they have the facilities, the coaches, the nets. We have a nice field and a functional pavilion.

“Our overheads are low so we don’t cost a lot to run – but we need the bodies.”

Corbett wasn’t blaming Godmanchester, St Ives and the region’s larger and more successful clubs – but the harsh reality is: while those teams can offer youth development, the smaller village clubs that make up the numbers in any cricket league are finding it increasingly difficult to attract new blood.

Of their 16 fixtures last season, Fenstanton were only able to fulfil 11 – and some of those they played with just 10 men, a few with nine, and one with eight. “That was a fairly horrendous experience,” said Corbett, adding: “But the enthusiasm of those who did play was wonderful.”

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Separated only by the A14, Fenstanton have always had a strong relationship with Hilton. They too have been forced to quit as a competitive team. They have pulled their first team out of the Hunts League and are now looking to play Sunday friendlies instead.

Corbett said: “We thought they might have players who could come and play for us on a Saturday, but they were already playing for other sides on Saturdays because Hilton were geared towards playing on Sundays.”

There were also discussions with Milton, whose first team will play in the Junior 2B division this season. Milton currently have three teams but only one pitch at their Sycamores ground. Occasionally they would borrow Fenstanton’s pitch. “There was talk of them coming up here on a more permanent basis and taking on our players who still wanted to play cricket – but those players have generally decided that it’s Fenstanton or nothing,” said Corbett.

In fact, it seems there are quite a few clubs keen to pick up Fenstanton’s displaced players. Over and Bluntisham have made enquiries too.

Over’s chairman is Jane Reeson and she told The Hunts Post they would welcome any of Fenstanton’s former players with “open arms”. And she sees similar difficulties at Over – as well as in her other role as secretary of the Cambridgeshire Cricket Association. “Any loss is devastating,” she said. “It came as quite a shock to lose Fenstanton. We had a couple of second or third teams go last season but Fenstanton are the only one so far this season.”

Times are changing: Reeson sights young players heading off to universities and the fact that the game is no longer taught in secondary schools as the main factors behind village cricket’s current plight. “We have fathers and sons playing at Over but that’s certainly not as common as it was 20 to 30 years ago,” she said. “People move around a lot more these days.”

Indeed, Fenstanton were already relying on incomers to make up the numbers. Corbett told us: “The odd thing is a lot of our members weren’t actually resident in the village. I come from Huntingdon and we had people from Warboys and places like that and everyone had their own story to tell of how they ended up playing for Fenstanton. The village knew we were here and were very supportive – but the fact is they have there own lives.”

After winning promotion to the Cambs Junior 3B division, Fenstanton’s league record last season read: played 16, lost 16. Twenty-one players represented the club in the 11 fixtures.

Corbett admitted: “In that situation the will and enthusiasm begins to dip. There were just so many factors we were fighting against. More players were actually going out than coming in.”

Kevin Clement, development manager of the Huntingdonshire Cricket Board, sees youth as the key to any club’s success. “I know it has been tough for clubs like Fenstanton,” he said. “If they don’t have numbers to run a youth programme, clubs need to forge links with their local primary schools.”

Having played at their Low Road home since the 1930s, Fenstanton’s remaining committee members have mothballed their pavilion and will continue to maintain the pitch. “We won’t have a square,” said Corbett. “But we will keep the grass cut inside the boundary.”

Inside the pavilion he pointed out the pictures on the walls. They were partly obscured by the stored equipment. “There are a lot of memories,” he said, and then: “It’s not just players that clubs need – we have already had offers for our equipment – even the tea urn.”

Fenstanton always paid a peppercorn rent to landowner Chris Behagg, who was also the club’s president. He too is devastated, said Corbett – but is equally as determined to keep the pitch in good order … just in case. “Hopefully this isn’t completely the end of the story,” he added.