Double the reasons for Cully to celebrate

Cullompton CC have been celebrating twice over at the end of their 125th anniversary season.

It will go down as a season to remember at Cullompton as the First and Second XIs both won their respective divisions in the Tolchards Devon Cricket League.

James Blackmore’s First XI were defeated finalists in the Corinthian Cup Twenty20 competition.

This success is the result of significant focus within the club to rebuild their cricketing ‘heart’, a programme that started eight years ago when Richard Stevenson was appointed chairman.

Stevenson’s appointment coincided with the club struggling to fill its sides with players. The club- house, a lack of practice facilities and no junior section were all factors in the club’s troubles.

“When I first took over as chair- man, we literally had mowers that didn’t work, an artificial wicket ripped and beyond repair, a boundary fence that was made of pallets nailed together and which had become dangerous, no showers, fungus growing out of the toilet walls and absolutely no juniors,” said Stevenson.

“On the positive side we still had some very good club people, especially Mike Ingersent, our groundsman, but lacked the funds to get things done.

“I must admit I wasn’t sure that the club at the time would survive as it really did need a lot of investment to make it once more attractive.

“We have got there, the job isn’t done yet, but we are certainly going really well and we have got some really great players now and, above all, we have fun and the odd drink after the game.”

Cullompton aren’t the only club struggling to attract and retain players.

Stevenson said they decided to make the club attractive and were fortunate to have help from business backers.

“First we got our play- ing facilities into better shape. We managed to obtain several grants from Devon Waste Management which related to the refund of landfill tax,” said Stevenson.

“That allowed us to replace our artificial wicket and build some nets. That at least got us practising and slowly a number of the older players who had drifted returned.

“The next step was investing heavily in the replacement of our kitchen and toilets as we felt that if the club is not attractive to players’ partners, then it becomes more of a struggle to get players to play.

“If your bar and toilets are nice then, hopefully, your bar revenue will rise, which will then provide the funds for further investment, which has been the case.”

System Six Kitchens, who have sponsored the team kit for the 2018 season, sponsored a new kitchen zone in 2016 while the hall floor has been fully replaced using a grant from Viridor.

Stevenson said the development of youngsters into senior cricketers was hugely satisfying.

“Our very first youngsters are now 19-20 years of age and many now populate our First and Second XIs,” said Stevenson.

“To see them develop into the cricketers they are now is fantastic. “You do lose a few on the way, but on-going investment into children playing hopefully sees on-going good players come through.

“We see it a bit like a conveyor belt into our teams.”

All Stars – and ECB-initiative to get primary school youngsters playing the game – proved a success in its first season with around 35 youngsters regularly attending coaching nights.

“The All Stars programme compliments the work we have been doing with the three local primary schools where we have undertaken ‘introduction to cricket’ for the last two years,” said Stevenson.

Cullompton’s chairman said the club has come a long way in eight years – and the journey isn’t over yet.

“We are always keen to attract new players and we try to have a fantastic social side to the club, which includes things such as a comedy club, quizzes, discos and barbecues after the game,” he said.

“We provide coaching to players, which is possible with our four qualified cricket coaches, assisted by the fantastic facilities we now have.

“Our journey isn’t over and we are not complacent as we know we have a lots we can improve upon.

“If you live in the area and are serious about cricket, we are keen to talk to you.

“If you are an ex-player or looking for something to occupy your spare time we would be keen to meet you. You can never have enough helpers and all help is welcome.”

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.