If you’re a batter, there’s a fair chance you will have had the odd bowler who has ‘shivered your timbers’ throughout your career. Well, at Armitage Bridge Cricket Club in Huddersfield, the pirate theme is playing its part in increasing participation in our great game.
This is a club who has an incredibly strong junior set-up. They aren’t the only ones in that area. They certainly aren’t the only ones in Yorkshire who do great work with the youngsters. But some of the work they do stands them out from the crowd.
“The juniors are thriving,” said Andy Gledhill, a club stalwart with many different hats on – player, coach and committee member.
We will start by discussing the juniors because it’s the bedrock of any club. Get that right and things will flourish for years, and this particular Huddersfield League club has 10 junior teams.
“We’ve moved our junior training night to a Friday, which is a night that’s in addition to our main club night on a Saturday or Sunday,” said Gledhill.
“We have a good 120 juniors down there on a Friday night, so you’re talking a good 200 people down there. It’s brilliant that we have so many kids engaged in the game, but another benefit is that its good for things like the bar.
“We have a catering van that comes to provide food, and we sometimes have a singer on.”
Away from club duties, Gledhill is a PE Sports coach.
“You know,” he says. “My bug-bear with cricket is that I feel it can start a bit late at Under 9s.
“My thinking is that sometimes at Under 9s, you can go straight into organised games. And it’s quite a jump.
“So two years ago, we started at Under 7s. We had 30 or 40 signed up, and they’ve filtered through to the Under 9s. The Under 7s don’t play organised games, they just train for an hour on Friday tea-time.
“If we can cover the basics with them, that’s a big step forwards. This year, we’ve also kids of nursery age doing it as well. We’ve called that Cricket Tots.
“I call it multi-skills with a cricket twist. It’s low-level sport, but the theme is cricket. If we’re hitting cricket balls off tees, we’re pirates attacking a pirate ship – things like that.”
The club’s two overseas for 2023 – Steve Cawood (Australia) and Bevan Covely (South Africa) – have been involved in junior training and have helped Gledhill and other volunteers push the Dean Brook Road club forwards.
“A lot of our senior players coach in the age-groups, which is a fantastic thing,” continued Gledhill.
“We’ve also tapped into a few guys who coach different sports. We have an Under 9s coach, for example, who is a Rugby League coach. He’s able to help the kids tap into different skills.
“We’ve applied for some funding to put a girls team on this year. It’s predominantly girls but mums have got involved as well. One of the mums has even started her Foundation coaching badge. That’s amazing for us.”
Armitage Bridge were brought to our attention having invited Yorkshire Cricket Board director of recreational cricket Paul Cummins to open a new net facility at their ground earlier this month.
“We got funding from the Our Space Project at Kirklees Council and also from the Huddersfield Common Good Trust,” said Gledhill, of the new net facility.
“We have a large ground. But due to the amount of children we’ve got, we were struggling to have enough safe practice facilities.
“Look at a football club, for that amount of age-groups, they’d have a number of pitches. In cricket, you’re stuck with your own pitch and that’s it.
“We have a lot of space outside the field. So I was keen to get into a position where a game could go on alongside some training.
“Fully closed and caged net, which is 33 metres in length. The normal size is 21/22 metres. But we’ve gone 33 metres to fully enclose it with plenty of space.
“The Under 17s could now be playing on a Wednesday night and the seniors training at the same time.
“The issue we have got is that we’ve got tight access into the ground, and the 18 tonne wagon couldn’t just come in and drop the materials into the hole. We had to do a lot of the labouring ourselves.
“We’ve been there on Saturday mornings with the shovels and such. It’s been a labour of love.
“We’re very lucky to have a guy called Andy Parr on the committee who runs a building company, NDAP Construction Ltd. He’s been a great help. Without his lads with the machinery, it couldn’t have happened. We’ve also had social events to help with funding.”
Gledhill has a seven and eight-year-old son and daughter involved in the juniors at Armitage Bridge, a club he describes as “self-sustaining and self-funding”.
His day job means he also does some coaching at other clubs in the area.
“One thing I would say is that the developments at our club are being mirrored across a lot of Huddersfield League clubs,” he went on. “A lot of really good work is being done elsewhere. It’s a thriving league, it really is.”
As for the seniors, the first team finished fourth in the Championship, the league’s second tier. They also won the T20 Shield, hosting Finals Day, and hosted the final of the Sykes Cup for the first time as well.
Gledhill said: “We’ve always wanted to make improvements to the ground, and that’s got into a position where we could host the Sykes Cup final. We also hosted T20 Finals Day two weeks later because the four qualifying teams get drawn out of a hat to host.
“It was a brilliant year for the senior teams and the club.”
Not only are Armitage Bridge, who have designs on replacing their clubhouse, progressing the juniors and female cricket, they would also be open to engaging any refugees who move to the area and enjoy the game.
“We had one lad from Afghanistan who came and practiced with us not long ago,” added Gledhill. “But then he was moved house out of the area.
“An issue around that is that any refugee coming in to play would be classed as an overseas cricketer.There is a conversation to be had around that, I think, but that’s for another day.
“What we can say for now is that people are more than welcome to come and practice with us.”
Whoever you are, if you’re cricket mad, live in Huddersfield and want to get into the game, it sounds like Armitage Bridge is worth serious consideration.
But one thing to consider if you do head down to the club…As well as a bat and ball, it might be worth taking a pirate’s hat with you too!