On the UP! Sunshine & sixes at Upottery
- Credit: Archant
These are challenging times for village cricket clubs. Fewer players, increased costs and rigid league regulations has seen some clubs disappear. But one village club in East Devon is bucking the trend and thriving not just surviving. Steve Jennings visited Upottery CC.
For so long, local cricket clubs have been the very heartbeat of their communities. Cream teas, warm beer, the sound of leather on willow and the sight of the sun setting on the village green is quintessentially English. A thing of beauty.
The game has origins dating back to the 16th century but falling participation means the grass-roots game faces an uncertain future. Lifestyles are changing with some finding other ways to spend their weekend; tired of committing full days and travelling long distances which, here in the South West, often means battling long queues of holiday traffic.
Not exclusive to village sides, some of the bigger town clubs are battling to put out sides to fulfil league fixtures every Saturday where they once easily fielded multiple teams.
But not so for Upottery Cricket Club, for whom things are definitely on the up on-and-off the pitch. Although a small village club, they easily field two teams every weekend throughout summer and host Sunday fixtures and touring teams. And with great success. 2017 was a fine season with their first XI promoted, finishing second in E Division, and their second string finishing as league champions. And in both cases the villagers finished higher in their respective divisions than their big town neighbours at Honiton. Heady days indeed.
You may also want to watch:
It is amazing achievement given the challenges. Once the very bedrock for any club, Sunday cricket is struggling with fixtures on the Sabbath fewer and further between. And the number of teams touring the region, offering very lucrative income for East Devon’s clubs, has also reduced dramatically. This at a time when it is getting harder for clubs to function financially with rising costs of hosting and attending games.
Upottery’s club chairman, Phil Joyce, who has nearly 50 years loyal service, has noticed a change in attitudes: “There certainly isn’t the commitment from players these days,” he says. “In our day we would have played 40 to 50 games a year; every Saturday and Sunday. Then there were midweek games and the old Honiton Evening League too. That was accepted and expected. Very few now want to play both days of the weekend.
- 1 It's our time to share our fortune and 'do our bit' as we start to re-open
- 2 Hayman's Butchers 'had been my life' - Stewart Hayman
- 3 Further improvements for Sidmouth Town FC
- 4 Town is spruced up as excitement is in the air for future
- 5 Virtual donkey day out on Easter Sunday
- 6 Claire leaves political spotlight
- 7 There will be sunshine after the rain as the town re-opens
- 8 Sidmouth’s ‘overwhelming’ support for Wear a Hat fundraiser
- 9 Rewarding first night back For Sidmouth Running Club
- 10 Salston Manor Hotel plans given the go-ahead
“And it’s so easy to say ‘no’ these days; they just text the captain. It was different when you had to ring him up or stand in front of him and explain why you couldn’t play!”
Central to Upottery’s success is the support from the community, in particular the local pub, with The Sidmouth Arms being the main sponsors. And it helps that the publican, Nigel Wyatt, is a long term member and current groundsman: “This village has always been about sport,” Nigel explains. “As people become involved with sport here – football or cricket - so other generations become involved and these roots have helped keep sport here strong.
“And that definitely brings people to the village and, from a business perspective, to the pub. They may not have known about us but for cricket.
“It’s great being associated with the club. Not just financial but from a PR point of view, as it’s good that we are seen to be supportive.”
Being such a small community, Upottery relies on attracting players from outside the village: “People often say there aren’t enough players from Upottery playing,” Nigel says. “But we wouldn’t put a side out if that was the case. I actually think it’s positive that people want to come to the village to play cricket for us. We must be doing something right!
“And our players tend to be loyal and play for years. To give an example, there was one player, who sadly died two years ago, who played under four generations of my family as captain.”
And it is this type of family loyalty that attracts new generations to the club, something that Nigel calls ‘crucial’ to village clubs. Phil’s father played for Upottery and his son, Mark, is current first team captain. The second team will be captained by Adam Pulman, who is from another family with several players who represent Upottery.
Like any successful club the social element is vital in creating a good spirit. Upottery host several club events throughout the season and tour annually to West Barry in Wales. So create a club that people want to play for and the players will come: “The camaraderie in the club between both teams is fantastic,” Phil says. “And this was highlighted on the last day of the season. The first XI were at Tiverton when message came through that the 2nds had won their league and they rushed back so the club could celebrate together.”
Formed in 1898, the club also relocated last season, moving away from their famous sloping pitch in the village centre to Glebe Park alongside the village’s football club. This to the obvious approval of some of the neighbours who didn’t always appreciate cricket balls landing in their garden. The first game at the new ground was in mid-July and the move was much-needed: “There have been years of discussing this,” Phil explains. “We had outgrown the old pitch; too slopey, too small, there was no room either side for expansion. The changing facilities were poor.”
Nigel agrees: “It was planned over 20 years ago. A downside to our sloping pitch was that, even though people liked playing here, not many wanted to play here week in and week out. The new pitch will, we hope, attract more who want to play for us and has already prompted a few more (spectators) to turn out and support the club on match days.”
That said the old pitch hosted some famous visitors with Somerset County Cricket Club appearing in the village three times, including the centenary in 1998 and most recently in 2008. Richard Brice, the proprietor of Somerset County Sports at the County Ground, Taunton, is a former Upottery player. Somerset stalwart James Hildreth also attended the end of season dinner in 2017.
In Upottery, the village is integral to the cricket club and vice versa. The club remain ambitious to grow further: “The main objective is to keep it going,” Nigel says. “How far can we can go? Look at the football club, who are doing so well they are three division’s off playing in the FA Cup. With the spirit and camaraderie here we’ll just keep going and see where it takes us.”
Follow Upottery CC on Facebook.
The club welcome new members, both players and anyone simply wanting to be part of this great social club.
There will be a number of sponsor board opportunities in 2018. Contact Mark Joyce on 07817 719429 for more details.