Retiring to the committee room is a route many take after their playing days are finished. However, as we sat around the table at a meeting in 2018 it was noticeable that a few of us had lapsed from playing whilst still in our 30s. We were still very much involved in cricket off field but not especially active, to the point of being dormant, otherwise.
Every club sees players drift away but we’d noticed the high turnover at Sefton Park and wondered why. I’d long shared the view with our club captain Richie Forsyth that only offering longer format (timed cricket in the Liverpool Competition) was denying us the chance to re-engage members who couldn’t or wouldn’t play at weekends.
With a new women’s section being created to extend the sport in the club, we thought a midweek team T20 team would be worth starting up. We are fortunate in Liverpool to have the Liverpool Business Houses Cricket League which has provided opportunities for this since 1972. To get things moving long time club sponsor Tim Gray of Espresso Plus agreed to sponsor the side and it has taken the coffee shop’s name. In addition a (self created) nickname of ‘The Baristas’, hence the truly dreadful pun to title this blog.
Establishing a new team within a club is not especially newsworthy in itself. After all, cricket clubs are there to provide fixtures for their members (!) but I have been surprised about how impactful this move has been in subtly promoting mental wellbeing through cricket.
Andy ‘Charlie’ Foulder took up organisational duties, keen to reignite his love of the social side of the game
“It’s hard to pinpoint when, but as I got older, the enjoyment I got from scoring a 50 or getting a 5-for started to dwindle but was replaced by the friendships, stories, socialising, beer drinking and laughs I shared. When I stopped playing due to starting a family, it was the latter of these that left an obvious void in my life. Still keen to be involved, I’d spend days watching with fellow dads before the conversation turned to starting up our own team t20 midweek team for the over the hill mob who fancied having a go, but more importantly fancied re-establishing friendships and sharing the changing room support network that cricket naturally brings.”
A core of players returning like Charlie have been key, mixing in with those still playing, eager for another chance to get more games in. It provides a pleasing image of teenagers and ex 3rd XI players on the field with our all time record wicket taker Rob Houghton, keeping his slow left arm oiled in semi retirement.
For skipper Paul ‘Squiz’ Squires the step back into the game has renewed his enthusiasm. I asked him what he enjoys most about it.
“Everything!!! From trying to outwit the batsman with a field placement to sitting in the dressing room talking about the old days with my friends…to scampering a quick single to doing my stint at umpiring!! But ultimately – I love it because I am with some old friends, some of which I have played cricket with for over 25 years, and now some new friends all sharing the common interest of the game I love.”
It can be easy to regard the benefits of cricket complacently when still playing. Paul’s joy for the sport reminded me of how the connections with others are special. That it comes with being active adds another, positive dimension.
Once lapsed players started up again, others have seen the opportunity it brings. Gareth ‘GT’ Thornton is a good example. From playing solidly for twenty years, often twice a week, he had drifted from playing as other commitments took priority. The chance to play again became attractive again once others started.
“My kids started playing which attracted me back to the club and got me broadly involved in cricket again. In doing that I bumped into some old faces and realised that I hadn’t completely lost touch with all the people from my playing days. And then finally and possibly most convincingly, Paul Squires persuaded me to don the whites again and the group he played with were a bunch of good lads and I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself.”
The last bit above struck me as crucial. Speaking to retired players, be it from clubs or professionals, the common theme of what is missed the most is the dressing room, sharing time with people we enjoy being with. Building on that I asked GT what he’s enjoyed the most.
“The answer here is twofold. The chance to play some competitive (ish) sport again and the banter. Team rather than individual sports have always been my thing so being part of a group and that group having a common goal, whilst indulging in a bit of good natured banter is really good for the soul.”
Charlie has developed a new passion within the game, second time round.
“Doing the scorebook. I genuinely love it. To the point that I am really annoyed when the skipper instructs me to pad up and I reluctantly have to down the pens and enter the fray. Aside from that, getting together with lifelong mates to enjoy a couple of hours where you can forget life’s struggles is invaluable. Regardless of your mood or how bad of a day you’ve had in work beforehand, within 5 minutes you’ve got a smile on your face and enjoying the game and company.”
It’s tempting to complicate how we look after our mental health and fitness. Cricket is a fine place to start. Doing something that we enjoy, in the company of others with the chance to break a sweat is a pretty good way to go I think.
I’ll leave the final words to Squiz, on his advice to anyone pondering a ‘Second Spell’
“If your time commitments allow…do it! Trust me, you’ll feel like you did when you loved it as a youngster! It’s a great opportunity to rekindle old friendships and form new ones…all over the game you love!”