So here we are, Easter weekend, time for the first friendly of the season and ready to go again. All my gear sorted for the summer and, because of the way the county fixtures have dropped this year, I'm back on Lostock duties apart from a couple of games which should enable me to complete my full house of Bolton League grounds.
Apart from the rollercoaster ride that accompanies suffering from BWFC syndrome over the winter I was asked the other week what I get up to in the close season In my case I fill my spare time with what sometimes feels like endless committee meetings and spending hours updating club records both on and off the website. It's surprising how time consuming this can be but there is a certain amount of satisfaction at the end of it tinged with frustration when you look at the gaps in our records. The league launched Crichq as their preferred scoring method which has meant more meetings and training. The concept is great and hopefully our clubs will take it on board and help raise the BCL profile.
Media Day at Old Trafford always brings home just how close the season is as Lancashire Women 1st XI prepare to embark on a new season in the top division. It's a strange sort of day which involves a lot of hanging around whilst various photographs are taken both as a team and individually (including the scorers) as the media grab interviews with a range of people. You have to feel a bit of sympathy for the men's team who have to go through the process in whites, then the red T20 kit and then finally the green 50 over uniforms. Last time we were promoted it turned into something of a disaster but with a world class overseas in Amy Satterthwaite and a couple of other astute signings in Evelyn Jones and the returning Alex Hartley hopes are high of a better outcome this time round. The only caveat to that must be how often our England girls are prevented from playing by the powers that be - with 4 in the squad plus the academy girls that could potentially decimate us in some games. The Super League squad looks stronger too and hopefully they too will be very competitive. At club level we embark on what promises to be an exciting year in the top division of the BCL, with the initial aim to make sure that we stay up!
Easter Sunday dawns and I'm off to one of my favourite grounds - St Annes - for a friendly with Lostock. At least that was the theory on a dark wet chilly day more reminiscent of February than April as I throw my stuff in the car and set off for the coast hoping it will be drier over there. Inevitably though the call comes just after the Chorley junction the game’s off so turn around and go home. To think they want to move junior football to this time of year for better weather!
The next weekend proved luckier with the weather as I travelled to Read for a Lancashire warm up game. Read is a well appointed compact ground and we were greeted with a lovely spring day – albeit 10 degrees cooler in the scorebox than outside. I haven’t been on that many current Ribblesdale League grounds let alone scored on them, I think Read is the 4th on my scoring list, but one thing those I have visited have in common is pleasant surroundings and friendly welcomes. Read was no exception and with a superb tea to compliment that welcome I’ll certainly look forward to returning. The ground looked a picture on an ideal day for cricket with the only niggle the lack of parking which could be a problem with a larger crowd on the ground.
Saturday 29th April was a landmark day for everyone associated with Lostock CC – the first game on our long awaited new home at Chew Moor. Thankfully the weather was kind to us and the day seemed to just fly by, a good crowd, a cracking game of cricket and finally after 10 long years somewhere to call home. It was a truly emotional day for those of us who have battled long and hard to get to this point – so many people deserve a mention and have been elsewhere but suffice to say everyone associated with the club thanks all of them sincerely. Westhoughton proved to be great first guests albeit being party poopers by hanging on to win the game, and capped their visit by presenting the club with a magnificent memento of the day. A really touching gesture. There was another notable first on the day, as it was the first time I’ve ever seen an umpire turn up led by a guide dog. Now I know anyone who has played the game has thought something along those lines after a disputed decision but to actually see it happen was something else. (For the record before I get in any trouble it was a trainee guide dog). Apart from losing the game, the only downside from my point of view was that the beer ran out before I got chance to grab a pint!
Next day it was back over to St Annes for the first Lancashire game of the new campaign in the top flight. Our last excursion into the top division saw us lose every game in 2015 but having fought our way back up last year hopes were high of doing better this time around. Middlesex were first up in what looked a tricky opener especially as we were without our 5 England squad players. What started out as a lovely spring day stayed dry but gradually the wind got stronger and stronger and made hitting or bowling into it a tricky task. Last time we met Middlesex was on a similar day 2 years ago at Edmonton, a ground that looks a little tired now but must have been impressive in its day. The club boasts 3 cricket fields alongside tennis & bowls. On the day, their scorer insisted on scoring under a gazebo rather than in the scorebox as it was full spiders and "things" which made for an interesting experience particularly as we were too far away for the electronics to work forcing a relay of players to run across and update the score. Thankfully this time she was happy to use the scorebox and at least keep us out of the wind. The girls produced an excellent team performance and secured our first win in the top flight since 2006!
Bank Holiday Monday saw us at Urmston for the 2nd half of our double header and a game against Berkshire. Urmston is a very pleasant ground where historically we have tended to perform pretty well on the whole, and is a part of Urmston Sports Club which also boasts facilities for tennis, croquet, bowls and hockey. Despite being a part of Manchester the club plays its cricket in the Cheshire County League. The ground is very flat which can be a problem if it rains heavily, but thankfully despite threatening morning skies it became another lovely Spring day – albeit frustratingly cooler in the scorebox than the opposite side of the ground where spectators basked in the sun. Once again the girls rose to the occasion and we marched to a six wicket win and after 2 rounds of games sit top of the table. The southern based women’s cricket media will presumably not be very happy at seeing the top 3 places in the table taken by teams north of Watford but hopefully this season will finally see the more northerly counties taking some power away from the south east - an essential in my view if they truly want the game to spread.
An eventful weekend was to follow as I returned to club duties with games at Daisy Hill and Farnworth Social Circle. Saturday saw us at Daisy Hill a ground I've scored at many times before, where the scorebox is in the ideal elevated position although like most scoreboxes there is always a corner of the ground obscured (even our own new box). I've always enjoyed going there in any capacity, but sadly on this visit a cracking game of cricket was overshadowed by the behaviour of a minority who had been sampling the bar all afternoon. Banter is one thing but sadly this went way beyond the pale. Sunday gave me the chance to tick off another ground having never scored at FSC before. On a glorious afternoon for once we could complain about it being too hot in the scorebox as the sun streamed in. A pretty good spot to score apart from when the odd passing car decided to pause in front of the box as the ball was delivered. Another good game was also notable for being the first time I've ever seen umpires take the players off to calm down when things got too tetchy in the middle. Thankfully cricket soon broke out again and the rest of the game passed without incident unless you count half a dead bird being dropped from high by presumably a larger bird onto the outfield.
Next up was the first triple header of the season with games Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You hear a lot of comments about players commitments but rarely does anyone mention the scorer (or indeed umpire) on weekends like this. We too have to give up our time, and it's just as tiring (mentally if not physically) as playing in 3 games. A scorer or umpire has to concentrate for every ball, unlike players who can switch off and have a wander round the ground etc when not on the field, factor in travelling and it can be an exhausting experience.
Friday's T20 was at Blackrod - a ground that has changed enormously since my first visit 40 odd years ago. Long gone are the changing rooms that used to sit at the top of the hill, and the score box has undergone a facelift to incorporate new electronic numbers. It's probably one of the best views amongst local grounds from up there with a great lofted position. What promised to be an exciting game was spoiled by a torrential downpour early in the Blackrod innings with the result left to run rate calculations. Back on Chew Moor on Saturday for a pretty uneventful game against Golborne where at least it was dry and sunny if chilly and relatively uneventful.
Harrogate was the next port of call as Lancashire visited the old enemy for our next Championship match. As befits a ground that has staged many 1st class matches it is an impressive setting with a very big playing area and plenty of spectator facilities, which also boasts a nursery ground to the rear of the 2 storey clubhouse for junior games. Just outside the town centre it is certainly an attractive addition to my list of grounds visited. The scorers were housed in the secretary's office on the 1st floor in a great position next to the bar. From a scoring point of view however despite being ideally positioned your view is somewhat obscured by the balcony rail at eye level which was a pity. The only other gripe as such was being charged £1.20 for a can of pop - I thought Yorkshire folk were supposed to be tight with their money!
Another triple header the following weekend started with Horwich RMI in the T20 on Friday in our first ever home game in this competition. It was pleasing to see a pretty good crowd on to enjoy the beer and BBQ and the lads record a second win. The T20 really does seem to attract interest and hopefully will generate a decent income for all the clubs. Saturday was one of those days everyone associated with cricket hates with hours sat around watching the rain fall before thankfully we eventually got a game, although the way we played might suggest otherwise. Bradshaw have installed a new bigger window in the score box which is a great improvement and gives a far better view of the ground than previously. Back to Chew Moor for Sunday's game in the Lancs KO against Clifton and again an encouraging number on the ground to see us pull off a surprise win. Only time will tell whether it is the novelty of the new ground or genuine interest that is bringing people in. The one negative to the weekend was the fact that only 1 of the games had 2 of us scoring the match, hopefully not a sign of things to come.
The 2nd May Bank Holiday saw the first long trip of the season as we travelled down to play Kent and Sussex in a double header. Travelling down on Saturday in the uncomfortably humid weather wasn't great although some of the answers the girls came up with in the quiz certainly lightened the mood (The Viagra Falls instead of Niagara for example). An overnight stay in Sittingbourne and then up early to travel on to the St Lawrence Ground in Canterbury. It was the 2nd time I've visited the ground and I must admit I still don't get the hype about the place. A couple of years ago I remember thinking it looked very tired and a couple of the stands definitely needed modernising. This time around little had changed, and other than a development of flats behind the famous (replacement) lime tree and a brand new scoreboard the stands are still in serious need of updating. Kent's scorer is one of life's great eccentrics which ensures never a dull moment as the day goes on, especially on days like this when they let her loose with the new electronic scoreboard. Always chirpy and on the go all the time you may well bump into her if you ever do the guided tour of Lords as that is one of her other jobs. A satisfying win under our belts, it was back on the coach and time to move on to Sussex.
Monday's game at the new Aldridge Cricket Academy in Brighton was the first major game to be played on what promises to be a great facility for women's cricket in the county. The pavilion incorporates a 3 lane indoor net facility and there is ample room around the ground for spectators. Sat in the shadow of Brighton's Amex Stadium it just lacks a bar, but then again as it is on school premises that's probably understandable. We nearly didn't make it to the ground as the mini bus driver started to head under a bridge only to realise just in time that the road sloped upwards at the other end of the tunnel and we wouldn't get through. It was good to see Sarah Taylor back playing again after her much publicised problems with depression - although I'm not sure our bowlers felt the same as she scored a quite effortless half century. The game itself ended in somewhat bizarre fashion as what looked like a bit of sea mist in the distance thickened and gathered around the area with the umpires eventually forced to stop the game as fielders disappeared into the murk. In 50 plus years of watching playing or scoring this was the first time I've ever known fog stop play. It must happen - especially on grounds near the coast, but I've never seen it before. As a result we lost on run rate and set off on the long trek home.
The following Friday we were at Adlington where both clubs were defending an unbeaten start in the T20, but on an admittedly dull evening the magic of the BCL T20 didn't appear to have grabbed the locals. Some 40 or 50 souls were at the game which was a pity because the match itself was an absolute cracker proving that you don't need high scores to have an exciting game. It's a couple of years since I scored at Adlington and like Blackrod it is a much changed ground from when I first visited many years ago. The entrance, pavilion and scorebox all used to be on the railway side of the ground whereas now everything is on the opposite side of the ground with the pavilion built about 30 years ago by the club members still looking smart and relatively modern.
On Saturday we made the short trip to Horwich RMI for a league game against the table toppers. Shorn of our pro and several key players the lads produced a remarkable display to secure a win and then it was off to the bar to watch the Champions League Final. Once again I found myself reminiscing about a long lost pavilion albeit in a minority around after the game who could remember the old wooden building, full of character (and splinters!). The same went for the football ground next door, tennis courts opposite, and the signal box that had been converted into a score box by the apprentices at the Loco Works. Times like this really make you realise your age!
Another triple header loomed the following weekend although thanks to the wonderful June weather the middle part of the sandwich was forced to be abandoned leading to a rare Saturday off. Friday's T20 against Blackrod attracted another healthy crowd to Chew Moor who were entertained by a well contested game which saw us move to 3 wins out of 4 in this competition. The previous day's rain posed a problem for scorebox access with the surrounds flooded but a few strategically placed stones eventually solved that and thankfully the inside of the box was dry. It helps being lucky with the weather but the potential for a major boost to club funds is certainly there and having missed out last season by playing every game away we are hoping to make up for lost time this summer at Chew Moor.
With Saturday off, the next stop on this summer's travels was Leyland's Fox Lane ground for a Lancashire KO tie. Fox Lane is a mixture of old and new with an attractive building housing the changing rooms and tea room and a newer Social Club in the corner of the ground. The score box meanwhile is around 30 years old and externally at least looks it's age with several of the electronic numbers in need of replacement. Internally its fine with a pretty good view of the ground. The highlight though has to be the control panel for what is a homemade electronic system all those years ago - truly mind blowing and not exactly pocket sized! Special mention also to an absolutely superb tea served up by Leyland - probably the best of the season so far by some way. Our LKO exploits were ended but it was an enjoyable game in what were very autumnal conditions.
The fixture computer (or whatever they use) threw up yet another triple header to follow this with a T20 at Horwich, followed by a league game at Kearsley and then Fathers Day or not meeting up at Old Trafford on the Sunday at 7am to travel down to North Maidenhead for a T20 double header for Lancashire. I think it's fair to say that RMI are streets ahead of the rest of us when it comes to staging T20 games and this game was no exception. A healthy crowd saw a cracking game before a live band filled the rest of the evening which ensured many of the spectators stayed until the small hours. Every credit to RMI for the way they organise these nights. Kearsley the following day was another very warm humid day which saw us scoring outdoors due to some problems with vandalism in the score box. Al fresco scoring is all well and good and can be quite pleasant in the right weather but if the sun gets at you there's nowhere to hide and you pay for it later in the evening!
As I mentioned above it was an early start to Father's Day with a 7am meet at Old Trafford for the trip down to Berkshire. Once aboard and en route we found to our dismay there was no air conditioning on board which made for a potentially uncomfortable journey although the early start nullified that to a certain extent. It was one of the quieter trips too as the girls took the opportunity to have another snooze on the way there. North Maidenhead is another of those grounds that feels like it is in the middle of nowhere as you wind your way along a very narrow lane for the best part of a mile before reaching the ground. The ground itself is a pleasant tree ringed oval with a nursery ground beyond the trees and further on still a football pitch with additional changing rooms over there too. Predictably the wicket was extremely dusty given the weather and got even drier in temperatures hitting the mid 30's. In terms of oppressive heat I must admit it was one of the most uncomfortable 6 hours I've ever spent scoring as no matter what you did it was impossible to cool off or get comfortable and credit to all 3 counties for the way they coped with the heat out in the middle. Having won both of our games it was back aboard what had now turned into a mobile sauna having been sat in the sun all day for the trek home. To say it was uncomfortable would be an understatement but eventually we arrived back at Old Trafford on the stroke of midnight and dispersed into the night.
A rare chance to go to Old Trafford the following day and watch Lancashire in a County Championship game was a welcome chance to relax and recharge my batteries after the previous day's travels, and on a bright sunny day I was surprised how many people were actually there with the car park full signs up by lunchtime. The new hotel was almost complete and will make an attractive addition to the ground and it was great to see a good enjoyable day of cricket which swung back and forth between the two sides in the sunshine. Back to normal at weekend with a Friday T20 at home v Adlington and then a league game on the Saturday against Eagley. Friday on a gloomy damp evening passed by relatively uneventfully but at least saw us progress to the next stage although the weather contributed to a smaller crowd than our other 2 games. Saturday too saw little of note other than a comparative rarity where the winning runs were scored via a wide which the keeper diverted on to the fielder's helmet behind him thus conceding an extra 5 penalty runs.
It was back to Kearsley for a T20 quarter final on the following Friday which went ahead on a grey overcast evening, and saw a close game which in the end the home side deservedly won. Scoring in the function room proved something of a challenge particularly in the second innings as it filled up with patrons. If clubs (in general) want us to score from the clubhouse they really need to make sure it is in an area that won't see any disruption to concentration. Saturday gave me the opportunity to complete a full house of Bolton League grounds with a trip to Walkden. The sun shone and Lostock didn't as they tumbled to a rapid defeat and it was back to Chew Moor to see the end of the 2nd team game. Walkden's score box is in a good position if badly in need of an update, but certainly not the worst I've ever been in. Glorious sunshine followed us to Widnes the following day for the second batch of county T20 games as we entertained Somerset and Middlesex. A pleasant ground spoiled only by a postage stamp sized scoring room tagged onto the side of the home changing rooms - made even smaller this year by virtue of the groundsman storing some of his equipment in there - saw three entertaining games with Lancashire winning both of ours and Middlesex beating Somerset in the other.
Into July now and what felt like a really long weekend with just one match in the diary on the first weekend. It's surprising how long the day feels when in theory you could just put your feet up and do nothing, so what did I do on my day off? I drove up to Durham to see one of our sons and got my cricket fix by taking in the Durham v Northants T20 game at Chester le Street. I have to admit it is one of my favourite 1st Class grounds with the superb backdrop of Lumley Castle which looks spectacular on a sunny day as it was on this day, but saying that it can also be one of the coldest places to watch a game too. I'd be surprised if I ever got to score there though, because Lancashire & Durham are 3 divisions apart in the women's game, and when we have met in recent years they tend to stage the games at either Durham City or The Racecourse Ground in Durham which both offer spectacular views of Durham Cathedral whilst scoring.
With the damp weather having tried but failed to ruin Saturday's league against Westhoughton (although looking at the margin of defeat it might have been better if it had succeeded), it was with some disappointment that an early start on Sunday for the trip to Birmingham was met with the same clingy drizzle. The trip almost never got going though as the usual "jobsworth" stewards that we seem to get around the Bee Hive area for the Iron Man event refused point blank to let me out of the street, despite having checked and cleared it with the organisers earlier in the week. Anyway arguments over and if one steward in particular is reading this I apologise for losing my temper, and it was off to the Edgbaston Foundation Ground for the latest round of T20 games. Situated in the colourful area of Smethwick, as I said last year this has the potential to be a fantastic setup and more improvements have been made in the intervening period. No longer do we score in the restaurant, we now have a score box, well a garden shed to be more accurate with the windows affording a decent view of the ground and a table to score on, but at least we have somewhere now. Two exciting games later and despite losing our unbeaten record we found ourselves sat at the top of the table with one round of games to go - dizzy heights for a team long thought of as relegation favourites every time we appear in the top section of a competition!
A relatively quiet week with just a game against Bradshaw at home was followed a week later by one of our last long distance treks of the season which saw us heading for Banstead in Surrey and our last T20 double header of the campaign. Unlike the Maidenhead trip, this time we went down on the Saturday played Sunday & returned Sunday evening. so the travel was less stressful at least. The hotel was in a magnificent position on Epsom Racecourse facing the main grandstand with great views of the course (apart from our room which overlooked the bins and the back of a stable block!) and a cracking pub next door serving a couple of really good real ales.
Banstead CC are celebrating their 175th anniversary this season and staging the T20 games was part of those celebrations. It was a strange ground really having more the feel of a park than a cricket club with 2 sides of the main ground opening straight out on to the neighbouring roads. The clubhouse was functional if not overly attractive from the outside but surprisingly modern inside with a couple of real ales on sale. As for the scorers we were housed in a garden shed with a pile of the groundsman's equipment, and a picnic table plonked directly in front of us. Overnight rain left us watching the grass dry before the umpires finally decided that the ground was fit enough to play albeit with the first game reduced to 9 overs a side. The equation for the girls was simple - if we won both games we were T20 division one champions, if we didn't we were relying on Warwickshire slipping up in at least one of their games. Gradually the sun broke through and having managed to beat Surrey in our first game word filtered through that Warwickshire had lost and we were champions. Before the celebrations could begin though we had the small matter of a Roses clash to deal with. Yorkshire were out to spoil the party but in the end we got home by 5 wickets and the party could begin. Sadly we couldn't sample too much of what was on offer from the bar because apart from the 5 hour trek home most of us were also driving when we got back to Manchester! The M25 was at its worst and despite being Sunday tea time virtually at a standstill and the euphoria slowly wore off as the journey home dragged on.
August the busiest month of the season opened with 3 games in 3 days or at least it would have done if the weather hadn't intervened. Thursday's game against the MCC at Ashton on Mersey eventually fell foul of the rain despite the manful efforts of their groundstaff. Every time we got to a point where a start was on the cards another shower came, and sure enough as soon as it was called off out came the sun to taunt us. Ashton's renovations that were under way last season are now finished and the clubhouse looks terrific. The portacabin that serves as a score box has been transformed by the addition of wood cladding with a small balcony and steps and now looks a picture. More work on transforming the ground is planned as finance permits and in the next few years it will become a great setting. Friday saw a trip down to Loughborough and a first warm up game for the upcoming Super League. At least this time the sun shone and we got a full game in. It was somewhat annoying to find that they hadn't provided a scorer - although they did at least deign to pass on a team sheet complete with shirt numbers - and then they have the cheek to moan that the scoreboard wasn't always bang up to date. A good competitive game ended in a narrow defeat but hopes are high for the campaign ahead. Saturday at home on Chew Moor saw an inspired performance from Brett Pelser take his Horwich RMI side to an impressive win. He seemed to batting on a different pitch to virtually everyone else in the match such was his control - just a pity we were on the receiving end.
A couple of days off and then it was over to Liverpool for Thunder's final warm up match on Tuesday. Aigburth is in my eyes a great venue with fantastic views across the Mersey to North Wales on a clear day from the pavilion. As befits a ground that stages 1st Class games there is a large playing area with at the far side of the ground something of a rarity these days grass tennis courts. Going into the Victorian pavilion is like stepping back in time - massive rooms some in need of modernising, some really attractive, and a real old fashioned (in a nice way) feel about the place. I'm told it is the oldest surviving oldest original pavilion on the 1st class circuit and the square is 2nd only to The Oval in terms of playing strips (24). The pavilion was also men only until the mid 1970's. Amazingly considering less than a mile they were having torrential rain we got through the game uninterrupted and the girls got a useful and winning workout.
Friday, the day that the season has been building up to really, and our opening Kia Super League game of the season at Headingley against the old enemy and a televised game to boot. A luxury coach carried us across the hills to the "dark side" and we arrived at the famous old ground with plenty of time. Leeds is some way behind the other Test grounds in terms of redevelopment although there are plans to completely redevelop the football stand end. The one new building is the Carnegie Stand which in my opinion looks like a child's lego construction set gone wrong = it sticks out like a sore thumb and isn't particularly attractive. Inside it is functional rather than attractive and the scorers are tucked away on the 5th floor at the top right hand corner as you look at it. Being a televised match we were right behind the bowlers arm and a floor above the various broadcasters from Sky and the BBC. As usual in these games you have the additional scorers from Opta and the scoreboard operators, and the whole lot of us were stuck together in one room. The banter between the umpires which we get access to via the walkie-talkies was quite amusing (if unrepeatable at times), but probably the most eye-opening aspect of the game was the extent to which Sky control everything. Even the umpire signalling a power play is choreographed down to the second and he can only signal it when given the ok from TV. It was something of a surprise too to see heavily armed police patrolling inside the ground although I suppose that is sign of the times we live in. We were lucky enough to be given tickets to watch the men's game afterwards which resulted in around 20 of us in Lancashire gear being seated in the Yorkshire members stand. Some of the banter aimed at us was shall we say priceless but didn't spoil an enjoyable evening.
After a return visit to Farnworth Social Circle where we spent a couple of hours watching that strange cricketing ritual of people standing around pointing at the ground and generally looking like they know what they're talking about, when in reality none of us have a clue when it will be dry, and what was eventually a game reduced to 30 overs a side, another disappointing batting and fielding display. Catches win matches and on this day we couldn't have caught the proverbial cold!
Tuesday saw me off to Old Trafford for our only game of the summer at HQ with threatening skies overhead. Fortunately the weather held off and both the scheduled games got through without interruption and once again the umpires provided royal entertainment in the background. I'm sure the girls will hold their hands up and say they didn't perform but with 2 defeats already it leaves a mountain to climb to reach finals day. After our game we were treated superbly by our sponsors Thomas Cook. Initially we were given access to the Thomas Cook Terrace with a free drinks voucher, and then taken over to the old pavilion where we were treated to a superb 3 course meal complete with free bucket of drinks and a couple of bottles of wine. I can't tell you how tempted I was to abandon the car and make full use of it but with work looming the following day discretion proved the batter part of valour! I don't know what the journalists from the Bolton News are like when the food comes round but the national press guys present at Old Trafford have a remarkable appetite demolishing everything offered as the day progresses in a matter of minutes. (One who shall remain nameless managed to eat 3 giant hot dogs complete with a plateful of chips in one sitting !)
The following weekend marked the start of my busiest period of the season which would see 6 matches in 10 days with going on for 1000 miles of travelling thrown in for good measure. The first of those games saw Lostock's home game with Kearsley fall foul of a waterlogged pitch. Early enough for a quick dash to the Macron and a bonus match at the Wanderers, although by half time I was wishing I hadn't bothered. Sunday was much brighter and we travelled to Blackpool hoping to kick start our Super League season as we were in dire need of a win to stay in the competition. The ground looked a picture in the sunshine and had recovered remarkably well from the previous week's downpours and a healthy crowd built up to watch the game against Loughborough Lightning. Any of the crowd wanting scorecards though were to be disappointed as someone forgot to pick them up when they left Old Trafford earlier in the day, although Blackpool did manage to step into the breach with a replacement sheet. The game saw yet another disappointing display which proved the old adage true that no matter how good your team looks on paper it is what they do on the field that counts. A heavy defeat saw us knocked out of this year's competition with what were now a couple of dead games to play. Hopefully pride will spur them to save a little face in our two remaining games.
On to Wednesday and it was back to Liverpool and Aigburth once again. The weather was once again really kind to us and the views across the Mersey were stunning - I just wish I could say the same about our performance as we collapsed to another heavy defeat. The close proximity of the DJ for the day made communication between scorers less than easy as at the same time we were mindful of sitting next to Scott Read who was commentating on the game for local radio and not wanting to be an inadvertent addition to his commentary . Scott has to be one of the most underrated of the local radio broadcasters and for me certainly one of the most enjoyable to listen to. Genial well informed and always a pleasure to hear his broadcasts, it's good to see he is starting to get the odd stint on TMS too as others recognise his talents .
Friday saw us board the coach to travel down to Bristol for our final Super League game of the season hoping to at least notch one win up for their efforts in what has been admittedly a very disappointing tournament. Five hours later we reach the hotel and after a quick freshen up it was time for food and the pub! By southern standards both food and ale were surprisingly reasonably priced and it wasn't a bad pint either to be fair which proved very welcome as news of Bolton's performance at Hull filtered through. The hotel was situated incidentally on the intriguingly named Catbrain Lane - one of many quirky street names in Bristol such as World's End Lane and There And Back Again Lane to name just two. The County Ground at Bristol had never struck me as being particularly attractive on t.v., but once you are inside the ground it isn't that bad in all fairness. The facilities are bright modern and up there with some of the bigger county grounds we've been on. The scorebox on the 3rd floor is a bright room with a super view of the ground, and the catering was good too. A closer game but yet again defeat against possibly the best team we've played in the competition. A relatively stress free trip back to Old Trafford, dash home and get ready for two more games as the county season came to a climax on Sunday and Monday. One afterthought occurred to me after the last 2 games contrasting the captaincy styles of the past and present England Women captains. Charlotte Edwards, without question a legendary player, strikes me as a reactionary skipper constantly ball chasing with her field placings moving fielders to wherever the last shot went, whereas Heather Knight seems much more intuitive and canny in both field and bowling changes which can only bode well for England's future.
Going into the final two games we had a slim chance of the title as we sat 3rd some 13 points behind Yorkshire and Warwickshire needing to win both of our games and hope for other results to go our way too. The first of the games on Sunday saw us entertain Notts at Heywood. For some I always seem to get lost trying to find the ground ending up in roughly the right area but on the wrong street and today was no exception taking 3 attempts to pick the right one. The daft thing is that's a really easy place to find but for whatever reason I get a mental block when I get near. Heywood like many of the grounds in the old Central Lancs League has a really large playing area and on a sunny day like today a smashing place to watch cricket with the trees around the ground making a beautiful backdrop. The girls produced an excellent effort to defeat Notts gaining 17 of the 18 points available to keep our hopes alive as Yorkshire defeated Warwickshire. That left us and Warwickshire looking like we were playing for 2nd place as Yorkshire went to Nottinghamshire with pretty much everyone expecting a comfortable win for them.
For a Bank Holiday Monday the M6 was surprisingly quiet for the drive down to the Edgbaston Foundation Ground to be met with loads of questions on whether we could still finish top or not. At the end of the day all we could do was try and win with maximum points and hope Yorkshire lost and only pick up 4 points. Another superb performance from the girls - particularly Sophie Ecclestone taking 6/12 in her 10 overs saw us crush Warwickshire and deny them enough points to finish above us and then all we could do was wait. With the game finishing early we knew Yorkshire had got 3 batting points so surely couldn't fail to pick up a couple of bowling points even if they lost so we set off in a state of limbo. I'd just about reached Knutsford when the phone rang and our coach Dan was asking if I'd seen twitter? "Er no I'm driving why?" "Well there's a tweet just gone on to say Notts have won by 6 wickets so how many points will Yorkshire get?" "On that basis 4 by my reckoning", "So what does that mean?", "Off the top of my head we have 99 points & Yorkshire 98" Cue screams from the other car - From Meg our skipper not Dan I hasten to add - so we're champions! A surreal way to find out but a brilliant feeling none the less!
Traditionally the winning county gets invited to Buckingham Palace to receive the trophy but knowing our luck and seeing as we are from 'oop north they won't bother this year. Time will tell I suppose.
So it was back to Lostock for the last 3 games of the season and the fight to avoid relegation. The first few overs of the game against Walkden would have been a great cure for insomnia with the first run only coming in the 9th over of the game, and when we slumped to 29-7 thoughts of an early finish and impending relegation were certainly to the fore. However the lads dug deep and somehow transformed the game to pull off one of the biggest turnarounds I've seen in a very long time and a very welcome win. Not safe yet but certainly breathing a little easier. Champions Farnworth were next on the agenda but the rain wiped out the whole Bolton League programme which from our point of view meant we had avoided relegation and achieved our minimum target for the season. I on the other hand was now free to witness another drubbing for the Wanderers and the feeling grows that it could be a long season. The final game at Westhoughton certainly had an end of season feel about it with the match seemingly drifting along. The rain held off long enough for them to inflict our customary drubbing and that was it another season had come and gone.
April to September has certainly flown with over 50 matches and around 2500 miles on the clock. New grounds ticked off on the list and old favourites re-visited. All that remains now is finding ways of filling the void for the next few months. Much of that will be spent updating club records and trying to build up something similar for the Lancashire Women as currently there seems to be a lack of collated records. And of course the chance to let off steam at the Macron!