125 not out: Historic Walton-le-Dale Cricket Club on the Covid-19 pandemic and looking to the future

One of the oldest sporting institutions in Lancashire, Walton-le-Dale Cricket Club can trace its roots as far back as 1875. ​Officially founded in its current incarnation in 1896, it’s been providing locals with the chance to indulge in that most English of pastimes for 125 years.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 7:00 am
Walton-le-Dale CC's 2nd XI cup winners in 2020 (Neil Harvey, centre with the cup)

Founding members of the Chorley and District Amateur Cricket League in 1903 and champions in 1970, 1974, and 2004, Walton-le-Dale CC has also earned its reputation as one of the most genial and family-friendly cricketing establishments in the North West.

What is more, the club has a growing presence in the local Palace Shield tournament, running three teams across the divisions: the firsts play in Division Three; the seconds in Division Four; and the thirds in Division Six.

Having moved over to Lancashire from his native Yorkshire in 2000 and turned out for Vernon-Carus Cricket Club for nine years, Walton-le-Dale Second XI skipper Neil Harvey first came down to the club in 2009 and immediately fell in love with the place.

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Walton-le-Dale CC's Matt Berry bowling vs Penwortham

“I instantly felt at home because it’s such a family club; my wife and our three kids were made to feel so welcome,” says Neil, 44. “I started playing cricket at 13 when my grandparents would take me to Bradfield Village Fellowship Cricket Club on the outskirts of Sheffield, which is one of the most beautiful grounds in England.

“Seeing cricket being played in such a nice environment really appealed to me, even at that age,” adds Neil. “You don’t often see football being played in such nice places!”

As chairman, groundsman, and captain of the Third XI, there isn’t much Leyland-born Mick Berry doesn’t do at Walton-le-Dale CC.

“When I joined the club in 2014, it just clicked,” he says. “We have a lovely little ground and there are a lot of families here, so the atmosphere when we’re playing on a Saturday and people are out with their picnics is great.

A shot from Walton-le-Dale's first home game of 2020

“Cricket’s not in the best health across the country, so if we can make our club as good as it can be and welcoming for families, that’s job done for us,” he adds, with the club playing their home matches at the Queen Victoria Recreation Ground. “Things like our third team are about longevity: we want a steady progression of young lads coming through for the second and first team in future.”

The future is an unpredictable concept at the moment, but one thing is for certain: the club’s 50-odd players are all keen to get back onto the field after a Covid-affected season last year.

“Purely from a cricketing point of view, lockdown was a real shame because we’d had a great winter of training with seven or eight new players of a good standard joining us as well,” explains Neil. “We were in a really positive frame of mind but, unfortunately, it all came grinding to a halt.

“Sponsorship took a massive hit as well,” Neil continues. “We’re three grand down, so Covid-19 has hit us really hard.”

Mick, 47, agrees. “We’re not by any stretch a rich club, so we make do and mend; beg, steal, and borrow,” he says. “We make the best of what we’ve got and, while we haven’t got a bar or a clubhouse, we’ve always got a spot for people.”

In order to stay in touch with people during lockdown, the club launched their own podcast called Up the Dale last April, going on to welcome the likes of Durham seamer Chris Rushworth, ex-Lancashire bowler Toby Lester, Lancashire all-rounder Steven Croft, Derbyshire all-rounder Luis Reece, umpire Martin Saggers, and BBC TMS’ Dan Norcross on for chats about their careers and club cricket.

Plenty of interest was also drummed up by the club’s live-streams of a few virtual matches on the Cricket ‘19 video game held against other teams in the league, with Walton-le-Dale CC even taking part in a virtual friendly against Parnell Cricket Club in New Zealand.

“Cricket is such a social sport and we’ve missed that side of things the most,” says Neil. “It looks like we’re going to get a full season in, which is great. The lads can’t wait to get back at it.”