Stourbridge Cricket Club's stated aim, as proudly displayed on their badge, is to promote excellence in cricket. A five year turnaround strategy has seen the club reverse its fortunes with Head Groundsman, Carl Bingham, very much at the forefront of the recent successes
Stourbridge Cricket Club was established in 1842 and has a long and a distinguished history. Much of their past, from 1894 to 2003, was spent playing in the Birmingham & District league. In 1986, they were winners of the William Younger Cup national knockout tournament (now known as the Cockspur Cup), the final being played at Lord's.
They are based at the Memorial Ground, in Amblecote, Stourbridge - the 1st and 2nd XIs play here - sharing the facilities with Stourbridge Football Club. The 3rd and 4th XIs play at nearby King Edward VI School.
First Class Cricket was played at the Memorial Ground from 1905 through to 1981, with big crowds enjoying seeing New Zealand star, Glen Turner, giving the bowlers the run around, and admiring the likes of Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Richie Benaud, Jack Hobbs and others gracing the pavilion dressing rooms. The rich history of the club includes hosting two ICC Trophy matches.
Unfortunately, their Birmingham & District Premier League status came to an abrupt end as the club were relegated twice in three years, with the first team playing in Division Two of the Worcester Crusader league by 2005.
A five year turnaround strategy was put in place with an annual development plan seeing the club returning to its 'natural home' in the Birmingham & District Premier Cricket League in 2011.
In partnership with Mansell Construction Services Ltd., Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, Bengal Fusion Restaurant, Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust (ICET) and other sponsors who came on board, the club is now in a much stronger position both on and off the field.
The club has invested around £170,000 over the last five years in upgrades, including a community practice facility, the restoration of the clubhouse roof and the installation of renewable energy systems.
In 2013, plans for upgrades to the club's changing and shower facilities were better off to the tune of £42,810 thanks to grants of £32,810 from Sport England's Places People Play Inspired Facilities Fund, £8,000 from ICET and £2,000 from Dudley MBC.
Improvements include replacing the wooden sub-floor, relaying drainage, a new umpires changing room, new ceilings, new resin flooring and additional toilets.
Carl Bingham has worked at Stourbridge Cricket Club for the last two seasons. Previous to that, he was a volunteer groundsman for thirty years with Amblecote Cricket Club. "I gave up my day job as a mechanical engineer of over forty-two years to do what I wanted to do," he says forthrightly.
"I have three volunteers, all of whom are fifty-five years old, although that's not a criteria for the job - Steve Jukes, Paul Bradley and Keith Jones."
"Steve and I work four half days a week, plus a full day on Fridays. Paul Bradley does jobs during the weekday evenings and helps Friday afternoons and on 1st XI match days. We do not have fixed hours, we just work to get the job done," he confirms.
"I was brought in specifically to improve the standard of the square following the club's return to the Birmingham Premier. The committee has been very supportive and provided me with a decent budget for autumn renovations, which is something that had been lacking previously."
"Bernard Flack, the former head groundsman at Warwickshire County Cricket Club, was someone who I always found helpful and enlightening and I was encouraged to take the ECB Level 1 Cricket Groundsmanship qualification."
"Since I've been here, we have improved grass coverage on the square, introduced a better, more aggressive autumn renovation, utilising a Graden scarifier, and carried out more aeration through the autumn and winter."
"Renovations cost £1300, including the hire of equipment, and all work is done in-house."
Carl continues; "I've also been given money for additional machinery. I still would like a Graden and a Groundsman aerator, but that might be asking too much at the moment, especially as I can hire them in."
Carl follows an eight day preparation regime, gradually reducing the height of the track to 3mm using his favourite machine, the Lloyds Paladin. He uses an electric lawn rake, Sisis Rotorake and a various rollers to assist him with his preparation.
The square is cut at 12mm during the summer using either the Ransomes Matador or Certes cylinder mowers, but rises to 15mm out of season. The outfield is cut at 12mm using the recently acquired Ransomes T-Plex.
"Our recent machinery acquisitions have, by necessity, been second-hand, but I am more than pleased with our purchases. Again, the committee have been very understanding of my requirements. They can see the improvements being made to the square and the overall presentation."
The square at the Memorial Ground is very fast draining, so requires heavy watering during summer months, particularly this past summer! "We only have a travelling sprinkler for this," comments Carl.
"We put out four teams on Saturdays and two teams on Sundays. We are a Focus Club with junior sections that cover all age groups, so we are kept busy."
"I should also point out the hard work put in by our President Keith Jones and Chairman Harilal Jivan-Patel. They have both worked very closely with Stourbridge Football Club over the past two years in building up better working relations, which resulted in the 2014 season seeing league cricket being played at the Memorial Ground during September for the very first time."
"We are a Clubmark club, which was awarded to us in August 2008. We were reassessed in 2011 and awarded a certificate, which will expire later this year. There are annual health checks and, if things are not in place, Clubmark can be taken away before the expiry date."
Clubmark is a quality accreditation awarded by the ECB to clubs who implement policies and procedures in the following four areas; Duty of Care and Safeguarding Children, The Cricket Programme, Knowing your club and its Community - One Game and, finally, Club Management.
The club has to ensure that it follows ECB guidelines and practices, for example - and these are just a few - that:
- qualified coaches are available
- training is structured, and there is competitive cricket
- we have a profile in the community
- we welcome volunteers
- we involve parents and local schools
- we have a good committee structure and a constitution that reflect ECB thinking and standards
- child welfare policies are displayed in the clubhouse and elsewhere to be accessible to members
"It's a fairly complex process," Carl confirms. "Each club is allocated an independent assessor by the County Board - in our case it's Worcestershire - who work with a club representative to get things put in place. Evidence has to be produced to demonstrate the club is compliant with the Clubmark standards."
"What it did for Stourbridge was to open up funding opportunities. The new nets facility, new sight screens, the renovation of the roof (with the solar panels) have been possible because Mark Ashbourne, our Funding Officer, has been able to say to funders 'we are a Clubmark club'. It's also a way of reassuring parents of the safe environment we offer."
As for projects moving forward, Carl confirms that rainwater harvesting is now in place and he plans to remove an old artificial wicket adjacent to the square and make two practice wickets. Additionally, fraise mowing of the square to remove hollows will be undertaken at some point in the future. There are also plans for a new, three-bay garage and workshop. Carl undertakes the majority of the servicing himself.
Harilal comments: "Carl was presented with the "Exceptional Endeavour Award" at our Annual Players' Dinner in September for his work on the ground and expertise. This award is the top award in the Club and is given to someone who has gone that extra mile through hard work and dedication. He has helped us deliver important goals, save money and enhanced the club's reputation."
Stourbridge's five year turnaround strategy appears to have been both well implemented and highly successful. That the club saw fit to invest in the quality of the playing surface has been all part of the grand scheme, whilst having Carl Bingham at the helm has been an equally sound investment.
What's in the shed?
Lloyds Paladin cylinder mower
Ransome T-Plex 185
Ransomes Certes cylinder mowers x 2
Atco 20" cylinder mower
Ransomes Matador cylinder mower
Allen cyclone spreader
Poweroll Club roller
Caterpillar 2½ tonne roller
Einhell electric scarifier
Various hand tools
Rover rotary mower