At last, after years of splendid isolation and fierce independence, the league cricket world of South Yorkshire is now properly married and all the relatives from the rich and well-connected, to the poor but honest have joined together in one big happy family.
A triumph for democracy and equality. The Pontefract League teams can gain promotion to their cousins the South Yorkshire Senior League (who last year took in their unhappy friend the Alliance) and all can move up to the new Yorkshire League (South) ECB Premier League, should they prove good enough – and of course there’s the rub, because to be good enough they’ve got to get good players and to do so, they’ve got to get them from someone else.
Where before - without promotion and relegation in the Yorkshire League - the only clubs who were really fighting it out were those at the top, now, those at the bottom of the top league and the newly-promoted ones both feel pressure to bolster their teams in order to stay up, while teams in the league below (with money), and their players (with ambition), try to seize opportunities that weren’t there before.
The net result in South Yorkshire is that the winter transfer deals have doubled in quantity and many of the middling clubs have been stripped of their best players who are now spread thicker and thicker in the top layer like marzipan on a wedding cake.
Coal Aston in the Championship have lost Liam Johnson and Ted Rogers to Wickersley in the Premier. Wath have lost Sam Drury, Harvey Wootton and Jordan Shutt to Treeton, Barnsley and Rotherham Town. Oliver Jackson from Conisbrough has gone to Barnsley.
Darfield have lost all but two of the team they started with last year. Shaun Waldron, of Darfield, said: “Captain James Ward has gone to Doncaster, Pete Hadfield to Elsecar, Adam Wiles to Kexborough, Charlie Kaye to Hooton Pagnall, Dan Waldron to Barnsley, Michael Topp to Doncaster, Liam Marshall to Warmsworth and Paul Wilkinson’s shoulder has dropped off.
“We wish them all well, particularly Wilky - we could do with him back!”
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Darfield, fortunately, have the money to bounce back. Outstanding senior players like Haider Jahangir, from Wickersley, and Lesroy Weekes, from everywhere, are now with them, as is Waqas Maqsood from Pakistan.
“Waqas has just taken 150 wickets in 30 matches in his domestic league. He has been opening the bowling with Pakistan opening bowler Junaid Khan, and has claimed the scalps of a number of Pakistan test players. Haider thinks he’s the real deal after seeing him play.”
Whiston PC, who went down, have also bounced back, with a few well-placed purchases. They have kept their powerful team together, led by Andy Tomlinson and Danny Kemp, and have been joined by Jack Moran and Chris Page from Rotherham Town and Love Kesh from India.
Elsecar are the most successful in the history of the South Yorkshire League, having won the championship a staggering 18 times in 67 years and being crowned Black Sheep Yorkshire Club Champions in 2014.
But last year - the year when it really mattered - they finished sixth and missed promotion. The absence of Shahzad Rana was hugely significant in that, but this year he’s back, along with Peter Hadfield from Darfield, and though Glenn Yates may not be able to play regularly, they will certainly be a force again.
Other teams have conserved their strengths. Newly-promoted Kexborough will be hoping to consolidate around their experienced captain Andy Moore, opener Ross Diver and all-rounder Michael Jepps with some strong players signed from Division One. Wath have gained batsmen Jonathan Allan, Jonathan Plater and all-rounders Will Cooper and David Mace from Rotherham Town and will have the powerful South African Shawn Dyson, who is a great club man as well as an excellent all-rounder, back with them again.
Hallam are looking forward to the return of former players Humphrey Emery (from paternity leave), Craig Moffatt (from injury), Will Hale - former junior, now a leading minor county player - and spinner Shane Smith from South Africa. Coal Aston have a promising young opener, Tom Griffin, from New Zealand.
Conisbrough have Arosh Janoda, their big-hitting, match-winning overseas, back again, along with the return of Ben Scott. Tickhill, who only just missed promotion last year, have lost their dynamic Aussie Steve Reid, but Jordan Lowe has joined them from Wickersley. Collegiate seconds, back in the Championship with a young, exciting side, are hoping to gain from the backwash of a strengthened first team.
No news from Houghton Main or Rotherham Town seconds and not much either from Division One, where Rockingham and Whitley Hall seconds (bolstered by the strength of their first team and their success in the National Indoor Championships) continue to look a good bet for promotion. Thorncliffe and Hallam seconds, both up from Division Two, are also hoping to make an impact. But other good things have been happening.
Whiston are starting work on improved changing and scoring facilities. Elsecar have had £43,460 funding from Sport England to replace their perimeter fencing and provide a safe haven for their juniors. Coal Aston have a new electronic scoreboard, also thanks to Sport England, and, in Division One, Norton Woodseats are progressing their plans to move grounds to a new and massively improved facility.
Let’s hope the quality of cricket in the South Yorkshire league stays high. It can’t fail to be different, following the loss of Aston Hall, Treeton, Whitley Hall and Wickersley to the new Premier League, but it’s important to remember how much the competition and opportunity was desired by the clubs and the players, and the great thing is how much strength and support the new structure has given to cricket throughout South Yorkshire.
The South Yorkshire League continues to grow following the accession of the Alliance clubs. This year we also welcome the second team of top Central Yorkshire side Wakefield Thornes, Darren Gough’s club Monk Bretton and Fishlake from Doncaster. We are the feeder to the new Premier League but more than that, we aim to be a progressive force for the development of the highest standards. Not just in the playing of cricket, but in the way clubs are run and equipped and the support they give to their communities, especially their youngsters.
After all, the measure of a good marriage is how well they bring up their children.