Groundhog Day was only a few weeks ago and it doesn’t feel that long since I penned a similar note in advance of last year’s season – and what a season it was with success for both the women and men’s senior teams and across the Academy.

2023 will bring new challenges at a time when I fear that the Corinthian spirit of amateur cricket is becoming increasingly diluted.

I have no such fears about the soul of Ramsbottom CC and I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you what the committee have been doing to ensure we remain on a firm footing, thank you for your past support and, naturally, ask you for money!

Acre bottom is hallowed ground and the sterling work that Roger and Phil have done over the winter is reflected in how good it looks as we get ready for the warmup games and the season. The committee have fully supported them with investment in new equipment to keep the wicket and the ground one of the best at this level in the country. The fact that we are having to ration requests from Lancashire and the Manchester Originals to play on it shows the esteem in which the ground is held and the great work that they do.

Paul Hinchcliffe and his many volunteers have got the ground in tip top shape and, if anything, it looks way better than it did for the Worsley Cup final. That was a great day for the club in terms of income but bringing home silverware was very sweet although it further put Kieren Grimshaw in the shop window and he has now gone on to play as a professional outside the league. We wish Kieren all the best but he is replaced as Captain by a true Rammy stalwart in Tom Parton who came back from Australia during the season and produced some fine displays to steady the ship through to the season’s end – he also got a few runs in the final.

Talking about Silverware, the ladies teams have got into the habit of collecting quite a lot of it over the last few seasons and in 2022 we won the 40 overs league and got some real national recognition in the under 19’s and under 13’s T20 game. Daisy Hunt lead the first team team exceptionally well and along with Grace Johnson and Maeve Jones, was presented with a green baggy at the end of the season. The success and growth of the ladies section is down to the fantastic work done by Iain Collier and his team and this year we will see the next step in this whirlwind growth when we welcome our first overseas amateur into the team.

It was another great year for the Cricket Academy under Phil Croft’s auspices. We are very lucky to have Phil in such a key role for the club and in addition to the work he does for the Academy and the Committee he also coaches the under 18’s and is driving forward the Pathway Development Programme (PDP) and, somehow, he has even found the time to qualify as an umpire as well! The Academy committee and coaches have worked their socks off once again and many thanks to the parents who are the backbone of this club and cover hundreds of miles a year transporting our players all over the county.

Last year was the first year of the PDP and it has been a resounding success. We’ve been lucky to have Phil Heaton coaching our pupils and spending the time training and talking to them to develop their all round game. We have invested money into this programme to future proof the club and keep a solid flow of local talent into the men and women’s senior teams. We also had the first graduate from the PDP, Toby Ashworth, play for the 1st team last year and I am sure that he will say that the time spent with Phil was one of the reasons he made that leap.

I am delighted that Formulated Polymer Products have once again agreed to be the club’s main sponsor. Neil has been a rock for this club for many years and I’d like to thank him, Michael and Martin for everything they do for the club, they are fantastic sponsors to work with.

On the subject of great sponsors, Grace Overseas have renewed their sponsorship of the Cricket Academy. Sarah and Brian give us more than financial support and do a lot of work that goes unseen at the club to provide us with the invaluable tools to help develop the young players at our club.

It’s a hackneyed old term but your cricket club really does need you – this year more than ever. The Lancashire League has abolished the requirement to charge entrance fees for the coming season which will affect us more than just in the loss of match day entrance fees. Some may question the need to pay membership fees when you can get into league games for free. If you want to do this, this is understandable and may God have mercy on your soul. As a proud Jock I admire anyone who can get a tune out of pound note, and our Treasurer, Ben Dack, can do this like a tenured Aberdonian but even he is worried about the impact this could have on our coffers.

So why renew your membership? As well as being a winner in the lottery of life, being a RCC member does have certain benefits: this season, as a member you will get a drinks card which will give you a discount on any drinks served at the bar (even at functions), you will also retain the same reduction on room booking prices and a reduction on club merchandise – club caps, badges and jute bags are available to buy behind the bar.

I would implore you to renew your membership this year and if this sounds like begging then, as some of you may know, I have no conscience and feel quite happy asking for money. There are always other ways to support the club: sponsoring a game, the match ball or a bench in memory of a loved one is always a good way. As a committee we will welcome any fund raising suggestions or other routes to boost our bank account.

As usual, there are too many people to thank; I will try and name a few but if you’ve been left off, please don’t hold it against me. The committee and President make my life very easy and they do a great job for the club. Thanks, as usual, to Sheila for all her efforts, Carol Rothwell for her unenviable role as membership secretary and Liz Martin who doesn’t see me for about 6 months during the season. Over the year a lot of members have contributed to fund raising. Janine and Mick Ireland have worked wonders organising events such as the New Years Eve party and keep an eye on social media for the next big nights they are organising. Nigel Jepson wrote and published a superb book last year to celebrate our 175th anniversary, thanks Nigel – copies are still available from all good Ramsbottom CC members bars everywhere. Thanks to everyone who continues to work on keeping the club and ground in such pristine condition. Geoff Hinchliffe is a godsend and spends more time than me at the ground, Nigel Wilson has been invaluable with his IT skills and of course thanks to Phil O’Gorman who has, once again, given so much of his time to paint the Championship Room over the last month.

Many thanks, of course, to the players for their commitment and time last year and for the coming season. We couldn’t do this without them and they give us the entertainment and enjoyment which makes all the effort that we put in as a committee worth it. Their loyalty to the club is appreciated by us all. The Captains and Team Managers have to do all the hard work, the motivating and cajoling to get the teams ready and over the line for what is a gruelling season – I don’t envy their job but thank them for all that they do.

One date for your diary. At the first 1st eleven league game of the season, 23rd April, we are having a naming ceremony of the tea room in memory of our former President, Kathleen Horrocks. Her grandchildren will be down to cut the green ribbon and officially open the newly named room. Kathleen was a great servant to the club and a trailblazer for women as first female President and the founder of the Women’s Committee. I think she would be proud of what we have done as a club with the development of the women’s game and this will be a fitting tribute – if you can join us before the game to remember Kathleen that would be most appreciated.

Finally, thanks to the man that Allan Read calls the “Fourth emergency service” – Mark Ainsworth aka “Sparky”. There are many things that go wrong at the club, leaking roof and broken floor boards but he is always available to pop down with a practical solution and if he sometimes forgets to charge for some of that work then I hope this overdue mention will make up for those and hopefully a few more in the future!

I think the club is in fantastic shape and we are ready for whatever the season brings. I wish you all the best for the coming season and look forward to seeing you all soon down at Acre Bottom.

John Fox