Not The Spin – A Look at a Cricket FanzineMartin Chandler |
I was born around 200 miles from Old Trafford, so I am not a Lancastrian by birth. Having arrived in this world however my parents, with no connection to the place other than my father having the opportunity to go and work on the Fylde coast when I was four years old, pulled up my southern roots and relocated there. My father was a Hampshire man, and a decent club cricketer who passed his passion for the game on to my brother and I. In time we both went to University in the south, and have remained resident in the minor county of our birth ever since but, because of where we spent our formative years, where cricket is concerned both of us have always regarded ourselves as Lancastrians.
Spending the summer months in exile has never proved a problem. It has always been possible to follow a county club from afar. For years I relied on newspapers for my news of the Red Rose. For the scores I, or rather successive employers, must have paid a great deal of money in the latter part of the last century to those companies who used to run a telephone update service. Then in time the information superhighway arrived, and it became and remains a straightforward exercise to keep a window open somewhere on my desktop in order to follow what is going on in county cricket. These days with a little ingenuity I can also, most of the time, listen to a BBC commentary.
By 2010, and despite always having been firmly of the view that it is the finest sporting competition there is I had got to a stage where I hadn’t seen a day’s Championship cricket for the best part of thirty years. I then spent a most enjoyable day at the Rose Bowl, so much so that I recorded my experience for posterity here. The following year, to my great delight, the 77 years of hurt ended and, something I had begun to fear I would not live to see, the Red Rose finally won an outright Championship for the first time since 1934.
At this stage in my life, despite having recently brought up my half century, I had never really thought much about the organisation of the Lancashire Club. I knew from reading about it that in the early 1960s the county had suffered badly from the way it was run, but my formative years as a cricket lover coincided with the glory days of the early 1970s a time when, led by the late, great Jack Bond*, Lancashire were the first county to really get to grips with the then new limited overs formats.
Later on it might have been different had I known anyone who was close to the club, but being so far away I didn’t know a single Lancashire member nor, my sibling apart, another Lancashire supporter. I didn’t hear anything that didn’t make the national press, so was blissfully ignorant of the existence of any issues that needed to be addressed. Reality dawned the year after the longed for title however. In April I was looking forward to a successful defence of the hard won pennant. By September, hugely disappointed to have been relegated, I was wondering what on earth had gone wrong.
Looking back I think I had heard that the county had a few ‘off field’ issues. I knew that the ground was a little ‘tired’ and was being redeveloped. I hadn’t however realised that during that glorious summer of 2011 the county had made a loss of approaching £4 million. Perhaps unsurprisingly there was, as a result, trouble at t’mill.
A members club is, I have always understood, ultimately owned and run by its members. At the turn of the century Lancashire had 13,000 of them. That is now down to less than 5,000 and even my arithmetic can work out how many former members that means there are, and it is inevitable with a drop like that that a goodly proportion of them, for one reason or another, will describe themselves as ‘dissatisfied’. In 2014 some of those formed the Lancashire Action Group**.
The relationship between supporters and the clubs they follow is a strong one. However hard the object of your affection kicks you the bond cannot be broken. When a love affair with a human being breaks down we need to, and almost always do, move on. That is not however possible with a cricket club, or a football team. Geographically I live about ten miles from Hampshire, with whom I have a family connection, but I could no more jump ship and start supporting Hampshire than fly. Success on the field for Lancashire County Cricket Club will always be what I want to see whatever concerns I may have about the management, and I am sure that is true for every member of the Lancashire Action Group.
So what can a disgruntled fan do? Complain is, of course, the answer. But how does he or she get their voice heard? That is where social media comes in handy and then, as support rolls in, publications like Not the Spin can begin. The name of what is, I believe, currently the only ‘fanzine’ type publication in English cricket, is a play on the name of the official Lancashire members magazine. I can only judge The Spin on the basis of a solitary copy I bought on eBay a while ago, but on the strength of that it certainly a much less interesting read than its unofficial rival.
So what are the complaints against the club? In some ways I like to think of myself as an outsider looking in and therefore unbiased, although I suppose as a subscriber to Not The Spin I have to concede I have at least a foot in the rebel camp. Anyway the issues the Action Group raise are many and varied and, as far as I can see without exception, reasonable. It might be that to some of the concerns, and I suppose it must be possible to each and every one, the club might have an answer. But they compound the problem by not engaging with the group.
A major source of unrest is the way the club’s members are treated, and the limited access they have to certain areas of the ground despite getting less value for their outlay than at just about any other county. Another question is why does the club seem to attach so little importance to the its history? A museum and a library come very low on the list of priorities, and the pennant from 2011 was so carelessly treated that at one point it was believed lost. Why, last summer, did Lancashire play a Championship fixture for the first time ever at Sedburgh School (in Cumbria) when grounds like Southport, Lytham and Blackpool are no longer visited?
The reason for the clashes must, I suppose, be tensions behind two conflicting priorities. Does Lancashire County Cricket Club exist to be a successful and profitable commercial enterprise with success on the field and happy members a bonus, or is it’s function merely the traditional one of producing a cricket team that wins the occasional trophy but always provides its members with an enjoyable cricketing experience? It ought to be possible to combine the two, but Lancashire seem unable to achieve that.
So, to return to Not The Spin the magazine, what does it contain and is it of any value other than being the mouthpiece of a bunch of malcontents? The answer to that one is that it is an excellent journal, and deserves a readership well beyond those most likely to subscribe to it. It is, naturally, something of a soapbox for the causes that brought about its creation. But there is much more in Not The Spin than county politics. There are historical articles on the Red Rose, its players and matches down the years, some coverage of current matches and also interviews and book reviews (albeit some of us would argue not enough of those!).
Naturally there is a good deal of criticism of those who run the club. Former player Paul Allott, now Director of cricket, picks up his share of stick but, if he looks hard enough, receives the odd bit of credit on those occasions where it is due.
Over the half a decade since it was formed the Action Group has made a good deal of progress. One day I hope it will achieve all its aims, and at that stage there will doubtless no longer be a need for it, although hopefully Not The Spin will go on.
*Stuart Brodkin’s tribute to Bond in Issue 6 of Not The Spin is, perhaps, its finest moment to date.
*More about the mission statement of the group can be found on its website, where the opportunity to purchase the first six editions of Not The Spin is also located, as well as the facility to subscribe to future issues.