By Frank Smith
IT WAS famously said that ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ but Finchampstead CC are following in Manchester United’s footsteps by proving that assessment wrong.
The Berkshire cricket club have secured their place back in the top division of the Home Counties League this summer – the second promotion in three seasons – despite having nine players under the age of 21 in their usual 15-man squad.
The oldest regular member of their playing squad is 26, the captain, Dan Marles, is 20 and their overseas player this year, New Zealander Lockie Ferguson, was just 23.
Indeed – the youth policy extends across their five Saturday teams, with the other four sides competing in the Thames Valley League.
Marles, who has been at the club for eight years, explained: “I took over the captaincy a year ago and to be honest our best players now are our young players. We have eight or nine players in the first team under the age of 21 and most are playing youth county cricket.
“We said if we are to move forward as a club then we need to look to the players who are going to be here in five or ten years’ time and they are the ones who will make our team successful and to be fair, they have made us pretty successful already.
“We want to build a base of young players and then combine them with the good experienced players that we already have and bring a few in.
“We have had that view for a couple of years now and the former captain Simon (Bell) started to bring that in and with me being a 20-year-old lad, I was keen to bring that in too.
“It is not so much about now; it is about five years down the line.
“When I came in it was a case of how do we get the best out of these youngsters. We gave them a crack and to be fair, if you look at the stats then the likes of Billy Rodgers, Max Uttley and some of the other lads were key to our success.
“Billy got something like 600 (629) runs this season at 17-years-old, which is a very good achievement, and Max and Craig Hodges are another two who both got 20-plus wickets at 17 (31 and 25 respectively) and the three of them had outstanding seasons.”
The youth policy was described as “paramount to the club” by their president Neil Doody and this year players as young as 13 were given opportunities to play adult cricket in the Thames Valley League.
The strength of Finchampstead’s youngsters is evidenced by the fact six of the 12 places in Berkshire Cricket’s academy are taken up by players from the club.
The emphasis on youth, and defeat in the opening match of the campaign, meant Marles would have been content to come fourth or fifth this year.
However, a second-place finish will see them return to Division One of the Home Counties for the first time since 2007.
Marles, who works as a sports coach, acknowledged survival will be considered a good season, but is hopeful the players are capable of finishing around mid-table.
He said: “The idea is that we should only get better. Next year will be a massive challenge but if we can stay up for a couple of years and get our feet in that league and keep those players, then we will only improve as a lot of them are only 17-year-old lads. What they have shown already is incredible, so by the time they are 20 or 21 they will be very good cricketers.”
Finchampstead CC were officially established in 1857, although records appeared to indicate cricket was played in the area as far back as 1806.
Their current home, Memorial Ground, was set up after the war in 1949 and their second base, the Leas Ground, was acquired in 1981.
Memorial Ground this year celebrated 35 years of hosting Berkshire County matches and Yorkshire, Kent and Durham have all played there.
In 1993 England faced India in the Women’s World Cup there and two years later an England NCA XI faced a South Africa U19 side which included Mark Boucher, Neil McKenzie and Makhaya Ntini.
And Finchampstead CC themselves tasted international action in 1999 when they played Bangladesh in a warm-up match for the World Cup.
Former Victoria player Jon Moss, Zimbabwe international Trevor Gripper and South African-born Billy Stelling, who competed in the 2007 World Cup for Netherlands, have arguably been their three stand-out overseas players.
While the youth players are the future of the club, there are a number of older members who are at its heart.
Dennis Maynard, who captained the team in the 1950s, has been a member for 67 years and has been secretary of the sports club, which oversees the cricket team, for almost 40 years.
His son Paul Maynard has been groundsman for a similar amount of time and Doody has now been a member for 52 years.
Doody was chairman of the club for 38 years until he relinquished the role in 2011 and was also chair of the Thames Valley League between 1981 and 2001.
“The club is still a big part of my life and I am down there almost daily,” the 74-year-old said.
“The cricket club has very much been a big part of my life. It dominates my summer months and the winter months when you do the administrative reports and interviews.
“Cricket club life becomes a way of life and it has been good to me. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. But I want to make it clear that we are very much a team, led by a very good chairman in Richard Potter.
“We try to run the club for the benefit of all and I would like to think I have played my part.”
Finchampstead were elected to the top division of the Home Counties League when it started in 2000, winning the title the following year.
Relegation in 2008 was followed by a few seasons in the Thames Valley League for the first team, but two promotions in three years see them back in Division One of the Home Counties League.
On the future, Doody, who was a partner in a chartered accountancy firm before retirement, added: “The club hopes to consolidate the team’s position in the top division and we want to strengthen the side in certain areas, which we have already arranged, and then focus on trying to ensure the four Thames Valley League sides find their own level and have well-balanced sides, which blood young players alongside the experienced ones.
“It is a case of same again; keep the progress going to remain a thriving club.
“We like to think we are one of the best cricket clubs in Berkshire and want that to continue.”
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper on Friday November 6, 2015