EVERY year at around about this time I start getting bombarded with text messages.
I’ve not accidently subscribed to an extensive spamming network and, no, the texts aren’t lurid in nature. I’d be worried if they were, seeing as they’re being sent almost exclusively by the captain of my local cricket club.
Ian has been skipper of White Horse for as long as the club’s been in existence and his pre-season call to arms (strimmers, mowers and rollers) is universally expected but still met with an audible sigh from his rag-tag bunch of businessmen, farmers, tradesmen and myself, the lone journalist, when really they should be seized upon like a Celtic battle cry.
I’ve lost you. No surprise there. My point is that Ian, and a handful of others at White Horse, are the lifeblood of a community club that relies on good spirit, benevolence, commitment, enthusiasm and dedication to survive.
I read with some sadness this week the tale of Westinghouse Cricket Club, a set-up which until around three years ago was thriving, playing West of England Premier League cricket and generally reaping the good harvest.
Fast forward to 2014 and the Chippenham side is now defunct. Extinct, having lost 26 players over the course of less than half a decade and much of the volunteer workforce which prepared pitches, sorted selection, hoovered the changing rooms and rustled up teas.
This spring, chairman Phil Meek had the awful task of writing to the Wiltshire League to confirm that his club would no longer be able to fulfil their match commitments. They had just five players signed up and even fewer willing handymen.
It’s a telling reminder of how local sport, funded by normal Wiltshire people like you and I rather than Russian roubles or Arab oil, cannot and will not continue to function if one generation does not carry on from the last.
It doesn’t only apply to cricket. There are dozens and dozens of brilliant clubs across our county, from athletics to bowls to triathlon and darts, which act as the region’s central nervous system in a sporting context. They unite communities, provide refuge from the hard times and exaggerate the good; they can give lost souls a shot at redemption and help old bodies stay active.
However, the story of Westinghouse shows how easy it can be for a long-standing pillar to crumble like archaic ruin when complacency and apathy take charge. Because those two character traits make no accommodation for history and treat community with contempt.
In an article outlining how and why his club folded, Meek recently wrote: “We went very quickly from lots of people doing a little bit each to a couple of people doing everything. Don’t let that happen in your club. It will only end one way.
“Be the change you want to see. Don’t be the one who sits at the back tutting and criticising. Get involved. Others will follow.”
It’s hard to ignore the poignancy of his words, flooded as they are with the first-hand emotion of how an institution so dear to him and his community disappeared almost overnight.
“Above all, cherish what you have,” he concludes. “As I know only too well, one day it might not be there.”
If there is justice for the time and effort Meek, his committee and their predecessors put into Westinghouse, the club will still pass on a lasting legacy. Their example should alert all of us who let others do it today ‘because we’re a bit tired’ and never get round to it tomorrow to the fact that sometimes, even if it’s only very occasionally, tomorrow never comes.
Most of us are guilty of such sentiment at some point in our lives but realising its destructive potential can be a big step to creating a vibrant, healthy, limitless future for our children, their children and so on.
When Ian texts me for the 17th time this week, I’ll be ready to pick up a strimmer and decapitate the nettles around the pavilion at Manor Farm. Will you?