Origin of the Hampshire Cricket League
Following the formation of the Southern League (SL) in 1969, a general inquiry in 1970 initiated by Noel Fisher showed a widespread interest among clubs tired of the surfeit of draws in ‘friendly’ cricket and looking for a competitive edge with rewards, in the form of promotion, for success. The inaugural meeting of clubs was held on 19 February 1972. Noel, as Secretary of the Southampton & District Club Cricket Association, represented the largest organization of clubs in Hampshire and played a leading role in the formation of the Hampshire Cricket League, and until his untimely death in 1981, in its growth and development.
Fourteen months after the inaugural meeting, the first Hampshire Cricket League’s County 1 Division fixture took place at Hayling Park on 28 April 1973 between Hayling Island CC and Portsmouth & Southsea CC. Noel Fisher, the League Chairman, bowled the first ball – recorded as an amiable long hop, delivered left arm round the wicket. Portsmouth & Southsea went on to win by 16 runs, with 7 balls remaining. Their total of 175 for 9 included 50’s for Steve Munday, who returned to the Hampshire Cricket League in 1997 with Old Hambledonians and Paul Winsor, while Hayling Island’s top scorer was Portsmouth footballer Harry Harris.
The League began in earnest on 12th May 1973, with 64 teams in 5 Divisions (2 Countywide, 3 Regional) and another 11 in the Supplementary Division awaiting a place in the competition proper. Only 32 of those 75 clubs are still playing under the same names, a further 18 have amalgamated with other clubs, six left to play in other Leagues and names such as Alverstoke, Bordon Chemicals, Caversham, Deanery, Highclere, Huntley & Palmers, New River, Old Portmuthians, Pegasus, Southampton, Sterling Cables, Wellworthy and West End have, as far as we know, declared their innings closed.
The first League Management Committee included Colin Savage (Secretary of the Hampshire Cricket Board) and Colin Marshall, BBC Solent’s Rugby Correspondent. The Committee has also been a breeding ground for eminent scorers, including Vic Isaacs and Tony Weld (and one of the umpires in the inaugural League match).
There are more runs scored now – in 1973, 200 was an exceptional score and no team in County Division 1 managed more than 50 batting bonus points. In 1999 all 18 teams in the top division gained 66 or more from a similar number of games – through a combination of improved pitches, better batting and the overs restriction on bowlers.
In 2000 the League was reduced by one Division smaller as 19 teams moved to the new Southern Premier League within the Hampshire pyramid.
A historic change occurred at the end of 2001, when the 3 famous Leagues – the Hampshire Cricket League, the Hampshire Combination Cricket League and the New Forest Cricket League came together to form the new Hampshire Cricket League. The aim was to reduce the amount of adminstration needed by clubs, particular those with teams in at least 2 of the old Leagues.
The League continues to evolve following a considerable increase in the number of teams during the early 2000’s and there is still a lot to do, led by the League s major objective: ‘the promotion, advancement and protection of the interests of cricket’.
Practically this means looking for the best structure to reward ambitious clubs without harm to others, bringing more young cricketers into the game, finding more umpires and scorers, continuing the improvement of pitches and facilities.
Those involved in Hampshire cricket should be extremely grateful to all those people for have served as members of League committees. Their efforts are often forgotten, but without their tireless support given freely, the League would not have been so successful as it has clearly been over the last 40 years.