Garstang CC and Longridge CC reflect on their respective seasons
Their first XI seasons might have ended in different fashion but both Garstang CC and Longridge CC were just glad to see any cricket at all in 2020.
Six months ago, the chances of any play this year looked optimistic at best with the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the globe.
After a winter’s training, the Northern League pair had faced the prospect of those efforts being in vain.
However, at short notice, a one-off Saturday competition was devised for Northern League and Palace Shield clubs to face each other.
In all 87 teams were in action with matches played across four levels, yielding two separate group stages as well as semi-finals and finals where possible.
That was all in addition to T20 matches and a Sunday competition.
The two group stages, semi-finals and a final meant 10 consecutive Saturday matches for Longridge, one more than Garstang as a result of their semi-final loss.
Given the alternative was seeing the year written off altogether, it’s little wonder that both clubs were full of praise for the organisers.
“It’s been brilliant, not just in terms of us being able to play 10 matches,” said Longridge’s Ian Simpson following their level one silver final victory.
“What we’ve seen is that we can do more; we can arrange friendlies on a Thursday or a Friday night for example.
“The leagues and clubs have worked together and there’s been a really good buy-in from everyone.
“The teams we’ve played from the Palace Shield have been brilliant and it’s been a good opportunity to meet up afterwards.”
For their part, Garstang’s second XI atoned for any disappointment felt by the firsts as they won the bronze final at level two.
Mark Walling’s senior team had hoped to be challenging for the Northern League title this year after finishing second last time out.
This year, they reached the elite level gold semi-final, as well as the final four in the T20 competition.
Though both games ended in defeat, the captain was just pleased to be playing.
Walling said: “To play two-and-a-half months of cricket is a credit to everyone involved in organising it.
“It was good to play in the end, even if we were disappointed to lose both semi-finals – but we didn’t play well in either game.
“From where we were at in June, when we didn’t think we’d be playing any cricket, I think we’ve done well considering.
“It felt like a competitive season and we enjoyed all parts of it. It didn’t feel too different from a ‘normal’ season.
“We played teams we haven’t played in a while and had some good local derbies as well so it was really enjoyable.”
The competitive nature of the season is reflected in the outcome of the nine finals which were held.
Blackpool was the only club to lift two titles with wins in the gold finals at levels one and three.
Level two saw wins for Leyland (gold) and Fulwood and Broughton (silver), Thornton Cleveleys (silver) and Preston (bronze) were the other level three victors, while Walton-le-Dale won level four’s gold final.
All told, it appears to have been a positive year on and off the field despite the difficulties which threatened to make the season a non-starter.
In Longridge’s situation, the on-field positivity has been reflected off it as well.
Simpson said: “The local community have bought into it and it’s been fantastic playing in front of the people we have.
“It’s allowed us to let the community know what we’ve got on offer at the club; great cricket, a good atmosphere, a decent bar and a big area for people to play with their kids.
“I think the one positive you have to take is people have wanted a focal point, they have wanted to watch some sport.
“I think we’ve actually had the best year yet because people have wanted to come and support us.”
It’s a theme taken up by Walling who, from his vantage point in the middle, believed cricket benefited from the restrictions on how people could spend their leisure time.
That attendance was also boosted from within the club as everyone got behind their team-mates, irrespective of the levels they played at.
Walling said: “It’s felt like there have been more people down to watch, which has been very good to see.
“The juniors have come to watch the seniors and, around the club itself, people have been in to help.
“We finished quite early in some of our games so we would go and support the seconds.
“The third team played on a Sunday this year, so a lot of the first and second team players went to watch them.
“It’s also given some people – who probably would go and watch amateur football, especially in August and September time – the opportunity to come and watch some cricket instead.
“We didn’t think there would be any cricket on earlier this year but the club rallied around and made it a good season.”