Spong sprung OSCA surprise

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Every Sunday night during the winter, more than 40 youngsters turn up to the indoor nets at Axminster Town cricket club in Devon for two intensive hours of coaching - thanks to the long-serving Philip Spong.

Every Friday night during the summer, more than twice that number regularly attend outdoor sessions and vye with one another for selection in one of the four colts sides that the club now proudly boasts.

This frenzy of activity is a far cry from the participation levels ten years ago before Spong, the club's groundsman for 30 years as well as a club committee member, started out on a concerted networking campaign to involve more children from the local schools in the activities of the cricket club.

It has been a slow but highly successful process and one that earned Spong the prestigious Building Partnerships award at the recent NatWest OSCAs ceremony at Lord's.

"We sat down around 10 years ago and worked out where, as a club, we wanted to be and what we wanted to do in the long term," Spong, a 67-year-old retired insurance executive who has lived in Axminster for 40 years and still wields a cricket bat for his cherished club, told ecb.co.uk.

NatWest OSCAs 2007 - Philip Spong

Philip Spong enjoys his 15 minutes of fame, alongside England's Charlotte Edwards and Mark Ramprakash

"As a result of that meeting we contacted each of the 15 local primary schools and invited them to coaching sessions at the club. We got a varied response but over time, we have built up numbers and now some of the players have become coaches."

The strength of this junior development earned the club an award of £54,162 from the ECB which paid for a second square on a three-acre site leased from landlords Axminster Carpets.

Not surprisingly, this opportunity paved the way for a larger membership, so now more than 60 adults turn out each week for four Axminster sides competing in the Devon Cricket League while 110 juniors represent the club in five colts teams from under-11 to under-17.

There are also Sunday and mid-week teams playing in friendly matches but one of the most exciting and popular developments at the club has been the establishment last year of a ladies section with an Axminster team playing in the Devon Women's League.

The enthusiasm of the ladies to put Axminster on the map as quickly as possible came at the end of last season when they became League Two champions, winning seven of the eight games played, and earned promotion to League One in one of the fastest growing and most competitive areas in the country for women's cricket.

NatWest OSCAs 2007 - Gerry Sutcliffe

Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe at the awards © Getty Images

Coaching has also produced some outstanding results. A few of the colts have matured into colts coaches, volunteering their time and energy to benefit the younger players and one has become so enthusiastic that he is taking his level three coaching qualification and has attracted the attention of the expert coaching team at Somerset CCC.

As part of the Step into Sport programme, designed to recruit, train, deploy and support young sports leaders, he has also been appointed as Spong's assistant groundsman at Cloakhamlawn sports centre, where the cricket club is based, as a way of assisting his progress.

"I have always been involved in encouraging people to play cricket so it is rewarding to see the various sections of the club develop. I think the Ashes in 2005 gave cricket a real boost but we are lucky in the people we have at the club and the way they approach things,” Spong said.

“Our secretary has been involved for 30 years, our chairman for 25 and our fixtures secretary has been around for what seems like 100 years. They are always looking forward and seeing how they can improve things.

"I felt rather embarrassed when I was picked as the winner of the award because I would have liked everyone at the club to have received it since it has been a team effort.

"I never think about why I do it, I just do it. Though it was nice to be recognised and I enjoyed my 15 minutes of fame among the local people in Axminster who saw the story in the newspapers here and kept coming up to congratulate me.

"I get a lot of pleasure from my involvement with the club and I enjoy being with like-minded people. It is very satisfying to see the kids grow up and carry on their interest in cricket. Kids these days gets a bad press but there are a lot of good kids out there."

Click here to watch coverage of the 2007 NatWest OSCAs at Lord's on ECBtv.