Like club stalwarts up and down the land, Simon Hicks’ role with Yorkshire’s Saltaire CC has expanded exponentially.
Firstly as colts’ parent to sons George and Joe, then team manager, vice-chairman and, finally, chairman.
“Dead men’s shoes,” he jokes of his rise.
It’s a familiar refrain for many, but Simon hadn’t quite envisaged playing Noah to help prevent his club being dead in the water.
On Christmas Day 2015 Simon, away on a festive family visit to Brighton, had a gnawing feeling trouble was ahead.
“Wrong place, wrong time,” he recalls.
On Boxing Day the banks of the River Aire, which flows alongside the 147-year old club, burst as he was on the phone to groundsman Billy Ricketts. Down the waters came, through Sir Titus Salt’s iconic textile mill village on Bradford’s outskirts, across the club’s Roberts Park ground, a site awarded World Heritage status in 2001.
The ranks of the club’s old boys include England greats, SF Barnes, Bill Voce and Jim Laker.
For Laker, read lake. The resultant deluge left the pitch submerged, clubhouse waterlogged, equipment ruined, and the club’s inundated Half Moon Cafe destroyed. Anything not above ground level was damaged. In a tragi-comic touch, the tip of a bronze alpaca’s head was about the only thing left visible.
“The water was four-and-a-half feet deep in the pavilion, where we store the roller and lots of the working equipment.” says Simon. “Underneath the scorebox were two mowers, strimmers, scarifiers...you name it. And we also had two containers at the back full of coaching equipment. More stuff than we ever imagined, when we saw it all laid out.”
Saltaire joined the ranks of 54 rain-stricken clubs applying for ECB help – more than double the highest number since their Flood Relief Programme was established in 2007.
“This was by far the worst situation we’ve had, in numbers of clubs and severity of damage,” says Dan Musson, ECB facilities and investment manager. “The rainfall levels were astonishing – in Cumbria they had twice as much rainfall as the previous record for December. That’s catastrophic. We’ve had more clubs that were not just flooded, but flooded significantly and for an extended period – and that’s what causes all the trouble, especially with grass growth.”
For Saltaire, help was at hand. Financial aid from Bradford Metropolitan District Council was granted for building and infrastructure repair work, but there was the small matter of repair to the silt and sand- sodden square, out outfield and two artificial wickets. Assistance from Yorkshire Cricket Board and Sport England was supplemented by a swift £30,000 grant from the England and Wales Cricket Trust. Miraculously, backed by old-fashioned volunteer elbow grease, the club was ready to stage Bradford League games again on 16 April when, of course, the entire programme was rained off!
They were up and running a week later, with victory over Keighley – another of SF Barnes’ old haunts. It’s a heart-warming turnaround in only four and a half months.
Saltaire’s heritage is secured. Insurance against flooding in the future maybe off the menu, but they now have mitigation procedures in place.
For Simon Hicks, the club’s trusted septuagenarian groundsman Ricketts (and his 60-hour week), and other club diehards, this victory sums up what the game means: a club feel, a sense of belonging.
“All local clubs are under pressure,” he says, reeling off a list of names, including recently defunct 111 year-old Windhill – for whom Learie Constantine once played.
“We’re not the only ones. But people pull together. And I think people who don’t volunteer really miss out on something.” They do indeed. Besides that, they could miss a local lad emerging in the footsteps of Barnes, Voce and Laker.