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The enduring ties between cricket and coal mine strikes persist, along with recollections of the miners' protests - "The Spin"
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The enduring ties between cricket and coal mine strikes persist, along with recollections of the miners’ protests – “The Spin”

It has been four decades since the contentious labor dispute of 1984-85, and the connections between cricket and mining have weakened but are still intact to a certain degree.

About one hundred years ago, the main players in English cricket were typically coal miners. In 1907, Nottinghamshire became County Champions with seven miners on their team. It was not uncommon for teams to recruit fast bowlers from the pits. However, this required precise timing, as the miners needed to be at the peak of their physical abilities without yet developing the chronic cough associated with working underground.

Harold Larwood began working as a pit boy when he was just 14 years old, and then moved on to a night shift position at the age of 17. According to Duncan Hamilton’s biography, Larwood’s job in the mines was incredibly hot and dark, with only faint lighting to guide him. He worked in a cramped three-foot tunnel, breaking apart coal seams and clearing debris for mining. Despite his grueling work, Larwood longed for a life aboveground, away from the darkness, and found solace in playing cricket, unlike his male relatives who were all miners. His friend and teammate, Bill Voce, also came from a mining background in Annesley.

Numerous clubs were established near the mines, just like near co-ops, churches, and other businesses. David Griffin, the archivist for Derbyshire CCC, shared that many colliery teams played on Saturdays from 3pm to 8:30pm to accommodate the morning shift workers. Interestingly, in August 1936, Derbyshire had a Championship team made up entirely of players born in the county, with 10 of them coming from a mining family.

During a project with Derbyshire Cricket Foundation, Griffin conducted interviews with two individuals from Glapwell Colliery Cricket Club, discussing the 1984-85 strike. One of the men shared, “As someone who played during that time, I believe the strike not only affected cricket, but also had a broader impact on sports and daily life.”

“I don’t recall there being many instances when miners who carried on working throughout the strike ended up on the same field as those who were striking. They were probably such a minority that they probably thought they wouldn’t put themselves through that …

However, a Shirebrook representative shared a story with me about a game between Shirebrook and one of the Notts teams where the miners did not participate in a mass strike. During the game, some non-cricket playing locals from the village caused trouble with the Notts team. As a result, two players from Shirebrook chased them away from the field with a cricket stump.

Police and a protesting miner in the 1980sView image in fullscreen

Professional cricket players were unable to avoid the chaos, with some being stopped by the police on suspicion of being a flying picket. It is rumored that even Christopher Martin-Jenkins, an unlikely individual, was stopped on his way to a commentary job. Geoff Miller has discussed the unfortunate timing of his benefit season, stating that it was difficult to hold a fundraiser in Derbyshire during that time due to financial struggles caused by mine closures and high unemployment rates.

Jim Beachill serves as the head of Elsecar CC, located in a village situated between Barnsley and Rotherham. According to him, Elsecar played a pivotal role in initiating the strike. After the closure of Elsecar Main in 1983, several workers migrated to Cortonwood, which was also facing closure with minimal warning. Despite being promised five more years of employment, the workers went on strike on March 5, 1984, and the National Union of Mineworkers declared a nationwide strike a week later.

Beachill recalls, “I grew up during a time when the norm was for people to work in the coal mine or workshop. It was a common sight to see coal-dusted miners walking through town and hear the clatter of the winding wheel bringing the miners underground.” However, when the coal mine shut down, things drastically shifted. The mine used to maintain the cricket field with the help of the council, but that was also taken away.

During a strike, everyday activities such as shopping become unavailable. Instead, people must rely on others or find alternative means of obtaining necessities. The atmosphere during this time is usually quite gloomy, but one activity that still remains accessible is playing sports, particularly watching village cricket.

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Residents of Elsecar played a part in the Battle of Orgreave. The sentiment was that the miners were united as a community, and the strike had an impact not only on the miners, but also on their families, local businesses, and children. Strong determination was present in efforts to prevent the mines from shutting down.

After the strike was ultimately overcome and the mines were lost, many cultural, sporting, and musical facilities that had coexisted with them also disappeared. The National Coal Board and the miners had not only invested in cricket clubs at Elsecar.

Some clubs did not make it through the gradual decline of the surrounding villages. However, Elsecar has managed to persevere and its charming buildings, which Beachill notes as “one of the most scenic in South Yorkshire,” were built in the 1950s with help from the colliery.

The cricket club has a total of three senior teams and five junior teams. The village has demonstrated strong resilience. Beachill explains a lively community, with a heritage center now located where workshops once stood.

“If you were to ask young individuals if they would be interested in a job that involves working underground, without daylight during the winter season, and where they are at risk of death – they would most likely find the idea absurd. However, as our generation passes on, the concept of a coal mine may become foreign to future generations.” However, the towns that were once home to coal mines and still have active cricket teams, serve as a reminder of their industrial past, evident not just in their names but also in their culture and tradition.

Source: theguardian.com