The weather was very kind with almost a full programme every week. The majority appear to have taken on board the new Rule changes and hopefully have seen improvements. We have lost fewer clubs and have five new entrants for 2019.
I must congratulate the various champion clubs, as I know that had to be a great effort to win a League over many games. We wish Hythe & Dibden and Fareham & Crofton the best of luck as they return to the Southern Premier League. I know they will do well: they have been there before, Hythe many years ago. We welcome relegated pair Havant II and Gosport Borough to County Division 1, both doubtless anxious to make a quick return.
I also congratulate the Women’s Division Champions, Aldershot and Ropley, even though Women’s League fixtures were fragmented due to the ECB demands. The ECB wanted them to repeat last season’s later start but they have told their Committee that they will return to a normal fixture pattern in 2019 with 18 teams divided into 3 Divisions.
The two autumn Presentation evenings at the Southampton Novotel and the Apollo (Basingstoke) were, once more, well attended and enjoyed by all. We have to thank our Secretary, Anne Craft whose superb organizational skills ensured the functions ran smoothly. Mike Vimpany spends many pre-dinner hours preparing his MC scripts to make the evenings all the more enjoyable and his efforts are greatly appreciated.
Fewer teams withdrew throughout the season and as the 2019 season approaches we have gained 5 additions to the HCL. There were, however, a lot of matches not played where clubs were unable to field sides. In excess of 40 were lost and many when Hampshire reached the Royal London Cup final at Lords, and when England played in the soccer World Cup. This is not fair on the teams that play every week, but also shows a lack of commitment by players. The Cricket World Cup will encroach on our forthcoming season and we could lose more matches.
Due to the difficulties we experienced in 2018, the MC have put forward a proposal to take away Rule 22.3 and have no forced withdrawals of 3 or 4 failing to fulfill fixtures. The teams will still be punished with 20 points deduction and a game played at zero points. This will help with League statistics and make relegation and promotion clearer.
We have also decided we have to change with the times and we have reduced our Ground Standards in County 3 and County 4 Leagues. A few years ago, County 4 was our 5th bottom division, but for 2019 with our new format it is our 3rd bottom. This is also to help teams that are unable to improve their facilities such as the New Forest. If we do not make these measures we will lose some of our village and smaller sides and players will either leave or be swallowed up by the larger clubs.
The Committee does listen and we have to get players back into cricket - but that does not mean wholesale changes immediately. Travelling is another issue and Andy Stevenson has always done his best to keep travel to a minimum. I believe he has done a brilliant job with travelling in the Regional Divisions much less. Regional 2 Divisions are now our entry points and we have gone back to 17/18 teams per League as last season the 9 team leagues had fewer games as teams withdrew and two fixtures were lost each time. Some teams only had 9 or 10 fixtures. We are always going to have problems with the size of our County with some of our clubs out on a limb. We have again declined an application from an Isle of Wight Club and out of County teams thinking about travelling costs for our teams. We have provided teams with a concessionary rate for trips to the Isle of Wight which has been welcomed.
The pilot of Loan players have been used by some and successfully on the whole but there have been a few misuse so we have decided to propose that we tighten up and not allow Southern League cricketers from foreign teams to be loan players and pilot this for another year.
A special mention must also go to our Fixture Secretary [Stewart Frazier] who in conjunction with Andy gets the fixtures circulated before the end of the calendar year. I would like to thank all the Committee again for all their hard work throughout the year. They spend many hours, with administration, ground reports, results, discipline, the format of the League and Fixtures, and sorting out your complaints and problems. Our new members Clare Taylor [Treasurer] and Paul Turner [Rules & Discipline Chairman] settled in well and they have been kept on their toes throughout 2018. Anne Craft and my Vice Chairman, Philip Wilson keeping the system ticking along. Will George, our Media expert, is working on Result and Ground Report being submitted on-line and hopefully be up and running for the coming season.
Our Grounds Sub Committee worked tirelessly all season to ensure the standard of our pitches does not drop. Clubs have to be responsible in marking the grounds as we cannot get around hundreds of matches each week to see if pitches and facilities are acceptable. As times change the Ground and Management Committee have revisited the Ground Standards as mentioned earlier. The Standards now put the onus on the state of pitches and less on facilities. That is why the collation of Ground marks is so important.
The Discipline Sub-Committee has continued to be busy with a number of cases, chairman Paul Turner having a hectic first season. I must remind all Clubs it is their responsibility to control their players and at times their spectators. Umpires need to be supported, as many are leaving the game. We have dealt with a number of disciplines some very serious and given out the appropriate punishments. There have been other complaints that although reported there was no evidence provided. I urge all teams to report all discipline matters and follow that up with the evidence. Several serious incidents have not been dealt with because the evidence was not forthcoming. We must back our Umpires, and as a Committee we will do so even though one club threatened to sue us last season.
I hope the weather is kind again and wish all teams a successful and enjoyable 2019 season.
Denis Emery, Chairman.