Pride: In the Knave of l'Ov

I'm not a big fan of self-promotion, but there are various things that I'm proud of. I am proud of winning the President's Prize of the Palaeontological Association; of setting up the Cricket Association of Newfoundland and Labrador; of inadvertently writing a speech for a knight of the realm at an Oxford University dinner; of becoming a Countdown tea-pot holder.


My pride at the moment, though, is very much focussed on the cricket team I play for: Ovington. I've only been a member for a couple of years, and though we won our first league title in 15 years this season, very little of such successes is down to me. It's great to claim trophies, but there are various other reasons that make this a fantastic little club.

A while ago, I signed us up to the MCC's Taking The Field project, and this summer Zoe from TTF came to visit us.  The project aims to record the stories and histories of cricket clubs around the UK and Sri Lanka as part of the Lord's bicentenary, and the plan is that some of the stories will feature in the museum next year.

Trying to gather up stories and story-tellers for Zoe's visit, and then spending time with her and them over the weekend, I began to understand what it was that made Ovington work. I already knew the club was different, but it took this period of focussed study to really show why.

The Ovo Massive hard at work for Cricket Force 2013.

Ovington began in 1928* as an off-shoot of the South Bank Cricket Club. Junior players weren't getting a game, so they decided to start their own team. 85 years on, South Bank CC has gone, but Ovo lives on. Vindication, I'd say.

As I've touched on before, the venue we play at is a key part of the club's unique status. There were once many cricket teams who called the Knavesmire their home, now there's only us. With cricket apparently first having been played here in the late 18th Century, we are keeping more than 220 years of history alive. We're also the last city team to play on common land.

Cricket on the common.

Our clubhouse, meanwhile, has its own history, being a converted World War Two air-raid shelter. It might not be the most elegant of structures, but it is an important piece of 20th Century heritage. A contemporary Royal Observer Corps HQ still stands nearby, but not for much longer. Once more, the mire's many will become only Ovo.

History isn't enough though. Cricket is not an anachronism. Ovington is a forward-thinking club, the most forward-thinking I've ever had the pleasure of playing for. The club aims to be successful now - and obviously is - but it also realizes the need to have a longer-term plan. This involves getting scores of local kids to join in and play for the club.

They start many things young on the Knavesmire.

There are many stalwarts who make this happen, not least our groundsman Maurice, who was a Lifetime Achiever in the 2010 Yorkshire Cricket OSCAs. As Zoe's Taking The Field video explains, however, the driving force behind the Ovo youth policy is Fletch. Thanks to his efforts, not only do we have two senior teams and an evening league side, we also have an under-9s team, two under-11s, two under-13s, and an under-15s. One feeds into the next, such that almost all of our first team have come through the junior ranks.

As a non-native I am an anomaly. I am also anomalously old, which is a bit disconcerting at times, but certainly bodes well.

Boding even weller is the fact that the club is now setting up a third team to join the Vale league next season. They'll need somewhere to play, of course, so Fletch, Puck and the team are building a new pitch at Millthorpe School, just up the South Bank from the Knavesmire.

Build it and they will come.

Our juniors represented North Yorkshire at the England-New Zealand Test match at Headingley, playing Kwik Cricket in front of the Western Terrace, and then staying till the end of play at 7pm, absorbed in the experience. That was fantastic, but to keep them playing and enjoying the game, we need to give them the chance to take part in league cricket as early as possible.

Quite what a third Ovo team will do to our reputation I don't know. At the 2013 Vale league dinner, we were voted Club of the Year. Conversely, though, on our way to league glory this year, some of our opponents made it clear they don't like us. One of this season's opposition match reports referred to us as 'Neolithic'. I object not least on archaeological inaccuracy, but also because I've seen no evidence that any other team is more sporting or less sledgy than we are. This is Yorkshire after all.

Perhaps the niggardly comments come from envy. Community, ethos, location, history, and youth are all attributes that lots of other clubs dream of having. Whilst many clubs are struggling to keep going, Ovington is diversifying, expanding and succeeding. It would be hard not to be a little jealous.

To prove we're doing things right, it takes an outside perspective. For that, I shall leave the final word to Zoe:

"Running Taking the Field has been fabulous all round, but I especially enjoyed getting out there and visiting some of the clubs.  Particular highlights were the beautiful Wirksworth and Middleton in Derbyshire...and warm, friendly Ovington in York."

*probably. No-one seems to know for certain.