Bowling Old Lane cricket club is at the heart of the community in BD5, yet it receives no funding from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
One of the oldest cricket clubs in Bradford, Bowling Old Lane was established in 1894 and joined the Bradford Premier Cricket League in 1915. For the past four years, the club has been chaired by Nazakat Ali, a youth worker for over thirty years.
Changing demographics of Bradford’s inner city over recent decades has meant that the club is now made up mostly of South Asian players, though it is there to serve anyone in the community.
The cricket club is not financially backed by the ECB or other sports funding and is reliant on the annual membership fees of the senior members to sustain the club.
Mr Ali said: “Bowling Old Lane cricket club is not the oldest cricket club in Bradford, but it is one of the oldest.
“It is a massive honour to be part of one of the oldest clubs in Bradford. It is important to carry on the legacy of what has been achieved in the past 100 years and to take the club to the next level, maintaining numbers so that people in the community can enjoy the club for the next 100 years to come.”
Over the years, Bowling Old Lane has produced superstar cricketers, from former England Test opener Bill Athey and former captain of Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) Darren Gough MBE to Mohammed Yousef who played for Pakistan between 1998 and 2010.
Daren Gough MBE was recently appointed as the managing director of Yorkshire Cricket on an interim basis, initially until the end of the 2022 season. Alum of Bowling Old Lane, Martyn Moxon held this role since 2007 but was one of the sixteen staffers who left YCCC in November amid the racism scandal involving former player, Azeem Rafiq.
The club has six teams, three senior and three junior squads. In the New Year, the club plans on creating a team for women and girls to play the sport. Mr Ali said: “We’ve noticed that women are the ones to drop off their sons for matches, so we think it is important to create a women’s team so that they can get more involved in the club.”
The women’s team will launch in the spring when the cricket season starts again.
The first and second teams play in Bradford’s Premier League, and the Over-50s team, which Mr Ali captains, play more casually but have won the Grey Fox Cup three years in a row.
The club most recently won the Jack Hampshire Cup and the Priestly Shield in 2018.
In light of Azeem Rafiq’s complaint against YCCC, accessibility within sport, in particular, football and cricket have boiled to the surface. One of the barriers to young people in cricket across Britain is the cost.
The price of cricket whites, appropriate shoes and membership fees are some of the reasons why children from disadvantaged backgrounds do not play the game or struggle to progress within the sport.
Not receiving any funding from the ECB or backed by rich donors, the club survives on the annual membership of the senior players. When it comes to kids playing the sport, their membership and kit are subsided.
“The club is in a deprived area of Bradford, ‘affordability’ isn’t a thing when it comes to our junior teams, everything is subsided”, Mr Ali said.
He added: “The annual membership for our senior teams is around £50 for those in work, or it is subsidised for those who are not. The fees are then fed back into the club so we can subsidise the youth teams.
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have any money in the bank, if you are talented, you get to play. We will provide everything.”
In 2018, the ECB published an 11-point action plan to “better engage South Asian communities” to create more opportunities for South Asian communities to engage with cricket whether playing, supporting, or working in the game. As well as building stronger relationships between the community, the ECB, and the cricket network, and using cricket to make a positive difference to communities.
Bradford has been chosen to host the second million-pound Urban Cricket Centre funded by the ECB, which is due to be built next year, but grassroots clubs like Bowling Old Lane have been “deliberately overlooked” by the cricket board to promote grassroots cricket in South Asian communities, says Bradford East MP Imran Hussain.
The politician said: “Grassroots cricket clubs like Bowling Old Lane Cricket Club are the heart and soul of the sport, but despite the England and Wales Cricket Board’s “South Asian Strategy”, these clubs in our inner-cities receive nowhere near the investment and support that they need and are deliberately overlooked.
“If the ECB and others are serious about tackling racism and discrimination in the sport, they need to do more than just change their boards and sack coaches, they need to change their culture and they need to invest in the grassroots clubs where those from a Black, Asian and other Ethnic Minority background play.”
A representative at ECB said: “The ECB is committed to making cricket more inclusive and accessible so that everyone who wants to pick up a bat and ball has the opportunity to do so.
“We make funding available for all clubs across England and Wales and we will continue to invest in initiatives and projects in Bradford, most significantly the £2million Urban Centre in West Bowling.
“Construction is due to begin in the new year and when established the centre, one of three elite facilities built as part of the ECB’s South Asian Action Plan, will work alongside cricket clubs in the area to provide accessible and affordable cricket for local communities.
“We also continue to work alongside Bradford Metropolitan District Council and Yorkshire Cricket Board to invest in cricket in the city, most recently with a grant in 2021 to build seven new non-turf pitches and three practice facilities.
“In 2020-21 we provided 28 cricket clubs in Bradford with emergency ‘Return to Cricket’ grant funding. Between 2016-2019 we provided capital grant investment to clubs in the city totalling more than £1million, including at Bowling Old Lane CC who applied for and received a grant for pitch covers.”