MARY LITCHFIELD reports on the coronavirus pandemic struggles faced by some of the rugby and cricket clubs in the borough
But other local sports clubs are also being forced to the brink by the impact of the pandemic on their sporting and social activities, and bank balances.
Addiscombe Cricket Club usually enjoys an 18-week season in the summer, from April into September. But this year, their competitive period could be halved to just nine weeks because of the pandemic.
Roger Hurrion, the club chairman, told Inside Croydon, “Although we did get some cricket in last season, basically, we couldn’t really charge our members a membership fee for the running of the club.
“We obviously still had outgoings, in terms of the costs of keeping the facilities going. We sent out an appeal to our members and they responded very, very well. They helped us raise some of the money that we needed.
“I think everybody within the club all pulled together, members, former members, supporters and social members all helped out in various ways and I think it made more of a combined unity really.”
As well as the financial pressures, the lack of socialisation has had a deeper impact on members. “The big thing at the moment is what it’s done to people’s mental health,” Hurrion said.
“When you’re a local cricket club, it’s not just all about playing cricket. It’s the social side of things as well, in terms of getting together, playing a game, or if you’re not playing then watching and also socialising in the bar afterwards.”
Many community sports clubs are keen to know when they can return to playing their sport within the terms of the government’s “roadmap” out of lockdown.
In cricket, the Surrey Championship has issued fixtures for this year, with matches potentially starting in May. Clubs like Addiscombe are waiting on official guidance from the national governing body and Sport England about the safety of cricket practice and games, but hopes to back on its pitches sooner rather than later.
For the borough’s rugby clubs, their winter games have suffered similar disruption to that which has hit non-league football, with last season left incomplete and the 2020-2021 season never really getting underway before the return of lockdowns.
Peter Mattison, the chairman of Croydon’s leading rugby club, Warlingham, revealed his concerns about the number of clubs shrinking due to the pandemic, as they simply run out of money. “One of the things that does concern me with covid-19 is that if too many clubs do go to the wall, we actually start losing opposition and that’s not good. The more clubs that survive, the better,” Mattison said.
Fielding three, sometimes four, senior XVs most Saturdays and providing coaching for hundreds of children – girls as well as boys – aged from six to 18 in their junior academy every Sunday, Warlingham’s off-field activities have helped to subsidise their rugby.
Bar takings, of course, were a vital part of the pre-covid mix, as were their car boot sales on the rugby pitches during the summer. Then there were the takings for the hire of their clubhouse hall, for a range of activities from salsa classes, to an under-fives playgroup, to birthday parties and other functions. For the past year, little of any of that community activity has been possible.
Warlingham did have a disaster fund in case anything went “dramatically wrong”, that they could rely on for a few months. But as the pandemic stretches into its 12th month, that fund has dwindled. While the club has received government grants, much of its essential income has diminished.
Following guidance from the Rugby Football Union, the game’s governing body in England, Warlingham is hoping to do “a graduated return to play”, which includes touch rugby and non-contact rugby, as well as a focus on getting children back to playing sport.
“One of the key things is to get the kids playing on a Sunday, and they will probably be the first ones to go back, hopefully, even by the end of this month,” Mattison said.
The sense of community provided by sports clubs has become more evident during times of restricted socialisation. “If your day-to-day activities included going to your local club, whether it’s rugby, football or tennis, and suddenly, it’s taken away from you, that whole routine is disrupted.
“Keeping people engaged with the club through a variety of different methods was probably the key thing for us to keep the club together.”
An annual classic car show, which raises funds for charity, attracting huge crowds and has become a focus of community activity, might just be able to go ahead again in mid-summer. The club is already planning to host other social events that were postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic. They will stage the Beer, Bands and BBQ Festival on JUne 26 – as long as the covid-19 restrictions end.
“People like coming up because we’re really a happy, friendly bunch, we have a laugh and a joke with them,” Mattison said. “It’s not just about rugby, it’s about being part of community, having fun and enjoying yourself and hopefully getting outside.
“That really sums up what rugby is.”
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