Kinross-shire Cricket Club
There used to be some cricket organisations in Scotland whose attitude to spreading the gospel suggested they would have made their contact number ex-directory if they had been given the choice.
Yet there are others who have risen above any difficulties, taken the game to places it didn’t previously reach and transformed their clubs into community hubs. Just consider Kinross-shire, for instance, who have been in existence since 1855, and have transcended a string of travails through the tireless work of a group of volunteers.
It’s a pretty unique story, to be honest. How many other clubs have gained national recognition with Wisden or formed a twinning arrangement with counterparts in Australia? How many have been storm-tossed by reasons outwith their control and emerged with a sparkling new ground, in their case on the banks of Loch Leven?
And how many have indefatigable enthusiasts such as Kirsteen Ross leading the charge at the summit? This engaging character knows all about the history of Kinross-shire, but she isn’t hidebound by tradition. It wasn’t so long ago in 2004 that a new management team was elected and the decision taken to establish a junior section for primary and secondary school children.
It proved to be one of the most important steps they ever made. During the winter, three of the First XI players undertook coach-training programmes with Cricket Scotland. By the start of the 2005 season, the club had three fully-qualified coaches and, through the generosity of the Lords Taverner’s charity, the club owned its first bag of junior coaching equipment.
As Ross told me: “Within 12 months, junior membership had grown to over 90 children. The club was able to compete at U10, U11, U12, U13 and U15 levels. At the end of the 2005 season, the growth in member numbers and the successes on the field gave the management committee the confidence to start looking for a new long-term home.
“In early 2006, the club approached the Kinross House Estate with a view to building a wicket within the grounds of the House. In the same year, they won their first National Championship title when the U13s lifted the MCC “Spirit of Cricket” Scottish Championship.
“The enthusiasm for junior cricket helped grow senior numbers and, in the same season, the Firsts competed for the first time in the Strathmore & Perthshire Division 3 League, eventually being runners-up.
“Over the winter period, the club successfully applied for funding from sportscotland to build a pavilion and artificial wicket within the grounds of Kinross House. The artificial wicket was installed in May 2007 and the pavilion followed quickly in June.”
These labours yielded an unprecedented level of success. In 2008, the Firsts won their maiden title by claiming the Strathmore & Perthshire Union Division 3 champion’s trophy and the club embarked on a three-year period of unprecedented achievement both on and off the field.
They had 25 qualified coaches and over 120 youngsters regularly attended weekly training. At the start of 2009, they were approached to host an ICC European Junior fixture when Guernsey played Denmark in July. It was compelling stuff.
This story of a small rural cricket club, run by parents, achieving so much in such a short time, saw them named as the 2009 Wisden Cricketer “Club of the Year”. They were then caught up in a whirlwind of press coverage and subsequently contacted by Kinross Joondaloop Cricket Club in Western Australia, whereupon a twinning agreement was established. The U13 and U15 teams made Scottish Cup finals day and the Firsts won the Division 2 title with an unbeaten season.
As Ross told me: “The women’s and girls’ teams worked very hard during the winter and, in April 2010, they were asked to play in the Scottish Universities Women’s tournament when one of the teams pulled out the day before the start.
“The ladies team had never played in a fully competitive match and travelled to Galashiels for the tournament with some trepidation. Any fears they were not up to the task soon vanished as they won their first game and progressed to the final against Edinburgh University. In a close match, Kinross came out on top and were 2010 Universities Champions.
“Two weeks later, they performed in the Scottish Women’s Championships in Perth and won again. Not to be outdone, the senior men also won their third consecutive league title.”
It was the stuff of dreams, but, within a short time, there were myriad new obstacles to traverse. As Kinross-shire moved into 2011, they received the unsettling news that Kinross House was up for sale and there would be changes in the access to the ground. By April, it was confirmed the members would have to find another base.
Temporarily, at least, the news had a devastating impact. The junior sides failed to progress in their Scottish Cup campaigns, the women’s teams only managed a small number of games and the Firsts failed to win a single contest in the premier division and were relegated. Finances were stretched, and the club became homeless in 2012, with all fixtures being played away and training taking place in public parks, local schools….wherever the beleaguered squads could find patches of green space.
However, as Kirsteen Ross said: “The club’s plight came to the attention of a local farmer, Rob Niven, and he made contact with the offer of converting his barley field behind Loch Leven’s Larder into a cricket ground.
“The club immediately took up the offer and work started to plant grass and prepare the field for the 2013 season. The decision was taken to rename the club Kinross-shire Cricket Club to reflect the wide appeal of the club and its membership across the local area.”
At the end of April, the club hosted its first match at the picturesque Loch Leven’s Larder cricket ground when a Kinross-shire XI played and beat the Scotland Wildcats Women’s team. Last year, they celebrated their 160th anniversary, which was a terrific achievement, given the challenges of recent years, but there is no sense of Ross and her charges standing still.
Instead, their persistence and perseverance is bringing unalloyed benefits. As Ross said: “We are continuing to build strong links with local schools by delivering coaching sessions to primary school children, and organising and hosting school tournaments, linking to Saltire and Duke of Edinburgh Awards programmes at Kinross High School.
“This year, we’ve launched a new work experience programme for senior pupils with coaching and officiating qualifications linked to this. We pride itself on our inclusive environment and several players with disabilities are members.
“We take a whole club development approach. Over a third of our committee members are female, we have several female coaches and the club takes equality very seriously. We look to meet the community’s needs, and offer high-quality coaching with links to the national performance pathway for our talented players.
“To date, 17 of our youngsters (boys and girls) have played for Scottish age-group teams. We are immensely proud of our support of the development of Scottish cricket by growing and developing the next generation of players and ensuring that our club is a vibrant, welcoming environment for everyone. It is run entirely on a voluntary basis.”
It’s a story to warm the cockles and demonstrates exactly what is possible on the Scottish domestic circuit with the right amount of commitment and camaraderie.