Hunslet Nelson Cricket Club is the only surviving cricket club in South Leeds where more than 70 once existed, with some former players representing Yorkshire. But the path to its 150th anniversary year hasn’t been without its trials and tribulations.
The club’s grounds have suffered arson attacks and multiple attempts at theft, while the pumphouse windows were smashed by schoolkids and have since been boarded up.
Yet the club has withstood whatever the opposition has thrown at them to maintain its vigil at the crease. Fencing foils thieves, once-torched nets have been repaired and a smart clubhouse and changing rooms welcome spectators and players. The 120-year-old pumphouse has been rejuvenated with a new bar and French-polished surfaces.
Based on Gipsy Lane in Beeston, the club was the first to have an U9 side and counts nine teams alongside two rounders teams for women and girls and teams catering for disabled players.
This leads Secretary Brian Calverley, who’s been with Hunslet Nelson since 1975, to proudly describe it as “a community club”. A stalwart member of a dedicated team of volunteers, he’s a groundsman, coach and secretary all at once. However, this method isn’t without its challenges.
The new changing rooms were funded by donations, raffles and a grant from Leeds City Council, whereas the tearoom benefited from a grant bestowed by Wakefield Council, a business model that he admits is “hard”.
Keeping the six-and-a-half-acre outfield lush is a daunting challenge, especially after the scorching summer of 2018. It’s had to be reseeded for one simple reason: “no water”.
Meanwhile, the club’s volunteer coaches only have October off, coaching indoors from November to March and outdoors during the playing season, which runs from April to September.
As Hunslet Nelson embarks on a new season in the Bradford Cricket League’s third tier, recruitment will be vital, says Calverley.
The club needs more people to volunteer “even just a couple of hours a week” to coach as well as senior and junior players, with the emphasis on recruiting budding local cricketers. Given that they frequently lose players as a semi-professional set-up, they “need more juniors to keep us [the club] going,” with the hope that they go on to play for the senior teams.
The All Stars programme, which introduces five-to-eight-year-olds to cricket, will be important to achieving this target. For a £40 fee, children take part in eight coaching sessions, although the club only pockets £5, with the rest going to the Yorkshire Cricket Board and the ECB, underlining again its lack of financial resources.
Hunslet Nelson has also submitted an application for a new clubhouse that will cost an estimated £300,000 to be used for different functions – not just for cricket – by local people. This is about putting down new roots and re-establishing its identity after moving to Beeston from its Hunslet home in the 1990s.
And with Hunslet Nelson’s 150th anniversary year coinciding with Leeds hosting four games during the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, the opportunity has never been greater for the club to engage more people and achieve its ambitions.
Main photo: Hunslet Nelson in action during the 2017 season by Jeremy Morton
Slideshow photos by Irman Marashli