Date: 24th Oct 2021
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CONGRATULATIONS TO NORTHERN'S MATT GEE

Date: 15th September 2021

CONGRATULATIONS TO NORTHERN'S MATT GEE

Regional Winner of the Grassroots CRICKET INNOVATOR AWARD

By LIVERPOOL ECHO Cricket Corresponent Tom Evans

As Northern’s First XI cavorted on the outfield after they wrapped up the Love Lane Liverpool Competition title on Saturday, there was plenty of praise to go around.

There was a rendition of Hey Jude for the scorer, Paul Delve, plus handshakes and hugs from James Cole and his side for several of the applauding supporters gathered in front of the Moor Park pavilion.

But nobody took the time to plant a celebratory kiss on the advertising boards around the ground - even though, in a roundabout way, they played a crucial part in the team’s triumph.

“I still don’t know how the hell that game got played,” cricket chairman Matt Gee told the ECHO, reflecting on the sodden May Saturday when Northern’s home game against Southport & Birkdale was the only match in the three divisions to start, let alone finish.

“It had been hammering down all week - I’d written it off and taken the kids to the safari park, when I got a text from Paul saying we were starting in half an hour.

“It was frantic - I just about caught the end of the game.”

Northern’s big win that day earned them 24 points on a day when none of their rivals had a chance of getting more than five. And it was possible because the wicket was so well-protected - which is where the advertising boards come in.

“We’ve got new boards around the perimeter - local companies are starting to see the benefits of what we’re doing as a club,” said Gee.

“And we raised about £5,000 for pitch covers from sponsorship.

“Things like that - and the work of Paul Wills, our head groundsman - are just fantastic. 

“Games like that Southport game enable James and the boys to have a bit of a brain fart every now and then, when a game doesn’t go as well as they’d expected and they don’t get the points they’d wanted. 

“Getting those games on when they really shouldn’t have been played means James is happy - and when James is happy, we’re all happy!”

The sponsorship drive is just one of the reasons Gee has been honoured with the Innovator Award in the Lancashire Grassroots Cricket awards, in his first year as cricket chairman.

Treating a crisis as an opportunity and building on the new approach clubs are all having to take in the age of Covid, Gee focused on improving Northern’s social media presence in order to appear more attractive to potential sponsors and partners.

The overall goal was to offer cricket for all.

He said: “We’ve got adult cricket for men and women, and a thriving junior section.

“This year, we’ve started disability cricket as well.

“Part of what we wanted to do was to make sure we’ve got the facilities to really support that.

“From a sponsorship point of view, that’s really one of the key things because all the money that comes in enables us to buy all the equipment and set up all the junior coaching programmes we do.”

It’s tricky these days - and perhaps it always will be, now - to run coaching sessions on a ‘come one, come all’ basis. Northern have taken the necessity of knowing exactly how many people will be turning up, and turned it into a virtue.

“For our Smash Cricket programme for kids aged four to seven, we were able to put on three bubbles, so that’s 120 kids,” Gee added. “Because cash is sort of pushed away these days, I set up an e-commerce platform on our website.

“Because we weren’t sure of the restrictions, we put 60 places online at 10am - they were sold out by lunchtime.

“Closer to the time, I put the rest on and they were gone within 45 minutes.

“Not only did that get people signed on to the programme, we also secured the money up front.

“Whereas in the past, kids would maybe pay a fiver a week and one week you’d have a really big group, then the next week a quarter of the amount. 

“We were able to understand how many coaches we’d need for the programme, what we’d need from a Covid point of view, how we were going to run it properly and safely.”

Disability cricket is a personal crusade for Gee, whose brother-in-law has cerebral palsy and is a keen sportsman, but found opportunities to play cricket limited.

Gee added: “He loves cricket, but he never gets to do cricket.

“I registered with the ECB to do that, it was something we were looking to do pre-Covid, but we had to pause it.

“Now we’ve tied in with the Bridge Inn Community Farm in Formby, where my brother-in-law goes - and it gives these guys an outlet to have safe fun via sport.

“It’s been such an eye-opener from a coaching point of view. You go into something like that wondering how the hell you’re going to do it, but unless you put yourself out there and do it, you never know.”

As far as Gee is concerned, this year has just been the start. 

He said: “For every age group, every gender, whether it’s someone with a disability - it’s cricket for all.

“Our women’s section, which started in 2019, has gone from being about 30 ladies to about 60, with two U9 girls’ teams. 

“It’s a struggle wondering where you can find coaches who’ll come and help, because it’s all volunteers.

“With the junior programmes, and Smash, and the ECB Dynamos programme, I’ve done 18 weeks solid back-to-back junior coaching on Friday nights.”

He added with a chuckle: “I think I need to find some finances in the club for my solicitor fees, before my wife divorces me!”

The club is looking to improve its back pitch changing facilities to make them more welcoming and disability-friendly - anyone who wants to help can email sponsorship@northernclub.uk.

 
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