|Teams Merge to Help Save Women's Cricket in Ealing|
Dukesmead gives up 84 years of independence and becomes Old Actonians Ladies
As one of the oldest women’s cricket teams in the country, Dukesmead Ladies’ decision to merge with Old Actonians – and be the Ealing/Acton club’s first women’s side - could not be taken lightly, and now, four years after the idea to merge was first mooted, the decision has been formally voted in by both clubs.
From next year Dukesmead will no longer exist, and the cricketers will be known as Old Actonians Ladies. The need for new, younger players, the attraction of a stable home ground, and the increasing financial difficulty of being a small club are some of the factors that forced Dukesmead to give up their independence.
Sad though it is to see the club’s 84-year legacy disappear, members agreed last month (July 2011) that Old As was the way to go. In the words of Debbie Curtis, who has played for Dukesmead for five years, “Better to become Old Actonians than to become extinct”.
Dukesmead, currently the only women’s cricket club in Ealing, had been renting the Old As’ Gunnersbury Drive ground for their home matches for the past five years or so.
The women’s club started in 1927 at the Civil Service Sports Club in Chiswick, West London, whose Dukes Meadows location inspired the women cricketers’ name.
At present there are fewer than 20 Dukesmead members, sharing a median age of roughly 35, with players of varying abilities – from former England junior players to “backyard beginners”. There are currently no other women’s cricket teams in Ealing.
Marilyn “Mazza” Smith, the club’s secretary, has played for Dukesmead since the 1980s, while also playing for (and alongside Dukesmead captain Katie Berry) the Middlesex Women’s Cricket Team. After seeing the club decline from its last winning streak in the early 2000s, she realised that the only hope for women’s cricket in Ealing lay with the girls’ teams.
“At around the same time as we decided to play at the Old Actonians ground more regularly, we started setting up the girls teams,” she says. “This is now bearing fruit, with under-13 and under-11 girls teams.
Hopefully next year there will be an under-15 team as well, and then those girls will naturally progress to the women’s team if they want to continue playing cricket.” Smith sees this as one of the benefits of the merger: to have the luxury of match-standard facilities to foster younger talent.
She explains that the link with the Civil Service became weaker over the years as none of the members were actual civil servants, and because it was an adults-only club.“One of the reasons we wanted to relocate from the Civil Service was to develop the club and get juniors playing.”
Once they started playing at Old As, the women realised the potential for girls’ cricket for both clubs, and started discussions to amalgamate.
“The merger is of mutual benefit. Old Actonians wanted the pitches to be used on Sundays and wanted a women’s team for the girls to progress to, and we wanted a pitch on Sundays and girls to play for us,” she adds.
Smith does admit that when merger talks started, there was “some reluctance from established Dukesmead members” as some women’s teams had had bad experiences from mergers, for example feeling used by the bigger club just to tick more boxes for funding.
“However,” she adds, “the membership has now changed and current members unanimously support the merger.”
Chairman of Old Actonians, Kevin Mahoney, thinks the two clubs make “a perfect match”. He says: “The whole purpose of the merger was to actually become a whole club – we have fantastic facilities for kids. What we lacked, though, was a structure for the girls. When they got to 15, 16, there was nowhere for them to go.” Old As, which celebrate 90 years of existence in 2012, have fielded girls teams for over 10 years.
The England and Wales Cricket Board’s stated requirements were that ladies clubs should have closer links with men’s clubs – that’s pretty recent – in order to strengthen women’s cricket. But the big thing is we’re not in it for the short term, we’re here forever.”
Another player who has played for Dukesmead for over 20 years, Cath Goold, explains why she strongly supports the merger. “Women’s clubs can’t really exist on their own anymore, with no facilities,” Goold says. “You have to join up with bigger clubs so you can have a colts section like most men’s clubs. In terms of our merging with Old As, we feel more like members than tenants now, and have links with girls’ teams so we can have new players in a few years. You’ve got to think of the future. We had no juniors coming through. At least for our club now there is a future.”
The women finish off this year under the name “Dukesmead (Old Actonians)” in the Women’s Cricket Southern League - Division One 45-over matches on Sundays. They also play 20/20 cricket.
Carlene de Bourg-Bender
11th July 2011