Historic Old Catton are looking to the future

One of Norfolk's oldest cricket clubs has taken an important step to safeguard its future by starting a youth section for the first time in its 143-year history.

A new innings has been opened at Old Catton with up to 30 youngsters attending Sunday morning coaching sessions which began this season with the aid of a �3,600 Sport England grant.

Club captain Jon Cooke is delighted at the success of the sessions, run by coaches Chris Hutchinson and Ryan Turner, and his message is the more the merrier. 'We have got around 30 youngsters registered from the ages of six to 14 and we are very happy with that number so far. More are welcome and we are keen to attract some girls because the game these days is all-inclusive.'

He added: 'We feel we are safeguarding the future of the club. There have been quite a few clubs disappearing or merging and we are trying to stave off that possibility by making sure we have got enough numbers coming through to keep the club going.'

As youngsters develop they will be progressed via the club's Sunday team, skippered by Howard Wing, which plays in the Friendly Alliance and is the ideal arena for nurturing young talent. There are three Norfolk League Saturday teams to aid further development.

It is a route taken by one of the club's most successful exports in young paceman Sam Thelwell, who emerged via the Catton ranks to join top club Swardeston and has played for Norfolk.

While the future is bright for the youngsters, the club's senior players are enjoying success in the pursuit of Norfolk League honours. The club's first team, skippered by Andy Harris, is flying high in third place in Norfolk League Division One, and eager to clinch the title success which could potentially unlock the door to a step up to the Norfolk Alliance. The Catton A team, captained by Steve Munday, is chasing the Division Four title, while the third team, captained by Pete Young, is mid-table in Division Seven.

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The first team is in the second year of a five-year ground-sharing deal with Norwich, which has given Catton the benefit of using their EAPL-standard facilities.

'When we got promoted to Division One the next step was to look to win the title to be in with a chance of applying to join the Norfolk Alliance. Personally, I think it's the only way we can continue to move forward and develop as a club,' said Cooke. He added: 'Postwick is a fabulous place to play cricket. We feel we are actually sharing the ground with Norwich as opposed to just hiring the facilities. We we have a very good relationship with Norwich.'

Cooke hopes that facilities can eventually be developed to meet Norfolk Alliance criteria in Old Catton, to keep all the teams in the village where the club has been based since Victorian times, when matches were played in the grounds of Buxton family-owned Catton Hall and the guests included the legendary W G Grace.

In 1927 the club won the Norfolk Junior Cup at Lakenham, recalled Alfred Bunn, who became captain a few years later. 'Looking back over years of pleasant memories and friendships it was a dreadful shock when the Second World War started. The cricket pitch was ploughed up, the Hall was taken over and soon the Buxton era was over.'

The club is determined to remain loyal to its unique roots. 'Catton Rec is still very much the club's home,' stressed Cooke. 'We are making improvements as much as we can there, under the auspices of the parish council, who we have a good relationship with.'