For the last four seasons Chris Escott has been the Chairman of our club. It’s a simple statement that has scant regard for the amount of work that this role requires. Indeed, as we set up for the interview Chris talks through the various messages and emails that he has received or sent regarding the club only that day, a Thursday in early January, and you begin to get a sense of the level of responsibility the Chairman has. Studying Chris now, it seems as if he was born to do this role. Surprisingly, he assures me that this wasn’t the case:
“I’d actually drifted away from the club after the birth of my second child, Max. This is often the case with members of a certain age. At that point, I did wonder would I have any further involvement with Bangor Cricket Club. I got invited by Peter McIlwaine for a pint in early 2015 and I thought he just wanted to discuss sponsoring a board, but to my surprise he offered me the post of Chairman. He managed to coerce a ‘yes’ out of me and I’ve been in the role ever since. Ironically, although I stopped when the kids came along, it was the thought of creating a place for them to play their cricket that brought me back.”
It’s a great example of a member coming back in from the cold, as I have done myself in this decade. It is easy to believe that when you stop playing that it’s over but realistically the administration of the club is so vast and important that there will be a role for you, if you want to help. Chris was immediately welcomed back and started building on the work that Peter had done. “I’m a great believer in having the right people in the right positions. If you have that you can delegate out responsibilities and you have peace of mind that the job is going to get done.”
This has been a hallmark of Chris’ time as Chairman. He assembled a committee of clubmen under the mantra of ‘creating a club that their children would want to play for.’ In 2016, he was instrumental in bringing the brilliant Taimur Khan to Bangor and he is quick to pay tribute, “You will never meet anyone as reliable, genuine, honest or polite as Taimur. His experience and knowledge is unbeatable.” Then there is Stephen Burns. Together Escott and Burns have formed a formidable team and Chris is effusive in his praise for Stephen, “Barney adds a little bit of expertise to everything. Whether it be sponsorship, grounds, contacts or treasurer he just knows everything. He won his award and that was richly deserved, but it is the stuff that nobody sees that sets him apart. He is just non-stop.”
It is perhaps this team that Chris has assembled around him that has given him the determination to carry on into a fifth season. “I always remember Michael Rea saying to me when I took over the role, ‘in your first year you are enthusiastic but know nothing, in the second year you begin to know the role and still enthusiastic, in your third and fourth years you know the role fully but you lose enthusiasm. So I guess taking it on for a fifth year is ambitious but there is a real sense of ‘Unfinished Business’ for me.” The concept of ‘Unfinished Business’ leads into a discussion about the vision for 2019 and beyond and why this is a very exciting time to be involved with Bangor Cricket Club.
For Chris the future of the club will rise and fall on our youth policy, how we cultivate these cricketers and create a culture in which they feel proud to play. “As with any aspect of the club, the work that goes into the youth section is phenomenal and we have seen other clubs jettison their youth cricket. That really is the road to no town as for years the success of our club has been built upon young cricketers coming through the system and then playing for the senior teams. In this regard, we are extremely fortunate to have someone as enthusiastic and dedicated as Allen Cox who has looked after our youth section for a number of seasons and works tirelessly to ensure our matches are fulfilled and we are competitive.”
In previous years and generations we have been spoiled with the continual flow of talent coming from Bangor Grammar, all under the watchful eye of one CCJ Harte. The retirement of the master coach from the Grammar has left us as a club having to come up with new ways ensuring the cricketers of tomorrow are getting the expertise they require. It is a point that resonates massively with our Chairman. “When we were growing up, you would have had 20-22 school matches, all coached by Chris Harte. You just wouldn’t get away with sloppy, silly cricket and his retirement has forced us into a position where we have to ensure those standards are being met. There also seems to be a void in coaching after U15, which is a problem in every sport, but particularly in cricket. What we have decided to do is set up an academy to push our best kids forward and give them the coaching and training that they need to be successful in future years, providing a framework for our club to be successful. With Taimur and now Mike Grossett in place, combined with senior members of the club such as Chris Yeates, I believe that this will be the making of our club for years to come.”
When talking to Chris about his vision for the future it is evident that bringing on the youth is the primary objective. His second goal for 2019 is for the 2nd XI to have an identity of its own and to be the arena for the young talent to get further coaching from seasoned pros. “I was playing in a game at Armagh this season and Ben (Escott) was bowling. Maybe it’s just because I was a bowler but it has always been the case that if you’re a batsman you get loads of coaching on technique but as a bowler you get relatively little. Anyway, before the match I was in Jeremy Stewart’s ear ‘Jeremy, stand at mid-off and give him ball by ball coaching. He won’t mind, just give him as much advice as you can. There needs to be much more of this ad hoc training so that our young guys can progress.” One of the highlights of the 2018 season was the final matches of the Third XI season, “I think we had 18 guys turn up to play two T20 matches against Lisburn on the same day. Ian (Fletcher) and Paul (Houston) have done a great job as captains in maintaining interest throughout the season and we must capitalise on that in 2019.”
This brings up the potential of a 4th XI in the future. While this seems to be a definite possibility in the future Chris is anxious that we don’t try to do too much too soon. “We have enough players registered but it would only take a couple of double fixtures to put us under pressure. Availability in 2018 wasn’t really a problem and that makes a nice change from previous years. We have launched a midweek team and that is a small step towards a 4th XI. The interest for this seems to be great so far and I look forward to seeing how they get on next season.” As far as goals are concerned, Chris would love to see the club secure a piece of silverware with the T20 competition for the 1st XI being voiced as a definite target.
The club seems to be in good shape as we head into 2019. Chris is reluctant to talk about the meeting which led to the transformation in mind set before the 2018 season. “It’s been covered before what was said, so I don’t really want to go over it. The boys responded well and thankfully we haven’t seen any rain cards appearing on a Thursday night in a while. At the end of the day, it is their team, they need to play the way they want to play, while also realising they have a responsibility to the young players within the set up. People will always play in an environment where they enjoy each other’s company and I think they have done that this year. The atmosphere around the club is certainly better.” We discuss the future and whether or not Bangor can be a Premier League Club. Chris is keen to uphold the values of our club but does not rule out a return to the topflight of Senior Cricket. “As Chairman I would never want us to buy a 1st XI because I feel that it will harm your club in so many other ways. If I’m being honest, it has never been an option for us because our funds our tied in with the Rugby Club so, in that sense, we don’t have the autonomy to go off spending money on players to make us instantly competitive in the Premier League. I mean as far as Section One is concerned, when you have Andy Nixon taking 40 wickets and scoring 800 runs, who would you buy?” The question is valid and the values we have as a club are evident. In the madness of the local game at the minute, it is great to see a Chairman so committed to building from the bottom, with the ambition to progress and not just survive. “If I had won the 115 million Euro-million jackpot, I would invest in facilities and I would invest in coaching, buying players would not be anywhere near the forefront of my mind.”
It is only when you sit down and talk to the people you realise how lucky you are to be part of a club that has people who have the club in their blood. League positions and trophies are nice but they are a distant second to having committed members who work tirelessly to make the experience enjoyable for everyone. As the interview draws to a close Chris draws on his own personal highlight of the year. “It was great to play with Ben and get the chance to open the batting with him this year. I don’t think there is any better feeling than that as far as a club is concerned. Hopefully, I can hold on and get a game with Max down the line. That would be a personal ambition of mine.”
You can’t argue that this is what it’s all about really.
Chris Escott was talking to Paddy Dixon