HAVING seen demand for places continue to grow during his four years as Woking and Horsell’s junior cricket chairman and safeguarding officer, Paul Manly is convinced the club need to find more space. 

He told the News & Mail: “We can’t grow any more at the moment. We’re constrained. 

“One of our biggest challenges is with grounds. We have Brewery Road, which we use to its limits. 

“We have a great relationship with St Andrew’s School in Horsell and they kindly let us use their grounds on weekends. And the council are as helpful as they can be. 

“But the challenge is to find another ground we could use, particularly for older age-group cricket.

“And if we could get another ground, it would massively increase the amount of cricket we could play.”

Reflecting on his role with the club, Manly said: “My job is just to get people playing and get the kids enjoying cricket in a friendly, safe and welcoming environment.

“Around me I have so many people coaching, cutting the grass, keeping things clean and tidy, organising kit and fixtures and liaising with the league, so it’s a team effort and I’m just the co-ordinator of all those things. 

“I’ve been here as a parent for ten years and I’ve done this role for four. 

“My first year was during Covid, so it was a baptism of fire. 

“In my second year we got delayed by Covid again. And then in the past two years we’ve been blessed by generally good weather and we’ve got 380 kids playing cricket now.”

Asked whether he has a background in the sport, he said: “I played a little bit at school but I’ve always loved cricket. 

“I’ve been a Surrey member since I was 14 and used to jump on a train and go and watch cricket at The Oval all day during the school holidays. 

“I just love kids’ sport. I used to be involved with Goldsworth Park Rangers football as well.

“The power of sport and for kids to be active is something I’ve always believed in. 

“That’s why I do it – because I just love seeing smiles on faces when they’re enjoying things.

“I have 15 age-group managers. We start at under-six and we run to under-17. Most age groups have 30 kids in them. 

“We’ve got a thriving girls’ section. Girls’ cricket here has grown from very little to now about 70, and that’s great.

“We’re very much a family club, an inclusive club. We’re all abilities. 

“In each age group we’ll have teams who play at different levels so we try to stretch the best and provide cricket for boys and girls who just want to come here and have fun with their friends.”

Of his ambitions for the club, Manly – whose son is in the under-14s and recently played for the adults’ third XI – said: “One of the things we’ve been doing over the past few years is progressing juniors into adult cricket, which is really important as a pathway.

“That’s something other local clubs can’t necessarily offer because they haven’t got the adult set-up. 

“So we’re really lucky to have a good adult set-up – and recently we had 12 juniors playing for our senior teams in adult league cricket. 

“As a club we can only maintain a membership if we’ve got adult cricket. 

“It won’t survive just on juniors and it needs a pathway for boys and girls to move to. 

“So that’s a target. And the buy-in we’ve got from the committee and from the senior players who love seeing these junior players coming through has been superb.”

And of the increase in girls playing cricket at the club, he said: “It’s been a step change. 

“One of my colleagues, Kevin Silverton, started the girls’ group six or seven years ago and they’re getting into it more in school now. It’s not just seen as a boys’ sport any longer. 

“And we had our first girls’ hard-ball game last year and we’ve now got two girls’ hard-ball teams.”  

Managing the under-nine girls is Chris Pinson, whose daughter Thea is a member. 

He said: “It’s growing hugely, which is fantastic. We’re trying to leave fliers around schools because it’s such a good opportunity for girls to have fun. 

“We play little festivals with other clubs, predominantly at St Andrew’s School.

“It’s a six-over innings where everybody gets to bowl an over and have a bat and just have great fun.” 

Pinson attributes the surge in popularity in girls’ cricket to the women’s game.

He said: “A large part of it has to be the success of women’s cricket in general. 

“There’s much more visibility around things such as The Hundred.

“I took my daughter to The Oval recently to watch the women’s Ashes and that was her first competitive women’s match.

“I think the clubs made quite an effort to encourage girls in.”

Pinson, whose son also plays at Woking & Horsell, added: “I love cricket but, growing up, I only played a minuscule amount and I was always a bit gutted not to have had the opportunity.

“That’s probably instilled in me that I want my children to have that opportunity that maybe I didn’t get. 

“That’s why the club here is fantastic, from my point of view. 

“Here you’ve got 30 kids in every age group and hundreds of kids having fun every week.”

Nine-year-old Mia MacDonald, whose father Duncan coaches the under-nine and under-11 girls, said: “It’s really fun here because there’s loads of different age groups and it’s really fun to work as a team.

“The coaches are really helpful and I like batting because you work with partners – and although it’s hard to hit the ball, when you do it’s fun.”