FROM humble beginnings, Old Woking’s junior section has grown to such an extent that the club require more coaches to meet the demands of young cricketers. 

Frustrated by a lack of opportunity for their children to play the game, a small band of dedicated parents – assisted by Darren Talbot, managing director of Twenty20 Community Cricket – began their own junior section at the club. That was in 2021.

One of the section’s pioneers and integral to its development is Anna-Marie White, who is chair of junior cricket at the club. 

She told the News & Mail: “I had my sons on waiting lists at another club for about three years and I kept pushing and pushing – but there were no spaces.

“Then I was informed Darren was trying to set up something here. 

“So my eldest son, who was nine at the time, and I turned up and it wasn’t the beautiful club you have here now. 

“It was Covid and it was spring of 2021. There were six families and we formed a team. 

“Darren was a great inspiration and we grew in that spring to about 16 children.

“That was down to me telling people to come along to us and parents telling their friends. 

“Then Darren said we needed volunteers, so I volunteered and others volunteered. 

“Darren mentored us. The learning curve was enormous, both for the players and for the volunteers.

“We didn’t have any of the support we have now. But we celebrated every loss and we celebrated every win, the kids enjoyed it and we made it fun and word got out.

“Then Chelsea and Nico Theologo [Old Woking club secretary and men’s first XI player respectively] and other people started to come on board in 2022.

“And we now have 72 active members with 27 on the waiting list.

“The only reason I can’t take those 27 on is because I don’t have enough coaches.”

Asked what qualities are required to build a thriving junior section, White said: “Determination and perseverance. 

“You’ve got to really keep at it. And at the end of the day it’s for the children. 

“It’s tough in terms of time and commitment and you’re never going to please everybody.

“But if I please 90 per cent of the people, I’m doing all right. 

“The warmth I get from parents on a Friday night – and I speak to every parent and I know every child – is, for me, what it’s all about. That’s the specialness of it. If the kids have fun, I’m happy.

“Parents taking that opportunity to see what we’ve got here and helping it to succeed is where the growth comes from.”

Another person pivotal in the growth of Old Woking’s junior section is Richard Tucker, who manages the under-12s. He was present with White on the first day the establishment of a junior section was suggested. 

Asked how proud he is of the achievement, he said: “I am – but I have to say it’s tempered because it’s not really deserved on my part. 

“It’s basically what effort Anna-Marie put in and her absolute determination to make it work. 

“It’s really quite extraordinary the lengths she was prepared to go to, canvassing just about every school, every Cub group and every Scout group. 

“And it didn’t stop there. She went out to the Guides and the Brownies and was really keen to try to get as many young girls involved as well. 

“We managed to get them to turn up. We haven’t managed to convert them into players or organise fixtures for them at this stage but it was just her determined drive that really got it all going.

“We looked at this facility on a Friday night with the sun shining and just thought how good it would be for a community.  

“And you’d never have envisaged what happened in such a short space of time.

“Now on a Friday there’s bordering on 250 people here. It’s beyond ridiculous to see what’s happened.

“We’re lucky the club sponsored me and five other potential coaches, so they’re paying the fees for us to go off and do the coaching badges, and that’ll be the future.

“But it really does depend on what recruitment happens over the winter.

“And that’s going to be governed by how many coaches we have. But the coaches are coming through. 

“Everybody can see what a fantastic project it is and we’ve had quite a few people put their hands up and say they’ll become a coach.” 

One parent who did just that is Sudhakar Kunchi, who joined the club two years ago. 

He said: “My elder son Aryan started liking cricket when he was five years old, so I started looking out for a club for him to join. 

“He was on the waiting list for a couple of years at other clubs and then I saw an opportunity when Old Woking started their under-nine juniors programme. 

“I noticed the club didn’t have a manager for the under-nines, so I took responsibility for that role. 

“Being one of the first junior managers at the club, I had the opportunity to work with other age groups as well.

“Over time I became well known in the junior section and I’ve been managing other age-group teams whenever needed. 

“I’m glad I took a proactive role in contributing to my son’s cricket experience and supporting the club too. 

“I enjoy spending time with these lovely kids for about four to five months every year, shaping the development of these young players and contributing to the overall success of the club.”