There has been a huge campaign about the return to sport in a quest to get people active again after being ravaged by a year of being kept indoors. Local leagues have done their part in that with most starting their fixture programmes by mid-May and the Veterans League by early May and the Mirfield League being the first to restart on 20 April just a week after the lockdown was lifted allowing competitive bowling to restart. Well done to both those leagues for the early restart and retaining the competitive element with promotion and relegation still a feature of those leagues.
Saturday Leagues all over the country seem to be the last to react to the reopening of greens and Huddersfield is one of those with a start date for the 2021 season still to be announced. All leagues have seen drastic drops in the number of teams to the extent that the 100-years old Barnsley League has now disbanded and more have taken heavy hits. The signs are ominous.
The Huddersfield League has previously announced that there will be no promotion or relegation in 2021 and that teams can change team numbers and join different competitions for one year only. The hope is that things will return to normal and pick up where they left off at the end of the 2019 season for the start of the 2022 season.
With no penalty or incentive for bowling this year some clubs have decided to have a sabbatical and not compete this year at all, the repercussions of that will not be known for another year. For example, Kirkheaton Cons has withdrawn all its three teams from the Saturday League for 2021, preferring to run a series of weekend internal competitions right through the summer which is already into week 8 and being well supported and contested. Is this the model for the future?
Kirkheaton Cons are not the only ones as clubs look at ways of rescuing bar takings as they start their own recovery programmes to protect their own futures. In many places the bowling club bar is replacing the fast disappearing pubs as a community facility and bowling is the excuse that these centres are there in the first place. They need each other and without one the other will flounder. The absence of weekend bowling is a serious blow to many club finances. At best it is a six month season to cover 12 months overheads and any reduction in that model jeopardises their futures.
If you take time to look at the bigger picture and the prime driver has been to get people back bowling then Saturday Leagues have not supported that. Two months after the ban has been lifted there is still no competitive weekend bowling for league bowlers and that is not just local but seems to have wider implications. The Return to Normality initiative still has some way to go as far as bowling is concerned, maybe it never will, maybe this is the new normal.