ONE of the most charismatic characters in local cricket, John Birch, is back in town.
And he is helping to scotch rumours that one of Hucknall’s leading cricket clubs are on the brink of disbandment.
Rolls-Royce Leisure have been subjected to the gossip since the end of the season amid uncertainty about the future of sport at their base off Watnall Road.
This follows the controversial suspension from his job of the leisure club chief, Brian Willows.
But Rolls have responded by appointing the ex-Notts CCC manager and captain Birch as their new cricket development manager and coach
And they insist that the club are determined to continue moving forward in a bid to join the elite Notts Premier League (NPL).
“We are putting things in place to make us stronger,” declared chairman and secretary Dave Dixon. “We are trying to bring new players into the club and trying to improve. We want to be up there.
“We are almost there on the field. But off the field, we have to improve the infrastructure of the club and we need someone who has the time to devote to it.
“John will be responsible for all aspects of cricket, including the setting-up of a new youth section. The captains will report to John and he will report to me.”
Birch, who is now 56, spent 19 seasons at Trent Bridge, including 16 as a first-team player between 1973 and 1988.
Rolls are hoping he has the same impact on them as he did on Papplewick and Linby, whom he served in a similar capacity between 1992 and 1997.
In just six seasons, he guided Papplewick to no fewer than 15 honours, including promotion to the Bassetlaw League.
Birch started the process that saw Papplewick transformed from a humble village-club to one of the most powerful cricketing forces in the county.
They have spent the past nine seasons in the NPL but Rolls have made no secret of the fact that they want to usurp Papplewick as the number one club in the Dispatch district.
An influx of Asian talent has revived Rolls in the last two seasons. Under the captaincy of Saleem Karim, they have finished second and third back in the top division of the South Notts League. They have also won back-to-back Spencer Cups and even reached the Trent Bridge finals of the county Twenty20 tournament.
“They have some good players whom I have known for a long while,” said Birch.
“I went in last season to help the groundsman after the wicket was reported to the league. Now I have been given the job of setting things up from top to bottom.
“Rolls are a well-respected, old club and the facilities are second to none. Certain things must be in place to meet their aspirations of reaching the Premier League. They are not far off. They just need tightening up off the field.”
It’s a stipulation of entry to the NPL that clubs must run at least one youth team, so Birch will be linking up with local schools in a bid to attract young players — just as he did at Papplewick Hall where he earned the nickname the ‘Pied Piper Of Papplewick’.
“I have a lot of happy memories of Papplewick where I produced some fantastic, talented cricketers,” he said.
“Now there is a lot more competition. Hucknall, in particular, is a club that is developing nicely.
“But there is a lot of talent in the Hucknall area. It is a question of getting Rolls’s local identity back.
“It’s probably my biggest challenge so far but I am looking forward to it.”
Birch’s part-time appointment comes at a time when all the sports clubs based at Rolls are demanding answers about future plans for the site.
The suspension of Willows is shrouded in mystery, although it is believed to stem from the licensing dispute that almost sabotaged the annual Party In The Park event for Help For Heroes, which was held at the Rolls Leisure Club in June.
Willows has not been at work since August while Rolls have conducted an internal, disciplinary investigation.
And in his absence, it has been suggested that policy changes could result in football teams having to pay up to £1,000 a year to play at Rolls in future, whereas they currently use the facilities for free.
Rumours have also suggested cricket could be dispensed with altogether and teams who do not carry the Rolls name could be kicked off.
The leisure club’s caretaker general manager, Colin Bancroft, who has been drafted in from the Rolls site at Derby to stand in for Willows, has been unavailable for comment.
But Dixon has led a call for the uncertainty to be ended.
“It all needs clarifying,” he said. “Rolls need to be talking to the sports clubs who play there because this is affecting hundreds of people.
“We don’t even know if we’ve got a ground to play on next season.
“No-one from Rolls has even spoken to me or anyone at the cricket club about future plans and what is happening.
“Colin Bancroft has been appointed and I have heard that he will be looking at things from a purely business point of view.
“But the welfare at Derby is very different to the one here at Hucknall. Derby relies on the support of thousands of employees and lots of functions. Hucknall relies on the sports scene.
“The worst thing is that no information is coming from Rolls at the moment. It is diabolical.”