Defiant guru John Birch has promised that Rolls-Royce Leisure will be back -- after missing out on Nottinghamshire cricket’s biggest prize by a whisker.
On a cliffhanging final day in the Notts Premier League (NPL) season, Hucknall side Rolls were one of three teams in with a chance of the title.
They beat leaders and defending champions Cuckney -- only to be pipped to top spot by just six points by West Indian Cavaliers.
Former Notts CCC manager and captain Birch, who has revolutionised Rolls cricket since taking over two years ago, admitted he was “very disappointed”.
But he refused to be too downhearted by a superb effort in the club’s first-ever season in the NPL, which is for the elite 12 clubs in the county.
Even the runners-up spot is the highest placing in the league by any Dispatch district club.
“We wanted to come in and win it in our first year, but we were not quite good enough,” said Birch this week.
“However, we’ll see what we can do next year. We will definitely be going for it again.
“We have to improve in all areas. But we have some seriously good players. We will keep the same lot and add to the squad too.
“We knocked together a side we knew would be there or thereabouts. They nearly pulled it off and it’s a shame we didn’t. But credit to all of them.”
Leading the table for several weeks, Rolls won 13 of their 22 matches, losing only three. And Birch refused to pinpoint any games in particular that might have cost them the title.
“That’s easy to do, but it’s also unfair,” he said. “The players know they are good enough to win the league -- and perhaps they should have won it.
“But this is a brand new club really -- and we will keep pushing forward.”
Since respected coach Birch arrived at the club, Rolls have won the Gunn And Moore South Notts League title, set up several sides for youngsters and forged a link with local primary schools under the nationwide Chance To Shine programme.
Although most first-team players do not hail from the Hucknall area, the club are strengthening local connections through their youth set-up.
“We are playing catch-up a bit because there is competition from Hucknall and Papplewick and Linby in the area,” said Birch.
“But we are building up the numbers quite nicely, and our under-15s won their league this season. We are keen to lay a solid foundation for the future.”
A local link is also provided by Rolls’s star player, Notts CCC bowler Luke Fletcher, who hails from Bulwell.
Birch is convinced Fletcher’s time at the club has helped him improve at Notts, where he is now their leading wicket-taker in four-day cricket.
“Luke is great to have around the club, especially with the young kids,” he said.
Birch is full of praise for the roles played in Rolls’s rise to the top by his son, and captain, Dan Birch, and club officials Steve and Sue Roberts, “who have been brilliant”.
And he wants to pay a big thankyou to the staff at Rolls and the public of Hucknall for their support during the season. The local derby against Papplewick and Linby at the Rolls-Royce Leisure Club in July attracted a crowd of about 200.
“The ground has stood up to NPL standards, and everything has gone OK,” he said. “My only bugbear is the restrictions caused by sharing with football, but that is part of the set-up and we understand that.”
To help overcome the clash with football at the start and end of seasons, Birch’s side could play some games next season at the headquarters of Derby Rolls-Royce, where the facilities are, he says, “second to none”.
This is because he has now been appointed director of cricket for both sites, with responsibility for all teams at Hucknall and Derby.
“It’s an exciting development, and should enable us have a good crack at national competitions,” Birch added.
An unlucky second-best John Birch’s Rolls-Royce Leisure might have been in 2013. But you get the impression they won’t be for long.