LEPTON HIGHLANDERS may be registering England wicketkeeper Phil Mustard from Durham, but their most impressive work has been done much closer to home.
The Cedar Court Conference side have reorganised on and off the field and the whole sporting set-up at Wakefield Road has been united to maximise support, expertise, revenue and resources.
It’s already paying off, with the football section landing their first ever District League Division I title only a few weeks ago and the cricket making an encouraging start to the Drakes League campaign.
It’s an inspiring effort, because three decades on from when he first joined the club, chairman and first-team captain Sean Mulhall admits the Highlanders were on the brink, with their future in ‘district league’ cricket severely under threat after finishing bottom of the Frank Platt section last year.
“We suffered from in-fighting, poorleadership and poor management and this led to an exodus of players and the resignation of key members of the club,” said Mulhall, with refreshing candour.
“The club was tearing itself apart and I was convinced we could make a better fist of it, so we set about restoring Lepton Highlanders into a competitive district league cricket team, which is what we are now.
“Last season was virtually written off competitive wise – my two most embarrassing moments were being unable to field a team in the Sykes Cup at Elland and taking the field with seven men at Scholes – but during that time plans were put in place first to ensure we survived, then to progress and soon to flourish as a club again.
“The first task was to attempt to unite the entire club, because we are multi-sports, so instead of everyone doing their own thing we could function and flourish as one.
“We went to the club management to explain why, cricket wise, our existence as a Drakes League club was severely under threat and why we needed to do things differently for the good of everyone.”
A new main committee was formed under chairman Paul Peters, vice-chairman Paul Carter, treasurer Bob Lister and secretary Michelle Aylward.
“Fair play to them, they pledged full support to me and the cricket and that was the starting point,” said Mulhall.
“The chairman, who is not a cricketer, put on some whites and helped us fulfil our fixtures in the second team, as did the groundsman Nick Turner and his son ‘Rooney,’ and that was the sort of spirit we wanted.
“Top of the agenda for cricket, though, was improving our facilities – the league were quite justified in asking us to do that – and player recruitment.”
A new scoreboard has been built and opened by the club’s Fred Stallard Cup winner Jack Waring (the league’s top award is for long and distinguished service), while covers were bought for the first time in the club’s history and a temporary sightscreen installed (it will be upgraded).
“On the cricket side we had to increase the size of the committee because myself and Alan Waring were doing everything, and the top appointment of Barry Hodgson as secretary was essential for all the administration and matchday duties – and he’s a massive asset,” continued Mulhall.
“Alan has taken over as treasurer, bringing his business skills and understanding of sponsorships from his company, Independent Electrical Services, and with his wife Julie he does a very professional job with the financial side of the club.
“The committee now includes Paul Baxter, Danny Rushworth, Paul Carter, Dave Walker and Dave Mellor and they’ve given welcome input to allow us to function more efficiently.
“The stipulation we made was that the junior, senior and Evening League sections had to run as one, with everyone members of the same club, and I have to say the evening guys provide excellent midweek entertainment for all our members.
“All of the sections give support to keeping cricket at Lepton and, of the evening guys, the soccer captain Ross Martin shows the value of having a foot in both camps by helping on matchdays and doing a great job with raffle duties.”
On the playing side, Mulhall and Waring had no hesitation in welcoming Mumtaz Ali back to the club (even though he travels from home in London each weekend!), while Dale Winterbottom joined from Kirkheaton along with teenagers Alex Slack and Luke Webster, while Andy Grey was recruited from Hopton Mills.
“Mumtaz is a terrific player and we welcomed him back with open arms, while Dale is my best mate and a great asset in terms of morale, organisation on and off the field – he does all the pre-match stuff – and of course with his all-round ability,” said Mulhall.
“The young lads are all promising and they’ll get a chance at Lepton, because I don’t believe in having the youngsters batting at nine, 10 and Jack.
“Arshad Ali likes to get on with it, Paul Baxter is a versatile batsman and then Alan’s son, Jonathan Waring, is our vice-captain and viewed as a potential captain of the future. He’ll lead the Twenty20 side this season.
“We’ve got some new faces together and a new set-up and it’s all starting to gel. The second team under skipper Dave Rushworth and vice-captain Dave Mellor are top of their league as well, so we are making unbelievable progress in a short space of time.
“At junior level, we are very proud that the Under 9s, who have spent the last couple of years getting thrashed but have stuck together, have just won their first tournament (the chairman’s son Jacob is captain), and the Under 11s are up and going with the hope we’ll have Under 13s and 15s as soon as possible and Under 17s eventually.”
So what are the targets for Lepton, where the social side is also proving the centre of the community?
“Hoylandswaine are very, very warm favourites to win our section, but second place is up for grabs among possibly five clubs, and we are one of those,” answered Mulhall.
“The minimum requirement is that we have Section II status in the new set-up next season (in three straight divisions), because we are making excellent progress on the field, while off it we’ve had excellent ball sponsorships and the like, fixture posters are up all over the village and the benefit is for everyone at the club.
“I must give special mention to Kenny Battye, too, who has been around since time began and provides some fantastic wickets for us to play cricket on.”