Clubs in the Top Flight

Written by: Nick Archer
Date: 31/12/2013

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In 1998, the oldest Cricket League in the World, the Birmingham & District Cricket League, became the first League to be accredited as a Premier League, by the newly created England & Wales Cricket Board. After numerous meetings, plenty of soul-searching and some tough negotiating, the Management Committee agreed that BDCL should become the Premier Division of The Birmingham & District Premier Cricket League, with clubs from the Midland Club Cricket Championship forming Division One and clubs from the Midland Combined Counties League forming Division Two. 

Further successful negotiations saw Leagues in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire agree to become Feeder Leagues to the Premier League and the League, now, encompasses 48 clubs, covering an area from Oswestry and Whitchurch, in the North West, to Brockhampton and Eastnor, in the South West, to Coventry & N.W. in the East. This is a very different scenario to 1888, when the Birmingham & District Cricket League comprised the following clubs:- Aston Unity, Handsworth Wood, Kings Heath, Mitchells, Salters, Walsall and West Bromwich Dartmouth. Within a year, Kings Heath changed its name, after a merger, to Moseley, although a Kings Heath Cricket Club was, subsequently, reformed and re-entered the League, in Division One, in 1998. 

Aston Unity, Walsall and West Bromwich Dartmouth have retained unbroken membership of the League, since 1888, but Walsall is the only club to play its cricket, since then, entirely in the top Division. Aston Unity has slipped into the Warwickshire Cricket League but West Bromwich Dartmouth has experienced a welcome resurgence, following two seasons, in Division One, in 2002 and 2003. Of the remaining Founder Members, Mitchells left the League, after the 1892 season, but were re-admitted four years later, becoming Mitchells & Butlers, in 1898, following the amalgamation of two brewery firms. They remained members of the League, until 1994, when the Company withdrew its support, and their superb ground, at Portland Road, became a football pitch. Salters, a West Bromwich Company, resigned after one season but Handsworth Wood struggled on, until 1919, before they were voted out of the League because they had lost their permanent ground. Although Smethwick had been invited to join the League, in 1888, their Committee declined the offer but a change of direction, in 1891, saw the club’s application accepted and they have retained unbroken membership, since then, albeit in four different Divisions. Wednesbury, playing where they do, now, in Wood Green Road, were members from 1890 to 1893 and Small Heath joined the League in 1892. Like Wednesbury, they struggled, and left the League after three seasons. Warwickshire County Cricket Club entered its Club & Ground side, in 1894, but on being admitted to the County Championship, in 1895, withdrew its membership. The season in the League had been unsatisfactory and the strength of the side was dependent on County calls, varying from extremely strong to very weak. A strong Worcestershire influence entered the League, in the mid 1890’s, with the election of the following clubs, Dudley (1893), Stourbridge (1894) and Kidderminster (1895) and, by 1896, the League comprised 10 clubs – Aston Unity, Dudley, Handsworth Wood, Kidderminster, Mitchells & Butlers, Moseley, Smethwick, Stourbridge, Walsall and West Bromwich Dartmouth. 

With the exception of Old Hill’s election, in 1920, in place of Handsworth Wood, the constitution of the League remained the same until 1975, the year that the League season was extended, by four weeks, to include two additional teams. Those teams were Warwickshire C.C.C. 2nd XI and Worcestershire C.C.C. 2nd XI, but the latter struggled to field a balanced side, each week, and Duport took their place in 1977. Basically, a works side, they attempted to strengthen their team but, after cutbacks in financial support from the works sports club, they withdrew, in 1981, to be replaced by Worcester City. After 12 years, they folded and were replaced by Stratford-upon-Avon. 

In 1985, Dudley was forced to resign from the League, after the closure of its ground by the Local Council, because it was in an area subject to subsidence caused by old limestone workings. The place was filled by Coventry & N.W. who joined from the Midlands Club Cricket Championship, as did Wolverhampton, in 1989, when they replaced Warwickshire, who changed policy, preferring their players to be allocated to clubs, around the League, rather than playing together on a Saturday afternoon. A final change took place, in 1995, when Barnt Green took the place of Mitchells & Butlers, which meant that by the time the League was accredited with Premier League status, in 1998, the 12 member clubs were Aston Unity, Barnt Green, Coventry & N.W., Kidderminster, Moseley, Old Hill, Smethwick, Stourbridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, Walsall, West Bromwich Dartmouth and Wolverhampton. 

At various times, since the formation of the Premier Division, another 17 clubs have, also, sampled life in the top flight – Berkswell, Brockhampton, Bromsgrove, Cannock, Dorridge, Halesowen, Himley, Harborne, Kenilworth Wardens, Knowle & Dorridge, Leamington Spa, Shifnal, Shrewsbury, Walmley, Water Orton, Wellington and Wombourne.