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Offley & Stopsley Down The Years
By the end of the 1997 season it was fair to say that one or two Stopsley batsmen had had just about enough of trying to deal with the sporting vagaries of the Lothair Road wicket.
After the destruction of their pavilion in 1991 courtesy of the local pyromania society (click here to see pictures), Stopsley had upped sticks and moved from one side of Lothair to the other in search of a less lethal track but the wicket continued to favour the bowlers.
Dibbly dobblers and trundlers were in their element as they merely had to pitch the ball vaguely in the vicinity of the stumps to cause undue alarm for batsmen and rub their hands in glee as the wickets tumbled with relentless frequency. In contrast cultivated stroke players were reduced to gibbering wrecks by a long, lush outfield (with the odd dog turd or needle to add interest to the occasion for fielders) and land mine-laced wicket that sent averages plummeting and made centuries as rare as a gleaming white molar in Robert Boatwrights mouth.
Curiously enough it was that celebrated dibbly dobbler par excellence, Simon Warrington, who emerged as the driving force behind the proposed merger with Offley. The initiative behind the merger was simple. Offley would provide the facilities while Stopsley would contribute the talent. Or some players at any rate.
With Warrington expounding the attractiveness of the proposition and selling his five-year development plans to anyone who would listen the prospect of first class cricket at Offley by 2007 with the promise of test status by 2012 the decision to head down the A505 in search of a better wicket was virtually unanimous.
Offley & Stopsley were united, joining together under the two lions logo not so much a case of three lions on a shirt as two lions on a tit. The new badge were pompously described by Warrington as a coming together of two separate traditions. Or something like that.
After a handful of games it was clear that the bulk of the old Stopsley team would shape the destiny of the new club. Steve Baker was perhaps the only member of the original Offley lineup to make any sort of impact before injuries curtailed his career and with Darrell Coopers indoctrination to village life still lying some way off it was left to the original Stopsley stars to carry the new club forward.
The inaugural season saw the club scoop its first trophy, the Midweek Cup, as they won a relatively comfortable affair against Kashmir Hawks at Wardown Park. The only mild threat to an Offley victory was offered by some destructive hitting from future club legend Qumar. Displaying a batting talent that he has subsequently failed to come close to replicating for Offley, Qumar dragged the Hawks towards victory in the gloaming before finally being dismissed. To the acclaim of the watching crowd, Steve Bexfield lifted the trophy before the victorious team headed off to celebrate at the exclusive Biscot Mill.
Four weeks earlier the same venue had been the scene for one of the more infamous games in club history as Offley & Stopsley slipped to the first in a long line of frustrating defeats against their good chums Houghton Town. The highlight of this debacle was the four run outs that unfortunately occurred while Richie Barker was in residence at the crease. Jon Cerasale, Bexfield, Craig Bryant and Colin Keeley all played a part in their own downfall yet it was hard to escape the feeling that Barker may have been somewhat culpable.
After a relatively quiet campaign in 1999 where the team made a limited impression in their first season in the North Herts League and quietly took their leave of the Chiltern Village League, great things were expected in 2000. 2000 was the big one, the year when everything nearly clicked and the club nearly scooped five pots. Instead they had to settle for one which ultimately offered scant consolation for a season that had promised so much.
After an iffy start, the season caught fire with a strong midweek campaign. The team came close to promotion but the real focus was on the cup final at Crawley Green. Having reduced AK Colts to 30-4 Offley looked well placed to repeat their triumph of two years earlier. However, it all went pear shaped amidst a cacophony of horns as catches went down and Warrington contrived to allow a slow rolling ball to trickle through his legs on the boundary much to the delight of the AK fans. Despite some heroic fielding by Towndrow a target in excess of 140 always looked to be too much.
A rapid opening stand between Towndrow and Barker (sportingly not walking after gloving the first ball of the innings to slip) offered hope. However, it soon faded in the dusk with Gary McDermott struggling to time the ball and wickets having to be sacrificed for the cause, the task grew ever more insurmountable and became irretrievable after Towndrow was run out.
There was also disappointment in the reduced format of the game at Sulhampstead where the club dramatically reached the final of the sixes competition. After fortuitously securing a semi-final berth after winning just one of their group games, Offley reached the final courtesy of a tournament-record stand of 89 between Towndrow and Barker to send them through against the favourites. Unfortunately the team followed this up by being dismissed for 23 in the final.
The North Herts League was the big prize on offer that season and Offley rose to the occasion. A sustained team effort saw them win eight games in a row as they rose to the top of the table prior to the final game with Ickleford. Victory or even an abandoned game would give Offley the title and there seemed every prospect of a postponement on a bleak Sunday in September. However, the rain held off and Ickleford won the toss and elected to bat.
The wheels fell off immediately as Darrell Cooper and Colin Keeley, so effective for so long during the season, bowled possibly the worst spells of their career at precisely the wrong time. Pies and longhops were served up with enthusiasm to be swatted away to the boundary with the minimum of effort. A target in excess of 200 was never really on the cards although Towndrow and Bridgland stormed to an opening partnership of 60 before the collapse began and Offley limped to a meek defeat in the darkness.
Redemption and about the only thing between Bexfield and a rope lay in the Millman League. For most of the season the games were played on a Saturday where the team progressed with few hiccups, handing out a pair of splendid thrashings to the loathed Houghton Town. However, as the wins piled up it became clear that the title would be settled in the two Sunday games against the Cricketers. Offley could afford to lose one which they duly did and still win the title but halfway through the return game it seemed odds on that a second defeat was on its way.
Despite a dogged opening stand between Neil Bigmore and Barker (a partnership that ensured they would never open together again), Bexfield felt quite strongly that 25-2 from 20 overs was not what was wanted in pursuit of 180. However, Dave Bridgland entered, striding forward like the Great Lord of Luna in epic poetry, to play the innings of his life and smashed the bowling to all parts. With Barker adding solid support apparently preferring to stay at the crease rather than risk the wrath of his captain Offley edged ever closer to their target.
However, Barkers dismissal sparked a mini-collapse. Bexfield and Tattersall fell for 0 and wickets began to tumble. Bridgland rose above the mayhem at the other end to keep his nerve and he was joined by the unlikely figure of Phil Gourd who played his most important innings of his career, aided and abetted by Bexfields demented contribution as his runner. Victory came in the final over and with Offley keeping their nerve for the remainder of the season it ensured that they had at least one pot to piss in at the end of the year.
2001 featured a bright start in the higher level of the Millman League before ultimately petering out somewhat disappointingly. The North Herts campaign failed to recapture the magic of the previous year but the team still produced a solid effort. However, their were disruptions and silverware on the horizon as 2002 got under way.
Possibly there has been a more dismal campaign than Offleys 2002 Millman League enterprise. Probably there has not. Given a talented squad, some match-winning positions and numerous chances to salvage the situation, Simon Warrington effortlessly swept the obstacles to relegation away and led his divided and weary team back to the bottom rung.
While the batsmen failed to fire at times and the bowlers produced some decidedly iffy performances, it was the true genius of Warrington in full Captain Bligh mode that made relegation a certainty. The nadir came not during one of the many defeats although they were bad enough but in a tied game with Kempston where Warrington (ably assisted by some truly awful bowling from Qumar) contrived to allow 31 runs in the last three overs with numbers nine and ten at the crease.
The North Herts campaign also left more than a little to be desired as Bexfield departed for St Josephs in high dudgeon over the rumblings of the Keeleygate affair. With Keeley persona non grata, Bexfield sampling pastures new, Barker sulking and members of the old guard pointing fingers in various directions the team never really looked capable of challenging for honours.
There was brighter news in the limited overs game as Offley once again went up for the cup. With Keith Towndrow at the helm Offley negotiated their way through a tricky passage to face Shaheen in the final at sumptuous Crawley Green where the two teams produced one of the most incident-packed sporting events ever described in the Luton News. Eric Norris takes up the tale
The Luton and District Midweek Cricket Leagues Division 2/3 Cup final ended with one of the teams angrily walking from the field. Offley & Stopsley looked to be on their way to a comfortable victory when Shaheen quit after a run-out row.
Chasing 120 runs to win Shaheen never got to grips with the required run rate. In the 12th over of their reply captain Jameel Abbas, who had scored 51, called for a runner. He went to stand at square leg. The other batsman, Shafiq, hit a two. The ball was thrown into the wicket-keeper who immediately looked to see if the injured Jameel at square leg was in his ground.
On seeing that he was not he took the bails off and appealed. The umpire gave Jameel out. This caused a storm with Jameel claiming he was not out.
Other members of the Shaheen team then came on to the field and decided to take no further part in the game. The trophy was awarded to Offley & Stopsley as, according to officials, they had played within the laws of the game.
In a letter to the News-Gazette Jamil Abbas, the Shaheen Chairman, explained the reason behind his teams action and he is asking for a rematch. He said, A member of our team was batting with a runner at the other end. The ball was out of play with the wicket-keeper having hold of it.
Following the proper procedure our batsman tapped his bat on the ground three times to get the umpires attention. He asked the umpire if he could have permission to talk to the other batsman. The umpire agreed, As soon as the player left his crease the wicket-keeper took the bails off and appealed for an out. To our surprise the umpire gave our man out .After being treated so unfairly all our players agreed there was no point playing any further. We walked off and are sincerely asking for a fair rematch.
Offley won the toss and elected to bat and Captain Keith Towndrow and Steve Hoar put on 41 in six overs before Hoar dragged a delivery from Sajid on to his stumps. After the swift loss of Gary McDermott Offley slumped to 55-4 after nine overs as Shafiq removed the dangerous Towndrow (24) and Martin Bigmore with successive deliveries. Towndrow swung gloriously and missed while a ball that kept low defeated Bigmore.
Richie Barker and John Cerasale rallied the innings with a rapid stand of 54 in 29 balls as Shaheens fielding wilted under the pressure before Barker fell for 22 attempting a reverse sweep. Cerasale remained unbeaten on 34 as Offley finished on 119-6 leaving Shaheen to score at over seven runs per over from the start.
Shaheens best batsman Jameel was given an early life when Towndrow dropped him off the second ball but the reply soon stuttered against an inspired piece of bowling from crafty veteran Cliff Large.
Large bowled Muzambil then took a return catch off his own bowling to dismiss the dangerous Shazad before trapping Khuram in front to leave Shaheen rocking at 32-3.
The writing was on the wall when Sajid hooked Large high and hard to Barker on the boundary where the fielder clung on to the chance. Large finished with 4-13 from four overs despite his last ball being hit for six.
Shaheen fell further into the mire when a splendid running catch by Cerasale off Towndrow removed Abas as Shaheen slumped to 54-5.
Shaheen had fallen hopelessly behind the required run rate and needed 57 from the last five overs and their hopes rested entirely on Jameel who had made a sparkling 51. However, when he was run out after a fine throw by Tony Maidment and excellent work by keeper Bigmore the match descended into anarchy as the batsman disputed the neutral umpires decision in an incident that culminated with Shaheens players walking off and forfeiting the match. Cerasale narrowly edged out the impressive Large for the Man of the Match award as Offley & Stopsley celebrated a well-deserved victory.
2003 saw a successful, albeit controversy-shrouded, defense of the cup. 10 overs into the semi-final clash with Luton Sixth Form at Leagrave it seemed to be simply a case of how many runs Offley would pile up and how great the margin of victory would be. In the wake of a top-notch batting collapse, the Sixth Form were left to chase under seven runs an over for a final berth.
After a bright start the first wicket fell as Towndrow accepted a regulation chance at long on. Despite the batsmans best efforts to claim that Towndrow had cheated by walking in with the bowler he was ushered on his way. The fun began in earnest when Bigmore fielded a throw and smartly removed the bails with the batsman evidently contemplating a second run. Not so objected the batter but he was sent on his way regardless.
Matters became more interesting as wickets fell and the tension mounted. One chap sportingly accepted his dismissal by attempting to decapitate Cerasale, a minor pitch invasion developed into a full scale riot after Towndrow was alleged to have pushed a teenager (quite right too, objectionable little fuckpig) and the game finally ended in farce with the Offley players adopting a defensive formation, à la Rorkes Drift and shuffling towards the safety of the car park after the umpires awarded them the game.
The final saw a rematch of 2002s decider as Shaheen and Offley locked horns once again, this time at the more spectator-friendly venue of Wardown Park. Offley batted first and Towndrows last significant innings for the club ended in typical fashion with an agricultural mow after scoring a laboured 2, Hoar ran himself out going for a non-existent second and when Tattersall went for 0 the writing was on the wall.
However, Cerasale displayed his customary appetite for the big occasion and Barker, for once looking vaguely competent against spin, sparked the innings to help Offley post a competitive total. By the time Cerasale had steamed in to take four wickets the game was all but over and Offley eased to victory.
Elsewhere a fresh influx of players saw the arrival of the likes of Nathan Brodie, Chris Austin, Jeff Francis, Rizwan and Zayyad Darren Lunney led the team to promotion in the Millman League. There were some twists and turns along the way notably when Warrington walked away from the club for the last time after a three-drop performance and a single over that went into orbit before promotion was clinched on the final day of the season. As the rain came down, soaking the outfield and making fielding a lottery,
Bexfield produced a big innings when it was needed most before Barker surprisingly kept his nerve to seal victory in his unaccustomed roll of death bowler.
Offley had a new look in 2004. With the likes of Towndrow, Warrington, McDermott and Chris Jarvis all no longer available for one reason or the other, the team had freshness to it. Nowhere was this more apparent than on Sundays where Bigmore led his team to promotion and the title. Bexfield returned from his self-imposed Sunday exile at St Josephs to score a mountain of runs (he barely managed a molehill in the Millman as captaincy took its toll) and Bigmore led his team effectively as they piled on the runs and lost just once all season. Mark Tattersall and Dave Bridgland proved to be the pick of the bowlers and few teams were able to cope with the Offley run machine. Two crushing victories over Nomads including a contest at Crawley Green which should certainly have ended in defeat provided the icing on the cake.
Saturdays were less spectacular but the team survived relatively comfortably and were never seriously threatened by relegation. Darrell Coopers efforts to reinvent himself as a spin bowler provided the unintentional highlight of the season as spells of 2-0-30-0 became commonplace. However, he also enjoyed one of his finest hours as he took three wickets in the final over at Old Warden to set up an amazing one-run win as the recently returned and redeemed Keeleys throw from the deep beat the batsmans lunge as he attempted the tying run off the final delivery.
The midweek era came to an end after an early cup exit and a dwindling lack of enthusiasm among the squad. The cost of insuring the windows was also a consideration.
Five overs into the 2005 campaign the scoreboard read 2-4 with Bexfield, Brodie, Francis and Ramiz all back in the shed having failed to trouble the scorer. However, Offley rallied from such an unpromising position to win the match and go on to enjoy a surprisingly successful season in the second tier of the Millman League. It proved impossible to sustain a bright start in the top flight of the North Herts league and crushing defeats at the hands of Shillington and Houghton Town sucked a great deal of enthusiasm out of the team. Despite that they retained their top flight status with some ease to ensure that there is ample hope for 2006.
A record breaking year for the 'two lions' of Offley & Stopsley came to an end with an emphatic win over local rivals Lilley on the 30th September. Thus making it the longest season in the clubs history. To read a full review of the Saracens League Division 11 winning season and match reports click to go to the Saturday Fixtures 2006 page or read a comprehensive review of the season by clicking here