Here in Basildon we have a biggish park/recreational space near our town centre 'Gloucester Park'. I think it was created to serve the people of Basildon and the surrounding area and for the most part over the last 50 years or so it's done that quite well under successive councils, combing the facilities there with others around the borough.
A few years ago in conjunction with the Olympics a lot of the council facilities were shut down and demolished and in their place came the Basildon Sporting Village with one of their slogans being 'Everyone Active' see image below.
The Murray Field pitch use to boast a half decent wicket, surrounded by semi- mature trees, an all-weather wicket and a big pavilion with a substantial bar which used to be open to the public as a bar as I recall, although I'm not too sure. (See the link, there's more detail and the pitch seems to have been there since 1967).
Up until a few years ago, despite the fact that the pavilion had become derelict, the pitch was still maintained, rolled, cut, spiked in the winter, fed and chained off when not in use. But in recent years, probably due to a number of things... Sky TV buying TV cricket rights and in doing so massively limiting the access to cricket for kids and anyone who wants to watch cricket and the fact that cricket has virtually been omitted from schools for a number of reasons...
High percentage of female staff at primary schools.
Selling off of playing fields in schools in the 1980's to build houses.
This countries ridiculous obsession with football, a game we're patently useless at, yet pursue in schools with a fervour that is incomprehensible and has so many negative aspects to it.
But despite all these things working against cricket, the ground was still there and the artificial wicket remained, meaning that people could go over there and have a knock about and access that at least for free. I've practiced over there several times in the last 5 or 6 years and last summer a bunch of Indian blokes took to having informal games on the all-weather pitch on Saturday mornings using windballs, this looked like the kind of set-up that may have led to these blokes eventually playing proper cricket?
If you turn on the news these days and for the past 10 years or so, one of the re-occurring themes is that of obesity and a nation of people that are sedentary and don't get out and about. Whilst this is already an issue that worries the government, in the future with a massive ageing population and a decreasing 'Working age' population, it's becoming increasingly important that both those sections of our society should look after themselves physically. Hence the massive drives to increase and promote sport using the Olympics as the vehicle to get that message out there.
So, I found it somewhat odd that this turn of events happened a week ago, when Joe, Ben and I (12 & 14 years old) went over the Murrayfields pitch adjacent to the everyone active Basildon Sporting Village and had a bit of a bowl on the all weather wicket that's still there. When we arrived we had a look at what remains of the wicket. The wicket, which appears to have been there since 1967 and was intended as suitable for "county class cricket matches" has sadly been neglected under the management of the Basildon Sporting Village and is now a Health & Safety issue. Where once there was a square with enough space for at least four tracks which featured Billiard table level wickets under the councils care, there is now something that resembles a football pitch in its state. The all-weather pitch is also in a mess, although still usable, but the surrounding grass is encroaching on to the artificial wicket making it narrower than it should be. It was also covered in animal faeces.
We cleaned up the faeces and spent about an hour and eventually gave up because of the rain. We packed up our gear and made our way back to the car. As we did so we were met by a bloke wearing BSV attire and another man who looked like his 'Heavy'. Who then said something along the lines of...
"Hello mate, I've just come out to tell you that you can't play cricket on there anymore".
"What"? I asked somewhat bemused as there seemed to be no reason for us not to be able to play cricket.
"No, I'm afraid not unless you PAY, we've got teams that use that facility and it's our field now and you can't just walk out there unless you've paid for it".
"What?!" I was incredulous. "No-one in their right mind would use that field for cricket anymore it's wrecked".
"Well, that's where you're wrong because several teams have used it last summer"...
Yes, that is true, I did see a couple of teams use it in June as I recall and having only been neglected for a year at that point, the wicket was just about usable. But several teams sounds a bit optimistic. Anyway, back to the altercation... At this point I nearly had steam coming out of my ears and I was having to stay calm.
"So, we're not allowed to use the artificial wicket"?
"Nope, it's ours, you can if you pay for it though".
"So, you're going out of your way to actively discourage people from engaging in sport"?
"Nope, as I said, if you pay for it as some teams do, you can use it, we're a business, we have to charge you".
"What about the Indian lads that played on it in the summer"?
"Yep, we told them to move on... there's a space over near the skatepark, you can go and play there".
"Unbelievable". I said shaking my head and walking away in total disgust.
So that's it, another nail in the cricket coffin. Meanwhile other people appeared to be going about their versions of recreation with impunity on the same space - jogging and running and walking their dogs. I suppose we should be thankful that it hasn't got to the point where companies like this are able to charge us for running and dog-walking? Therefore, if they're allowed on the same space what might be the rules for exclusion? Is it that they don't want you on the wicket or is it the whole oval? If we played in the outfield would that be okay? If we went over there and trained - throwing drills and the like would that be going too far? Would it be the action of throwing that takes things too far and are they watching the dog walkers thinking they maybe able to charger them as they're throwing and getting really active?