Cricket wasn’t killed in Belfast in the Seventies despite the atrocities conducted by IRA terrorists. However, several clubs felt the brunt of their actions and the cricket landscape was tainted forever. One of the big victims was the Belfast Cricket League, better known as the Belfast Parks League because local parks were mostly used in the city.
The Belfast Cricket League was formed on 10 April 1902 at the Royal Avenue Hotel. The inaugural Chairman was W Hamill, who became President later, and 8 teams were affiliated to the first league. Only Woodvale remain today.
The teams were mostly minor players, and their league was separate from the auspices of the Northern Cricket Union, although within a short time a few teams affiliated to the Junior Cup competition. Woodvale won the inaugural competition for the first two seasons and then Forth River came into the picture with several wins. The Belfast Telegraph provided the first trophy, although in later years there were 7 trophies in existence!
Park grounds were largely used for matches with limited clubhouse/changing facilities. The leagues expanded through the enthusiastic Chairman ER Jackson. The Belfast Cricket League survived two World Wars as the Government felt sport and recreation should be encouraged to boost morale. 1925 was the exception, as the Shipyard workers at Harland and Wolff were heavily involved on the war campaign. At their peak in the mid-1930s the League had close to 50 teams in competition. It was a tremendous effort.
It was interesting to note where the clubs came from. Clubs were from areas such as Oakleigh, Forth River, Woodvale, Dundela, Lawnbrook, Castleton, Willowbank, Corinthians, Electricity Depot, Whitehall, Avonview, Broadview, Mountain View, Cliftonpark, Shankill YMCA, Ormeau, Harlandic, and Loopvale et al. Many of the club’s Officers were from Alliance Road, Tennets Street, Seaview, Beersbridge Road, Old Lodge Road, Toronto Street, Ravenhill Road, Twadell Avenue and Ann Street, long since removed after the clubs disbanded.
From the outset the Belfast Cricket League was very popular although its culture changed in the 1950s and1960s. It was a changing world and Saturday matches disappeared with short midweek matches preferred. Many of the Belfast firms and businesses joined the League and several traditional clubs entered where players wanted more social games.
The Parks League provided a different atmosphere, a different ambience, a less competitive environment, and the opportunity to build camaraderie and boost morale, especially within business and local firms. Players travelled throughout the city, but sadly it came to an abrupt end when the civil disturbances took hold.
By 1968 there were many ‘no go’ parks and matches were disrupted and abandoned. Worse still, clubs disbanded and from a vibrant healthy cricket ambience the whole picture changed dramatically. The terrorists had won when the Belfast Cricket League folded in 1972, never to return. The League had no options, and it was the end of an era after 70 years during which the Great War and Hitler’s fascism had been thwarted.
The Northern Cricket Union now exists with mid-week games. In a way it has tried to bridge the gap, but it will never replace the ambience of park cricket and its special atmosphere.
Fortunately the Northern Cricket Union and the North-West Union were able to exist through The Troubles, and then prosper in later years. However, sadly, the Belfast Cricket League was a victim of The Troubles, just like many others who were killed or maimed by terrorists.