THORNBURY are aiming to celebrate their 150th anniversary with the first XI of this vibrant community club securing promotion back to the top division in the West of England Premier League.
The South Gloucestershire outfit slipped out of Premier One in 2011, but the winter arrival of Gloucestershire captains Chris Dent – a former junior at the historic Ship Ground – and Jack Taylor underline the ambition to once again thrive at the highest level.
Marc Lezar is leading the first XI in WEPL Premier Two Glos/Wilts for a second summer after last year’s covid-compromised campaign and has the support of a formidable coaching team. Owen Dawkins, Gloucestershire’s second XI and batting coach, has moved into the Director of Cricket role while Stu Houghton, a winter recruit from Cheltenham, is head coach with former Gloucestershire batsman Simon Hinks returning as club coach.
Thornbury, though, are not focusing only on their first team. Far from it. The club have registered a record high of 300 players who are set to take their places in 25 sides, ranging from under-9s through to under-19s and a fast expanding women and girls section, while a first session for disabled cricketers will take place on June 21.
At senior level, Thornbury have entered a 5th team into the Bristol & District League’s 30-over competition while there are also plans to field a 6th XI when numbers permit.
And the club have a new coloured kit – designed by under-17 player Louie Patch-Bowden – which all teams will wear this year in T20 matches.
By any measure, a tremendous amount of cricket is planned for the summer so it helps that the club will continue to make regular use of excellent facilities at Tockington Manor School and the Oldbury-on-Severn club.
Energy on the pitch is being matched by action and enthusiasm off it, witness a long list of improvements to the clubhouse including the installation of a new boiler, refurbished ladies toilets and complete facelift for the club bar.
Cameras have also been installed at the Ship to allow all home matches this season to be live streamed to a potential world-wide audience.
And it is hoped that local residents and visitors will be further tempted to pop in whenever the mood takes as a new coffee shop has now opened at the ground, offering food options as well as a warming cuppa seven days a week.
It all makes for an exciting new chapter in the history of a club that was founded in 1871 by Dr Edward Mills (EM) Grace, the older brother of the more famous WG who turned out for Thornbury on 51 occasions.
In fact, over the years a total of 24 Graces have played for the club with Mike – the great grandson of EM – the last to do so, in the 1980s though he still visits the club on special occasions.
President Les Summerfield, who joined the club in 1973, kindly assisted with this historical background, proudly pointing out that he is only the 12th man to fill the post in 150 years, following in the recent footsteps of such legendary figures as former England spinner David Allen and Gloucestershire’s Derek Hawkins.
Chairman is his son Toby who is helping drive the club forward on so many different fronts. The 53-year-old said: “I’m proud and honoured to be doing this job at a club I joined when I was nine.
“Last year was tough because of covid and all the restrictions, but we’re all now raring to go again. We want to re-engage with the community and see our first team take things to the next level, and bring all the other sides with them.
“Virtually all of our first team are home grown and that’s something we’re determined to keep building on with a mentoring scheme that links senior players with juniors.”
Thornbury had planned to mark their 150th with a ball which, because of covid restrictions, has already been put back a year. But a series of fund-raisers are scheduled for this summer as well as several special matches, details of which will be announced later. One game, though, which has been confirmed is a visit from the MCC on July 15.
Toby added: “We will be delighted if we can have a glorious summer weather-wise with crowds cheering us on and maybe even the players being able to have teas together again … everything we all love about cricket.”
Pictured, left to right: Chairman Toby Summerfield, President Les Summerfield and 150th Anniversary Chairman David Hammond.