THE most competitive season ever is the stock phrase trotted out by many Bradford League clubs at this time of year – only this time around, it’s being uttered with certainty.
In countless years gone by, it’s been the ‘big two’ of Woodlands and Pudsey Congs who have had the final say more often than not, with several rival teams failing to deliver in the final analysis after talking themselves up.
But for the 2014 season which gets underway tomorrow, a host of clubs – perhaps inspired by the maiden top-flight title success of Cleckheaton last term – are fancying their chances to do well, with the league looking to be the most intriguing for donkey’s years.
Cleck’ are hell-bent on defending their title, with near-neighbours Woodlands just as determined on winning it back.
Throw in the likes of Pudsey St Lawrence, Farsley, the ambitious duo of top-flight new-boys New Farnley and Hanging Heaton into the mix, not to mention Congs and several others – and it has the makings of a cracking year.
For Farnley, it’s a new adventure they simply cannot wait for, with the west Leeds side starting out their maiden Division One campaign at home to Morley.
The Lawns Lane outfit have invested in the considerable talents of ex-Yorkshire spinner Mark Lawson from Hanging Heaton – who beat Farnley in the Heavy Woollen Cup final last year – along with experienced top-order man Scott Richardson from Woodlands.
Secretary Neil Stokoe said: “We are excited and nervous. It’s been our ambition since we came out of the Dales Council and Central Yorkshire League.
“We think the top division of the Bradford League is the best in Yorkshire. You play ex-county players, professionals, overseas players – everything.
“It’s like moving from the Championship to the Premier in football. It’s excitement mixed with trepidition.”
On their prospects for the season, he added: “Mark and Scott bring that experience of having played in Division One and this is a real leap of faith to be honest. We don’t know what to expect.
“All we know is that there’s no whipping boys or easy games.
“In terms of ambitions, if you talk to the first team, they will say top five. Me, I just want to stay up!”
Ex-Yorkshire batsman Joe Sayers is the star turn at Farsley along with Springbok overseas Graham Hume, with former Red Lane duo Joe Greaves and Ben Pearson joining Pudsey Congs, who have brought back Adam Patel. Pudsey Saints have brought in Richie Lamb from Congs, while Cleck’ have signed batsman Andrew Gorrod from neighbouring Gomersal.
HW Cup holders Hanging Heaton have recruited shrewdly, with opening batsman Nick Connolly coming in from Methley and Morley all-rounder Dave Paynter. Other new signings are former Yeadon spinner Ben Elvidge and old boy James Byrne.
The marquee recruit for Woodlands is free-scoring batsman Duncan Snell from York.
The pick of the opening-day games see Congs welcome Cleck’ and Woodlands entertain Hanging Heaton. Yeadon host Pudsey Saints and Farsley are at home to Bradford and Bingley.
CLECKHEATON have a message to the rest of the Bradford League rivals – we aim to retain our top-flight crown.
The Moorenders, after being the bridesmaids in several previous seasons, were finally afforded title joy last September on a thrilling final-day denouement.
Chairman David Worrall said: “We’re confident we can retain it, yes. The lads seem very determined to continue winning things and it won’t be through lack of effort if we don’t. But a few clubs will be fancying their chances.
“Andy Gorrod has joined us along with Tanzeel Altaf, who is a young leg-spinner who has done very well in first-class cricket in Pakistan and who has also recently scored his first first-class century and he looks a really good prospect.”
Cleck’ have also brought in top-order batsman Matthew Hammond from Lincolnshire League outfit Broughton to boost their run-scoring prowess, although he is likely to miss some games through work commitments.
The team to beat in the Aire-Wharfe League are unquestionably Beckwithshaw, who won the top-flight by 27 points.
’Shaw kick off tomorrow at Kirkstall, who have brought in Eugene Burzler from Pudsey Congs.
Burley visit Pool, who have signed Ben Platt from Spen Victoria, with promoted Rawdon – whose newcomers include Ben Heritage and Chris Gill – visiting Otley.
Ilkley, who recruits include David Pennett from Guiseley, welcome Ben Rhydding, who have lost Jason Wright to Burley.Guiseley visit Collingham, while Steeton host Bilton.
A mouth-watering clash on the first day of the ECB Yorkshire League sees champions York welcome last season’s runners-up Yorkshire Academy.
Harrogate host Sheffield Collegiate.
Old rivals Wrenthorpe and Townville lock horns at Bragg Lane End in an attractive Premier opener in the Central Yorkshire League.
Methley, who have brought in the likes of Eddie Walmsley from Pudsey Congs, along with Sohail Raz and Jonathan Gardiner, visit Hoptin Mills.
Wakefield Thornes, who finished third last year and have South African paceman Johannes Bothma on deck again, go to Carlton in their opening game of the season.