Martin’s made a cricketing impact at Sport Pembrokeshire

Martin as chairman with Sean HannonWhen it comes to junior cricket in Pembrokeshire, for years it’s felt like we’ve been swimming against the tide.

But now the tide is turning.

The drop off in youngsters playing the game has been well documented and yet initiatives like All Stars, School Festivals, and flexible league rules have helped redress the balance.

And one figure central to the revival is Sport Pembrokeshire Cricket Development Officer Martin Jones, whose job responsibilities include increasing participation, and providing children with an opportunity to regularly participate in a fun and yet safe environment.

There’s work to do at senior level to, helping clubs boost membership, secure funding, and build strong partnerships.

It’s not a simplistic role, but it’s certainly one that suits Martin’s background.

Camaraderie through cricket – and the odd injury too!

His association with the game started in 1972, when aged 14 he debuted for Llantwit Fardre (near Pontypridd) on the ‘top of a mountain’ away to Blaengarw.

Mercifully, he managed to edge his first ball to the boundary in that game, but two years later, and just a day before starting a new job at Lloyds Bank, the dangers of the sport hit home.


“I was playing for Church Village in a game against Mountain Ash, the club my father started and included a gentleman called Tony Morgan.

“Tony bowled a ball at me which I top edged into my own face, meaning a broken nose, two black eyes, a hospital visit and plenty of blood!

“I went into the Bank at 10am the next morning and after an hour in work, was sent home for my first week off.”

Playing in Pembrokeshire, moving away and then back here to stay!

Martin and wife YvonneAfter moving to Haverfordwest in 1981, he had a stint with Llanrhian before another work switch to Newport, Gwent, but in 1987 he was back in Pembrokeshire and living in Neyland – and has been a pivotal club member there ever since.

Early memories include opening the batting with the likes of Alan Spence and David Haynes, notching 105 not out against Pembroke Dock in Division 3, and then combining playing with coaching in 1993.

In the 20 years that followed, he tutored juniors at club and county level, and led Neyland to just their second Ormond Youth Cup win in 2002. He also helped coach the Pembrokeshire team that became Welsh regional champions in 2013, beating a seemingly star-studded Gwent side in the final.

The end of an era – and then a new beginning

When the time came to retire from Lloyds Bank after 40 years of service, it coincided with an opportunity coming up for a Cricket Development Officer job.

“I managed to secure the job and have been lucky to have two great line managers in Matthew Freeman at Sport Pembrokeshire and Keri Chahal of Cricket Wales, who both guide me where necessary but also give me a free hand to get on with things.

“Both are great teams to work for and I’ve also been on the Executive of the Pembroke County Cricket Club since 2013, and ran the junior leagues since 2015, so the two roles do dovetail.”

Martin JonesSeeing stars

Such is cricket’s constant need to evolve, inevitably so does Martin’s role. His focus must cover club development, primary and secondary schools, community coaches, financial assistance, sporting pathways, and inclusivity.

One initiative that has undoubtedly helped with all of the above is the All Stars programme. The growth of the scheme has been excellent, with 12 Pembrokeshire clubs and more than 300 participants aged 5-8 involved.

“What’s been great is seeing clubs who have not had junior teams benefit from it, and hopefully it can help secure the future for some junior sides.

“Locally, the number of under 9 teams has increased from 12 in 2018, to 15 in 2019, and it would have been 19 if they could have been run this year.

“Of those I’d say Pembroke, Llanrhian, Cresselly (two teams), St Ishmaels, Laugharne and Llechryd have directly benefitted from All Stars.

“The programme is helped by being able to draw up a programme for Rick Walton, which is based on him going into the schools’ nearest clubs that are running All Stars.

“He is great to work with - his attitude and manner with children in this programme and at festivals is tremendous.”

Fantastic festivals

Speaking of festivals, they’ve become an integral way of getting youngsters involved in cricket.

Martin runs one at Pembroke Castle each year as a taster for those aged 9 and under, while primary school events for both boys’ and girls’ taking place throughout the year at various club venues.

“The boys’ festivals have increased dramatically to 52 teams with approximately 580 players taking part,” he explained.

“This has a knock on effect for the junior leagues. In the under 11s in 2018 there were 12 teams with 60 games played – in 2019 we had 15 teams and 90 games played and there were 16 teams prepared to play this year.

“Girls have both indoor and outdoor festivals at under 13 and 15 level and are signposted to senior sides. This has helped resurrect the teams in the Pembrokeshire Ladies’ League.

“When I started there were eight schools’ entered in the girls’ festivals, but last year we had 24 entered with around 220 taking part.”

‘Insport cricket’ is so important

All Stars 1One of the most rewarding aspects of his role however, is running the Insport cricket event with Angela Miles, for children with disabilities.

“I’ve been involved in cricket my whole life but when I ran my first Insport festival with the help of Angela it was something else.

“We had 66 pupils and it was tremendous to see the pleasure and joy they gained from this experience. I would recommend it to all areas in Wales.”

Martin will also travel to Cardiff each year to support all local schools’ who reach the national finals, but knows the pathway for them wouldn’t be there without help.

“All festivals are supported by Valero Pembroke Oil Refinery and I owe a big thankyou to Stephen Thornton and co,” he added.

“And they benefit the schools’ and community, not just in terms of cricket but also the health and wellbeing for all concerned. Playing can develop individual skills like communication, teamwork, and leadership, and more importantly youngsters can enjoy themselves and make good friends.”

Nothing for grant-ed

Supporting local clubs financially isn’t straightforward, and involves liaising with clubs and giving guidance as to what potential grants they are eligible for.

Along with Sport Pembrokeshire’s Alan Jones though, Martin has been able to promote the benefits of the Community Chest scheme.

In recent times, many Pembrokeshire clubs have received funding to help their junior sections develop, purchase kit, and send members on coaching courses.

This year the issue has been more critical than ever, which emergency grants available from various organisations, for example CASC, Sport Wales or the ECB, in light of problems caused by Covid-19.
“Pembrokeshire clubs have benefitted tremendously pro rata compared to other areas,” said Martin.

“Also it was great to be able to aid the six members of the Welsh Disability Squad with their tour to Sri Lanka, who had financial assistance with the help of the Haverfordwest Pool Trust.”

Coaching courses are also picking up too. For the first time ever, three Level 2 courses have been run in consecutive years in Pembrokeshire, and there were 24 signed up on a new Foundation Course before the pandemic struck.

Keeping active through Covid-19

Of course, like every sport, cricket has taken a hit in 2020. At senior level in Pembrokeshire we’ve had a month of action, but very few junior games have taken place.

“The pandemic meant we cancelled our planned school activities,” admitted Martin.

“But the Sport Pembrokeshire team have adapted with an excellent portal of activities and exercises for pupils so they can stay fit, active, and healthy at home.

“I’ve been sending out a lot of ‘Chance to Shine’ videos and also Cricket Wales and Glamorgan CCC activities to help keep people’s skill levels up and encourage them to carry on practicing.”

The new normal

Regardless, Martin has no desire to relinquish his cricket commitment anytime soon.

It has been a challenging time for all sports, but the road to recovery is underway.

“I’m sure the schools’ programme and the junior leagues will recover and get stronger in the future as we adapt to the new normal – whatever that will look like.

“Cricket plays an important role in the community and I am lucky to be involved. I enjoy my role helping others through Sport Pembrokeshire and Cricket Wales and I have to give thanks to all the clubs and administrators for their help and support.”

And I think those clubs and administrators, not to mention local pupils, teachers, and parents, return that compliment in bucketfulls and rest assured Martin will continue to put everything into trying to positively promote and development the game.

Because as the saying goes, he doesn’t just like cricket. He loves it.