CAPTAIN Matt Clark hailed a sensational year for Fleetwood sport after the town’s cricket team were crowned Northern Premier League champions.
Having sealed the first division title for the first time since 2005 with a 54-run victory over Preston, skipper Clark said: “The football team won the Conference, the rugby union team won their league and we have won the NPL all in the same calendar year. It’s an unbelievable success for the town.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet but I’m extremely proud. Over the course of the season we have picked up 236 points despite losing seven games to the weather, which does suggest we were the best team.
Fleetwood’s final margin of triumph was six points as they doubled their lead over second-placed Barrow, who had to settle for a 12-point win batting second at Morecambe.
Fleetwood knew a 15-point win from batting first was the only way to guarantee glory, but the green pitch at Chorley’s Windsor Park, where the match was played because Broadwater was unfit, meant the toss was not as vital as Clark had feared.
He knew his side could afford to lose it because Preston would surely select to bowl on such an inviting surface and so it proved.
Clark was so confident his team’s total of 195-7 would be enough that he declared three overs early.
The total was achieved with considerable help from Lancashire’s Tom Smith, whose 62 off 95 balls included six fours and a six.
Fleetwood’s form could have dipped with the early return home of influential professional Shaun Liebisch, but first Nottinghamshire’s Steven Mullaney and now Smith have stepped in to superb effect, which Clark fully appreciated.
“Tom took great effort to get to know the lads. These guys are superstars you put on a pedestal but when you meet them they are normal, down to earth lads. He was absolutely first-class as was Steven last week.”
Openers Mick Clinning (25) and Adam Parker (37) had opened the innings solidly, while Adam Shorrocks chipped in with a 46-ball 51. Soaib Dukanwala took 3-76 off 15 overs and Chris Holt 3-67 off 23.
Preston were then dismissed for 141 in 38.2 overs as Smith completed his outstanding day’s work with 4-52 off 18 overs and Clinning returned season’s-best figures of 5-25 off 7.2.
While hailing Smith, Clark acknowledged that it was the efforts of those like Clinning who had toiled week in, week out that deserved special praise.
The skipper added: “Everyone contributed at some point. Mike had hardly bowled all season but got a five-fer. That’s the kind of performance which has won us the league.”
The lack of a presentation ceremony didn’t hamper the Fleetwood celebrations after a string of disappointing seasons. They will receive the trophy at Leyland Golf Club on Friday week, having also won the league’s twenty20 tournament and been beaten finalists in the Readers Cup.
Barrow had secured the services of Durham and England’s Ben Stokes for their three-wicket win at Morecambe but it ultimately made little difference.
Last year’s champions St Annes ended the season in 11th place, holding out for a draw against Kendal in their final match at Vernon Road.
Without star spinner Dinuk Hettiarachchi, St Annes restricted Kendal to 218-8. Richard Waite was dismissed two short of his century by Matthew Grindley, whose 3-36 off 15 overs included the wicket of Jake White for 43.
Nathan Bolus made an unbeaten 93 as the home reply closed at 174-6, skipper Andy Kellett ending this most troubled season with a satisfying 40.
Blackpool slipped to ninth in the final reckoning, beaten by 22 runs at home to Darwen.
The visitors recovered from 75-6 to set a target of 139, opener Alex Davies having hit 34 from 39 balls.
Richard Gleeson registered his fourth five-wicket haul of the season, 5-32 from 13 overs.
Gleeson was also Blackpool’s top scorer with an unbeaten 41, but having lost three top batsmen with the score on 41 they subsided to 117 all out in 50-3 overs. There were five wickets apiece for Neil Cordingley (for 28 off 16) and Shaun De Kock (for 35 off 21.3).