THE credit crunch continues to bite and unemployment rockets beyond two million in the UK – but the area’s Lancashire League cricket clubs have battled through a winter of discontent hoping that summer will be scorching to put the smiles back on their faces.

With the new season just three weeks away, the 14 members of the historic league have their professionals in place and are gearing up for a busy time.

Struggling on through the winter months is nothing new for the clubs as they look to meet the rising costs of professionals, insurance and other general expenditure – and changing lifestyles, which mean social clubs suffer like pubs as people stay at home.

However, the famous 14 have got used to scrimping and saving to get by – but they could all do with a scorching summer to boost the coffers after two years of misery when game after game fell victim to the rain.

And no game means no income for most clubs, who have all seen good times and bad times since the world renowned league was formed in 1892.

Ramsbottom chairman Rod Hamer is one man keeping his fingers crossed for a long, hot summer to keep the till ringing at Acre Bottom.

Hamer said: “We could do with a good year. Like all local cricket clubs, your revenue comes from the social club and we do okay on a nice summer afternoon.

“But our location means not many people want to come walking down to our ground on a cold and wet winter night and we survive on functions.”

Much hard work has gone in at Ramsbottom and, according to Hamer, around half of the club’s Lancashire League games have been sponsored already.

“We are grateful to the businesses in the area,” he added. “But we do realise that these are tough times all around.

“Nobody wants to see Lancashire League clubs struggling,” he added. “But sadly I can see that happening, especially if we have another bad summer so hopefully we will have some good weather and clubs will survive.

“The other thing about bad summers is you find it hard to keep players. They can become disillusioned if the weather is bad and they are not getting a game.”

Todmorden are ready for summer to come and Centre Vale chairman Tony Gledhill said: “We suffered more than most last year with the weather. We had five home games on the trot called off and it is a big hit.

“We are well supported with membership, but when the games are off you lose your catering and bar takings and that is not what anyone wants or needs.”

Nelson chairman Milton Lord is optimistic ahead of the new season and said: “We have had a couple of bad years but we have heard that a long–range forecast suggests it’s going to be a good summer, although that is something we have heard before.

“The club itself is doing okay because we have a superb function room and that is hired out most weekends but we would struggle without that to be honest.

“Stuart Lemon and Richard Meade have returned and we have a good, strong squad of 22 players across first and second team with nobody guaranteed a place.

“Selection is going to be very tough this year because people are going to miss out – but that is a good thing for us.”

Accrington won the double last year but could face a stern challenge from East Lancs, who have signed record breaking South African Ryan Bailey, who was poised to destroy all Northern League records when at Carnforth last season.

He was also a successful sub–pro at Alexandra Meadows – but his season was cut short when he was called back to Africa.

All in all, the league’s 14 are looking forward to a long, hot summer – and all of them intend to continue beyond the current 117 not out.