Captain Graham Lloyd hailed Accrington as worthy winners after clinching this year’s Lancashire League title.
Accrington have led all season and secured the 2013 crown with four games to spare, beating the defending champions Lowerhouse on Sunday.
That gave the Thorneyholme Road outfit their eighth league title and their third in six years, with Lloyd having played in all three of the recent title-winning sides.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Lloyd. “I’m pleased for everybody at the club. I think it’s been much deserved.
“We have an excellent team spirit and I think we’ve got some very talented lads who care a lot about the club. They’ve been here since they’ve been very young, coming up through the age groups.
“I think we’ve got some good experienced players as well and a bit of stardust in the professional (Ashar Zaidi), who’s been outstanding for the past two years and this year’s been no different.
“We had a great start,” added the Accy skipper. “You can feel the pressure up there all the way with teams snapping at your heels but we’ve kept a good points difference between us and the chasing pack and gradually, over the past month or so, we’ve pulled away.
“They’ve been taking points off each other and although we lost two games, we picked up points in defeat, which is something you have to do. From probably a month ago we were out of sight really.
“You can never say you’ve won it till you’re over the line but it would have been a disaster if we hadn’t have done, from the position we were in.”
This year’s success continues a remarkable turn-around from 2007. That season the first team finished bottom of the Lancashire League and the club was fighting for its very existence with £10,000 of debt.
But having staved off that crisis, Accrington haven’t looked back, with Lloyd helping to galvanise his hometown club after returning for the 2008 season.
Lloyd made his first-team debut for Accrington in 1984 before going on to play for Lancashire and England.
However, the 44-year-old batsman, who’s scored 300 runs at an average of 30 this season, is determined to share the credit for Accy’s recent success.
“It’s very satisfying to see the club thriving again and ticking along nicely,” he said. “The 2008 and 2009 seasons were great times, as this is. I’m sure the younger lads will remember it and want more of it in the seasons to come.
“I started at this club and I care about it. From the first team down to the under-9s, I’m interested in how things are progressing and it’s going well at the moment.
“A lot of effort goes in off the field. Andy Stevenson is our junior chairman. He coaches the first team and juniors, and does a terrific job.
“(Senior chairman) Rod Kenyon is always down at the club and works tirelessly. Graham Bushell has come in to coach the first team and juniors this year, it’s been a great effort by him, and Ian Wilson’s the team manager so a lot goes on off the field to make it an enjoyable place to play and to go and watch.”
As Lloyd mentioned, Accrington’s professional has been particularly impressive this season. Ashar Zaidi helped them finish second in his first two years as Accy’s paid man and now the 32-year-old has made it third time lucky.
The Pakistani pro has already confirmed he’ll not be returning next year but is bowing out on a high having already scored 1,226 runs this season, while taking 68 wickets.
“We’ve had a good side for a number of years, being runners-up in the previous two seasons and winning it this year by a big margin, and Ash has been a major player in that,” said Lloyd.
“He performs pretty much every week with either bat or ball - and most often both. He loves winning and we’ll miss him.
“Whoever he joins next year they’re going to get a top-class professional.
“He certainly leaves us on good terms and with our best wishes.
“It’s been a drier summer, the pitches have been better and there’s been more runs scored throughout the league but Ash has just got a lot of class. He can destroy attacks and bat for long periods. He’s been a real match-winner for us.”
And Lloyd was keen to stress it hasn’t just been Zaidi who’s excelled with the bat. Aijaz Shah (478), Simon Hanson (397), Stuart Crabtree (337) and Graeme Sneddon (261) have also made key contributions.
“I think all our batsmen have improved,” said Lloyd. “Shah’s scored over 450 runs and there’s other amateur batsmen around the 300/400 mark, who could easily end up scoring 500 runs.
“Our bowling team is terrific. They don’t give anything anyway, they’re very accurate, so if we can just put runs on the board, as we have done, we’re very difficult to beat.”
As for Lloyd, he can’t yet say if he’ll still be first-team skipper next season. Having become an umpire, he’s now in his sixth year on the ECB Reserve list and could move up onto the Full list for 2014, meaning he’ll oversee County Championship games.
“It’s uncertain at the minute,” he said. “I’ll find out in November.
“If I get promoted then my playing days will be virtually over. If I stay at the same level I’ll be able to play most weekends so I’d love to keep on playing.”