Cricketers' Union Are On The Ball In Grappling With Players' Social Problems

There has been some talk this week, sparked by the passing of Lady Thatcher, of how the unions of the 60s have lost much of their potency over the past three or four decades.

Perhaps the Professional Cricketers' Association, the players' union, have bucked the trend. In 2013 they are more influential, more proactive and better resourced than ever they were in 1979. Usually even those with conservative instincts, which encompasses the majority of the cricketing world, regard this as a good thing.

Cricketers have always known how to grumble about their lot but they were always far more reticent about the idea of forming a union. It was not until 1967 that they cobbled together their "association", which took some time to take root. My first memory of turning up at Taunton as a wide-eyed professional, achingly eager for the fray, was huddling around an old fire in the dressing room with a chipped cup of coffee. To my surprise the talk was not of the imminent training programme, the quality of the nets or our strategy to win the County Championship. It was that "this meal money is bloody diabolical", whereupon a hardy representative would be sent off to the secretary's office, almost certainly to no avail.

In the late 70s there were great meetings of the PCA at Edgbaston over Packer and the rebel tours to South Africa, often chaired by an anguished, sweating John Arlott, who was always being torn in several directions at the same time. How he abhorred the apartheid regime but he was devoted to the notion of cricketers improving their circumstances. There were often passionate speeches from both sides of the argument and I recall votes being taken in which the membership ended up emphatically in favour of two completely contradictory motions.

The PCA are more coherent now. Jason Ratcliffe, once a Warwickshire opening batsman, is the assistant chief executive at the PCA and has an office opposite the press box at Edgbaston. Perversely, when I spoke to him while staring at the covers on the square he was on the other end of a phone in Devon, snatching a few days holiday.

The PCA do their usual stuff. They offer a free service to county cricketers to help negotiate contracts with their clubs; they set minimum recommended salaries and they have a more high-profile input with the ECB over the nature of central contracts and the smooth running of the England side. They are now an accepted "stake-holder".

But where the PCA stand out is in their work concerning the health and welfare of cricketers. Ratcliffe says that 40% of their income goes in this direction. The issues of depression and addiction among players have been well-publicised recently and the association have been determined to get involved. Ratcliffe is eager to extend his gratitude to "the courageous men, who are helping the general population de-stigmatise a wide range of social issues". He singles out Marcus Trescothick. "He has blazed a trail. His efforts in this area may never be quantified since he spoke out five years ago. Sport and many others are indebted to him for stepping forward and giving others the confidence to follow his lead".

The PCA have compiled a series of online tutorials, called "Mind Matters", to which Trescothick has contributed freely. So too have Andrew Flintoff, Iain O'Brien and Craig Spearman, two anglicised New Zealanders, who have spoken candidly about their battles with anxiety, depression and gambling. "I finally plucked up the courage to do something about it following the BBC Radio 5 Live programme on depression in 2010," O'Brien says. "Seeking help was the best thing I did." Now the PCA are adept at pointing sufferers in the right direction.

Ratcliffe is keen to point out that cricketers, according to the statistics, are no more prone to anxiety than the population at large. But it is a strange job, which is bound to come to an end before the vast majority of players have reached the age of 40. Hence the evolution of the PCA's personal development managers. There are half a dozen of them now, some of whom – Ian Thomas, Simon Ecclestone and Charlie Mulraine -have played as professionals. Increasingly the players recognise that these men can help them plan for the future and the inevitable second career.

Many cricketers stay in the game as coaches or umpires but the majority must find work in the "real world". Some even try journalism. In the PCA's excellent magazine, Beyond the Boundaries, three pages are devoted to "how to be a journalist". Let me cheer you all up. I'm just about to read them.

Powered by article was written by Vic Marks, for The Observer on Saturday 13th April 2013 22.01 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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