The Decline in NCCU Inter-County Chess
and How to Remedy It ?
Changes Over Time
Over the years, there have been various changes to inter-county chess which have reduced the number of games played each season by Yorkshire players in NCCU inter-county matches from 160+ to 108.
Prior to 1974, there were 6 counties in the NCCU, and each fielded a 16-to-20-board 1st team and a 16-to-20-board 2nd team against each other county. That meant each county played 160+ individual player-games.
After 1974, new “counties” came into existence. In the rest of the country, this local government reorganisation, less noticeable than in the North, was ignored for chess purposes, and the “old” counties continued as before.
In NCCU territory, five new “counties” came into being. One, Cumbria, was primarily a merger which the chess world had instituted back in 1958. The other four reassigned significant areas from some old counties to the new ones, so reducing those old ones in size. For chess purposes, the new Tyne & Wear County and the new Humberside County were ignored by the chess world, but the chess-players and/or organisers in the territory of the new Cleveland County and the new Merseyside County chose to form corresponding new county chess associations which were admitted into the NCCU despite the resultant loss of players for Durham, Yorkshire, Cheshire & North Wales and Lancashire.
The two largest counties losing players could easily sustain the losses, but the smaller ones, Durham and Cheshire, fared less well and have now long been absent from the inter-county match scene. Meanwhile, the two new counties which “stole” some of their players, Cleveland and Merseyside, have disengaged from inter-county chess. Thus Durham, Cleveland, Cheshire and Merseyside are areas of the Northern Counties where inter-county chess is not played.
Meanwhile, the minimum number of boards in NCCU matches fell from 16 (though 20 were frequently played) down to just 12.
The introduction of grade-limited categories enabled larger counties to field more than just two teams (the 1st and 2nd of old), so compensating to some extent for the reduction in the number of boards per match.
Part of the decline in inter-county chess will be attributable to the significant proliferation over time of weekend congresses. If you play in a county match then that is just one game in the weekend, but if you play in a weekend congress then you play probably five games, and sometimes even six. So, some players will have been drawn from county matches to congresses, and in more recent years the 4NCL.
Deleterious Effects of Changes
The net effect of all the changes from 1974 to the present has been to reduce the number of NCCU counties playing inter-county chess from 6 to 4 (with two of those 4 being now of reduced size), and to reduce the total number of individual games played in a season’s programme of matches from 480+ games to 108 (in 2021-22 which was more than in recent seasons). Meanwhile, the chess-players of Durham, Cleveland, Cheshire and Merseyside are largely being denied access to county chess (unless, say they have eligibility for another county).
There seem two ways to reverse the downward trend, at least partially, both probably impractical and both possibly inconceivable to the counties concerned, as follows.
The non-participating counties could be combined for the purposes of fielding county teams. Thus Cheshire and Merseyside could field combined teams, and similarly Durham and Cleveland could field combined teams. The counties involved would still possibly have difficulty finding captains, and a reasonable degree of cooperation between counties would need to be developed. This has been suggested in the past but nothing has materialised.
Alternatively, for the purposes of player eligibility, the territory of non-participating new counties Cleveland and Merseyside could be regarded as belonging to their former counties. Thus, if Cleveland did not participate, then the part formerly in Co. Durham would for these purposes belong to Durham; also, though less importantly, Yorkshire would regain Middleborough, Redcar and so on. Similarly, if Merseyside did not participate, then the Wirral part of Merseyside would revert to Cheshire, while the parts of Merseyside north and north-west of the Mersey would revert to Lancashire. That would probably require some kind of rule change, as present eligibility rules are expressed simply in terms of “the county”, without differentiating between old boundaries and current ones. Otherwise a principle of “dual eligibility” could formally be instituted, so that a place in an eligibility rule could be construes as being in the former county or in the current county to which it belonged.
Whether the players of the currently non-participating counties would engage with such ideas is unclear.
More-radical attempts to revive NCCU inter-county chess have been suggested, such as holding multi-team jamboree events. There could even be more than one jamboree event per season, with results being added together. l However, whether counties would be energised sufficiently to make the effort to turn out teams is somewhat doubtful, as evidenced by difficulties in getting counties to enter teams in the Pennine Cup (U-16 junior jamboree). A jamboree is, of course, a “less chess” option, and largely a cop-out.
The above skirts round the topic of Greater Manchester possibly re-joining the NCCU as that is a largely separate issue. In 2021-22 Greater Manchester fielded teams only at Open and U-1850 levels. The participation of those teams in the NCCU would have raised the number of games played from 108 to 168, though that might be too simplistic a way of looking at things.
Conditions specified in the NCCU Constitution regarding the admission of a new County Chess Association (CCA) are intended in part to protect an existing county from unfair loss of existing players. These conditions are expressed as follows:
The wording of these conditions is somewhat imprecise in various ways, and how they would be implemented is not wholly clear.
Who determines the level of support mentioned?
Who consults the old CCA (presumably the NCCU, not the applicant CCA), and what weight do any opinions and wishes of the old CCA have, and to what extent, if any, are they binding on the NCCU AGM; are they just something to be taken into account?
Presumably, even if the conditions are met, the application is still subject to a vote by council, in which a simple majority would be needed.
Presumably, from the point of view of the NCCU inter-county competitions, Greater Manchester players are eligible to play for Lancashire, and maybe some do. This would correspond to players whose eligibility derives from Newcastle-upon-Tyne as a place of birth or residence etc being eligible to play for Northumberland even though Newcastle is in Tyne & Wear County not Northumberland. The difference is of course that there is no Tyne & Wear CCA.
Of course, if Greater Manchester played in the NCCU, then a possible shift of player affiliations by those born in one county but resident in the other might mean there was no increase in the number of teams in the NCCU competitions, merely a change as to which country was running them.
For Lancashire, the emergence of a Greater Manchester CCA (by some name or other) was somewhat like the impact on the YCA of West Yorkshire and/or South Yorkshire forming their own CCAs and applying for admission to the NCCU, which of course is not expected to happen
Things are not as simple as one might think.