Greater Manchester and the NCCU
Greater Manchester, as the Manchester Chess Federation is known for the purposes of county chess, is understood to have made enquiries of the Northern Counties Chess Union regarding moving its Union affiliation from the Midlands CCU to the Northern CCU. Tentative exploratory soundings-out of NCCU member counties is taking place, and it may arise at the next NCCU meeting, which would normally have been in June, but, due to the deferment of the previous December meeting to the new year, is likely to be in August. Whilst there will doubtless be some Northern counties which welcome the idea, there will be some which are indifferent, and some, a minority probably, which are against.
Some years ago, at a congress, decades ago possibly, I briefly asked Harry Lamb about the topic, and he commented that GM was better off in the Midlands as they got more county matches there. That same “more matches” principle will be what underlies this inquiry of the NCCU. At present, the MCCU does not run an internal Open competition. The GM Open team got through to the ECF Open final stages this season (losing 4-12 to Yorkshire in the ECF semi-finals on 11/06/2022) by being nominated by the MCCU without them qualifying from an internal competition.
The MCCU for 2021-22 did not run an internal Open or U2050 section but ran only U-1850, U-1650 and U-1450 sections, of which only the U-1850 section was entered by GM who got only one match, one versus Leicestershire. Thus, in the MCCU, GM were trying to field 2 teams, Open and U-1850, but got only the one match out of it!
Things are somewhat better in the NCCU, though still far from what they used to be. If GM had been fielding Open and U-1850 teams in the NCCU then they would have had 5 matches instead of only 1, that is 3 in the Open and 2 in the U-1850. It is clear, therefore, why GM would, seemingly, be far better off in the NCCU.
However, there is a slight fogginess arising from the concept of eligibility. Because ECF eligibility rules recognise both the old boundaries and the new boundaries as viable criteria, there are a number of players, probably, who could play either for Lancashire or Manchester! That means, and this is speculation, that Lancashire might perceive a danger that some players might shift affiliation from Lancashire to Greater Manchester if the latter were to join the NCCU. That might not so much increase the teams in the NCCU as rename them! As I say, speculation, but not wholly unfounded.
There is also the consideration that there seems still to be some residual antipathy from some individuals either side of the Lancashire/Greater Manchester border, antipathy which makes the Pennines shrink to the height of molehills.
The present state of affairs has its origins in the local government reorganisation of 1974. The newly created Greater Manchester soon decided it wanted to strike out as a chess county in its own right. This was not as much of an innovation as it was for new chess counties like Merseyside and Cleveland, as the Manchester Chess Federation had been one of the Constituent Units of the BCF/ECF, alongside the Unions and the London Chess League since the formation of the ECF in 1904. An existing Constituent Unit of the BCF was merely assuming a “county” manifestation!
In the mid-to-late 1970s or maybe even early 1980s, Greater Manchester applied for affiliation to both the NCCU and the MCCU. Humorously the relevant Union AGMs were on the same day, so GM could have been accepted into both!
In the NCCU, Lancashire was opposed to having its guts ripped out, so to speak, and Yorkshire’s stance was to respect Lancashire’s wishes and support them whichever way they voted on acceptance of GM into the NCCU. If the MCCU had also rejected GM then not much would have changed.
In the event, GM was admitted to the MCCU, hence the status quo.
While I myself (Steve Mann) have been involved in NCCU meetings the topic has not resurfaced.
Somewhat bizarrely, the late Jim Tennant-Smith of Lancashire felt so strongly that he even attempted to challenge the legality of GM breaking away from Lancashire on the basis of some earlier letter of agreement of some sort. This legal challenge failed - at some cost to Jim, apparently.
Other “Counties” Arising out of the 1974 Reorganisation
Clearly, somebody in central government had crossed the Tyne from Gateshead to Newcastle and noticed all the bridges which to some extent erase the barrier effect of the river. Thus rivers which historically had formed “natural” boundaries due to their impediment to trans-fluvial communication became the focuses of new local government bodies each called “county”, or “metropolitan county” as the case may be.
In Yorkshire, Cleveland was formed around the River Tees, “robbing” Yorkshire of Middleborough and its environs and the North Yorkshire coast including Redcar. There had been a Teesside Chess Association of some sort since 1883, so Cleveland’s aspiration to become a chess county (realised in 1974) was understandable, and the Yorkshire CA did not stand in its way. Meanwhile, the Hull & District Chess Association took great pains to reinforce the fact that Hull was very definitely in Yorkshire, not Humberside, at least as far as chess was concerned. That said, the Humber Bridge had enabled Barton-on-Humber to engage with Hull & District. The 1974 North, South and West Yorkshires and the later East Yorkshire (formed after the abolition of Humberside as a county, which was never a practical idea) never dreamt of going independent.
In 1977, Merseyside CA was formed and accepted as a chess county in the NCCU without any apparent ill-feeling.
In what is now Cumbria they had re-invented themselves long before Local Government reorganisation. In 1938 the Cumberland Chess Association and the Westmorland Chess Association merged to form a Cumberland & Westmorland Chess Association. Later, around 1953, Lancashire agreed to a transference of what in weather forecasts was called “the Furness district of Lancashire”, and in 1958 the name Cumberland, Westmorland & Furness Chess Association was adopted. Sixteen years later, local government caught up with chess, facilitating the simplification of the name to Cumbria Chess Association.
The two-river Tyne & Wear County never seems to have aspired to become a separate chess county.
None of the new counties further south have become new chess counties. There is no Avon County Chess Association, though Avon functioned as a county in the world of draughts. (The English Draughts Association seems to be in dire straits - see https://www.englishdraughtsassociation.org.uk/2-news/2-2-eda-statement.) East and West Sussexes are still a unified Sussex. Isle of Wight County is still part of Hampshire for chess purposes. Middlesex is still a county for chess, cricket and other things, although it was abolished as a county by the London Government Act 1963, with effect from 01/04/1965!