A YEAR ago Bratton Fleming had no village football team and a cricket team who finished seventh out of eight in Division Three of the North Devon League.
Now the word is Bratton suddenly has potentially its best squad of cricketers in living memory – and almost half are doing a job to revive football at the Sports Club too.
It is early days but Haxton Rangers have made a promising start as the new incarnation of Bratton Fleming FC.
They won their first three matches in North Devon League Intermediate Two and were due last night to play Fremington in the battle of the last two 100 per cent records in the division.
But, for now at least, Haxton can only dream of following the village cricketers' example in the extent to which they have turned fortunes around.
A ninth win in nine completed matches this season – a tense 16-run home victory over Heathcoat II on Sunday – saw Bratton celebrate promotion to Division Two as champions.
If they can avoid defeat at Sandford II in their final fixture on Sunday, they will go through a North Devon League season unbeaten for the first time.
It may be premature to talk of pushing on for Division One but James Tapp, the opening batsman and voice of experience, is in no doubt they are good enough at least not to slide back.
"I think we can more than hold our own in the second division next year," said Tapp. "We are certainly not expecting to come straight back down."
Tapp is qualified to assess, given he was a member of the Division One title-winning North Molton side in 2005 and 2006. Now 41, he was one of only two players in their forties in the Bratton XI on Sunday, while seven were under 25.
The young squad was pulled together by Rob Scoines, who took over as captain only seven months ago, and their transformation from struggling side into a committed one was plain to see.
After Bratton had managed only a vulnerable 168 for nine, Heathcoat's batsmen were pinned down by the discipline and athleticism in the field of their hosts, complemented by tight bowling.
Heathcoat had the target in their sights most of the way but were never allowed to get ahead of a run rate of less than four an over.
Even at 126 for six, with 10 overs left, Heathcoat had Bratton's unbeaten record within range but Ollie Hunt, Kurtis Parkin and James Thomas gave nothing away.
By the last over Heathcoat needed 18 and three dot balls from Thomas killed off any lingering hopes before he applied the perfect finish, taking the last two wickets with the final two balls.
Heathcoat were all out for 152, Thomas finishing with four for 37 and Hunt taking three for 18 in nine overs.
Hunt, Thomas and Parkin, together with Colin Welch, Richard Tucker, Ben Ward and Max Ellis, made up the seven under-25 players. Welch, Tucker, Ward and Ellis, along with Scoines and Mark Bithell, have all come up from last season's second team.
Explaining the big changes, Scoines said: "We had a meeting at the club in February and we came to the conclusion we needed a new captain for the first team and I put myself forward. I was a little bit worried at the start but I can't believe how well it has gone.
"I am more of a footballer but the club was in a bit of a bad state. Some of the players didn't want to play but I got them together and they are all happy to play now."
Scoines, 28, had gone to the meeting prepared to volunteer, provided the younger players gave their backing.
"I had a word with the players and asked them, 'If I become captain would you come with me and we will give it a good go?' Everyone was behind me.
"We are young people and we want to take on this responsibility. We owe it to the Sports Club because, when we were younger, everyone was looking after us and it is our turn now to put back in."
The cross fertilisation between cricket and football clubs is shown by the presence in both of Tucker, Scoines, Bithell, Welch and Kingdon. Welch is the Haxton manager, Bithell the chairman.
Bratton had two football teams playing in the North Devon League two seasons ago but, after losing several members of their Premier Division side, the club disbanded.
"The league wanted the second team to play in the Premier Division but we were in Intermediate Two and there were too many old legs, so the club folded," said Bithell. "Now we have a new club, Haxton Rangers, and this is our first season."
The spirit in the cricket club can be attributed in part to the local blood in the side. How many of the team hail from Bratton?
"The furthest is Loxhore (two miles away), the rest are all living in Bratton Fleming pretty much," said Tapp.
Although Murray Sharpe, who normally opens the batting with Tapp, and Stevie Kingdon, their spin bowler, were unavailable on Sunday, it is a team that has seen few changes. "I reckon (we have used) 13 or 14 players all year," said Tapp, who was a bowler in his title-winning days. "Almost all our team is young and our fielding is excellent.
"If they desperately needed me to bowl I could but I have trouble with my back and knees and we have plenty of bowlers."
Batting first, Bratton's usual run-getters were out of touch. Tapp was dismissed for 20, fellow opener Hunt for 16, Tucker for five and Welch for 29.
As wickets fell at regular intervals, it was left to Thomas (38), who was promoted three places to No 3, to lay the foundations of a respectable score, while a late 22 by No 8 Ward also proved crucial.
Scoines did a captain's job, taking the wickets of both Heathcoat openers with less than 60 on the board.
But there was to be no collapse and, needing only 51 from their last 13 overs with six wickets in hand, Bratton still faced a challenge.
It was one they rose to, highlighted by two brilliant catches – one from Welch at deep cover to take out the dangerous looking Dan Reed for 22 and one from Parkin at mid-wicket to dismiss Kevin Johnston.
Club chairman Richard Burge is from a family with a long history with the club, his father having captained the team in the 1930s.
He recalled how Bratton narrowly missed promotion to Division One in 2007 after which "that generation of players retired, or went, and we had to build again".
How does the present team compare with that of 2007? "I think it is potentially the best we have had," said Burge.
"I am going to get smacked legs, because some older ones will say they were a better side when they were playing, but we are a better side because we have two or three quite good bats, are a good bowling side and are quick in the field."
It is a view echoed by Tapp. "We have had some good individual players in the past but certainly the team we put out most Sundays now is as good as the club has ever seen," he said.
As they left the field triumphant, Scoines led the celebration with a dive face down on the grass in front of the clubhouse, followed by some of his team. "You can tell their mothers still do their washing," shouted a wag.
Young they may be at Bratton but with youth comes hope.