Burnley skipper anticipates another competitive season

Burnley skipper Dan Pickup is relishing the opportunity to be a part of the Lancashire League's historic revamp ahead of the season's opener.

Defending champions Clitheroe and runners up Darwen, who won the Worsley Cup at the first attempt, were welcomed in to the family last term and seven new sides will take the number of entrants to 24 this time around.

The 2015 treble winners take on one of those unknown quantities on Sunday with Littleborough awaiting their arrival at Hare Hill.

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Crompton, Middleton, Milnrow, Norden, Rochdale and Walsden complete the register of fresh inhabitants in the division.

“We don’t know too much about them but, in that respect, they won’t know anything about us either,” said Pickup.

“We have to play them at some point. I think they’ll be a decent side so it’s a tough start for us. We’re all looking forward to it.

“It keeps it fresh and it proved to be a shrewd move last year. Clitheroe and Darwen both had strong seasons, finishing as the top two in the league, and they made it much more competitive. It’s worked out well so far.”

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He added: “I’m expecting a couple of these new sides to do the same. It will be more competitive than ever at the top end, it’ll be a really high standard, especially when the league splits. It just keeps raising the standard of the league.

“It’ll be nice to have a few new faces to play against while having some new grounds to visit. It keeps it more interesting and that stems across all competitions. They’ll be involved in everything.”

After taking everything on offer three campaigns ago, Burnley narrowly missed out on adding even more silverware last term.

Ignoring the club’s first round exit in the Worsley Cup, which they had previously defended on three occasions, they finished fourth in the league, made the quarter-finals of the Twenty20 and appeared in the semi-final of the LCB Knockout Cup.

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And for Pickup, it’s all about building on that. “Our main aim is to improve on on last year,” he said. “We had a reasonably strong campaign in finishing fourth and reaching the semi-finals of the LCB Knockout Cup.

“If we better that then there’ll be a good chance that we’ll be in the hunt for a trophy. It’s difficult to predict, though, with all the changes.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved in the Lancashire League; it’s pretty historic. The league has carried the same teams for a long time so it is still at a bit of an experimental stage but it will soon start to settle down.

“It will become one of the strongest competitions around. It raises the bar a bit more.”

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Pakistani first-class cricketer Asif Zakir, who represents Sui Southern Gas Corporation, will become Burnley’s new professional, though Chris Holt will stay on at the club as an amateur.

Joe McCluskie, formerly of Bacup and Rawtenstall, has joined from Fleetwood though Bharat Tripathi (Bootle) and Jhangir Liaqat (Colne) have both moved on.

Speaking about the new paid man, Pickup said: “He’s pretty experienced and he’s played over here quite a bit. He’s got a really good first class record and been on the verge of a national call up a few times. He’s still hoping to be involved at some stage.

“His record stands up. He’s got a really good track record and we’re really fortunate to get him after being let down by a couple of people.

“He’s experienced to our conditions too and he provides us with a really healthy balance.”