RAY Brandreth can’t have been comfortable over the past three years at the sight of the Mid-Cheshire Bowling Association shrinking.

That isn’t of his making.

The trend had started before he became chairman of the league’s special council in 2016 and simply carried on afterwards.

“I can’t remember the last time we gained teams from the previous season,” he said.

“If we kept going like that then we’d have risked ending up with only a handful of teams still playing.”

The clubs agreed, and have done something about it.

They have repeatedly debated, but not supported in enough numbers, whether to play with 10 people in a side rather than 12.

The results of votes at the league’s annual meetings have been getting closer each year, emboldening those in favour – and, in some cases, in most need – to continue asking.

At the 2019 edition earlier this month, 30 clubs present at Owley Wood Club in Weaverham passed a notice of motion tabled by Wharton Rec – and seconded by Rudheath – for matches in all sections below the Premier Division to be 10-a-side.

But only just.

It was a second vote too; the first, which called for every division to be included in the change, hadn’t gone their way by a slender margin.

Brandreth said: “I thought it had a good chance of being passed but you’re never sure what might happen.

“I’m happy that it has and hopefully that’s the matter settled, at least for now.”

The impact can be seen already.

Six clubs have asked to field an extra team while Hartford, after initially indicating that one of their two would resign, have changed their mind.

Great Budworth’s application to join was accepted unanimously at the annual meeting.

To accommodate them, results secretary Dave Johnson proposed bringing back a sixth division that disappeared at the end of the 2016 season.

A decade ago, 77 teams were split into half-a-dozen sections.

In 2019, that figure is 65.

Brandreth said: “We had seven divisions and 84 teams 20 years ago but we’ve lost 21 in the past nine.

“But we have to be realistic, and for a long time we’ve been the only league for miles around to play games of 12-a-side.

“That’s something to be proud of.

“However there can be no doubt that the requests for extra teams are a direct result of changing the rules.

“While that might not necessarily be new people playing bowls, it’s certainly increases the chances of us maintaining the interest of those that are.”

He told the Guardian that the issue risked becoming a distraction from other challenges, such as attracting sponsors or honing a new handicap system for competitions, had been unresolved again.

However a vote on the motion was so close, passed with 26 votes in favour and 23 against, he believes it may tempt clubs unhappy with the outcome to try and overturn it in 2020.

For example his club, Lostock Graylams, has only one team.

With two places gone, some bowlers may not play as often as they’d like.

At least they have more alternatives now if they decide to transfer.