Reigning Bradford Scratch League champions Hollins Hall have made a shock withdrawal on the eve of the new season.
Having claimed the title for the first time in their 13-year history last year, the Marriott club has pulled out due to a shortage of scratch-team handicappers.
Deprived of three regulars from the triumphant 2011 team, Hollins reluctantly withdrew as they felt they could not provide adequate replacements.
Darren Wallis, one of the few scratch-team players left at Hollins, along with Jamie Mountain, expressed his disappointment at having to pull the plug.
He said: “It would have been nice to have been able to have built on last year’s win and get more players in but the opposite has happened.
“We have never been relegated but now we are back to square one, which is sad.”
Hollins must start at the bottom in Division Four next season should they reapply to join.
The club, based between Guiseley and Baildon, had considered entering a team including higher handicappers which, even though they might have struggled, would have seen them, at worst, relegated to Division Two.
However, the club felt that entering a weakened team could have caused the league more problems, with fears they may have had to pull out mid-campaign.
Wallis said: “The worst thing that we could have done is start the season off and start affecting the league and then pull out.
“Doing it this way is clean cut and lets the six other clubs fight it out.”
Blooding youngsters was another option looked at but the club are not running a junior team, and Wallis said the junior with the lowest handicap was off nine.
He said: “There isn’t really anybody else to come in, and that’s the disappointing thing.”
Wallis added he thought the club could be in a similar position next year and it was therefore better to rebuild at the bottom level.
Bradford Scratch League secretary Dean Bailey admitted the decision by Hollins to pull out just days before the start of the opening fixtures was unprecedented.
He said: “I was very, very shocked but it can’t be helped in the current climate.
“It’s a real shame but I am sure they have done everything possible to get a team together.”
The Bradford Union was meeting last night to discuss the implications of Hollins’ withdrawal.
Highly-fancied Bingley start their Division One campaign at home to West Bradford on Friday night, while Baildon entertain Shipley.