Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Outgrounds Part One

Midsummer in England. Strawberries and cream, the cacophony of laughter from marquees, the sound of ball on willow on pitches where amateurs normally play, an equal amount of well behaved dogs and rabid children running wild amongst England's heartbeat; its cricket clubs, whilst Wimbledon tennis plays silently on the backdrop of the television in the clubhouse bar, packed with club members beaming with pride that the professional game has arrived at their club. This can only mean one thing; the outground season is here in the County Championship.

Cheltenham College
Firstly, if queuing for piss water, overpriced lager in an out of town, concrete monolithic stadia is your thing, then please look away now. The following may give you nightmares.

The English game loves its outgrounds. I for one, saw my first couple of professional games at two venues sadly departed, in Weston-super-Mare and Hastings. More to follow on the grounds that are no longer used in part two, but here we will concentrate on the venues that are still part of our fabric. However we lament those venues no longer with us, with matches currently being played at Arundel and Guildford, the talk of outgrounds on social media fills the English cricket follower with a sense of pride. It transports us back to a time when England did a lot of things better than most people in the world, and in our outgrounds we still do. The world looks on with envy at the beauty of many of our venues.


Scarbados

Scarborough, or Scarbados as it is known to those in Yorkshire seems to be the most popular, although whether it is parochial Yorkshiremen voting for it, you can't be too sure? The East Yorkshire venue is just a stones throw from the sea, and many of the venues stem from a time (as mentioned above) when working folk would holiday in these venues, and the men needed their fix of cricket. Blackpool and Southport were the same. A proper ground in the heart of the town (no Park and Ride here lad!), Scarborough gets the juices flowing and gets packed to the rafters.

The antithesis of Scarborough atmosphere wise, Arundel then came second and many lamented the fact that the tourists don't kick off their tours there any more, against the wonderfully named Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk's XI. The castle, the pavilion, the view over the Weald makes this venue quintessentially English.


Beautiful Arundel

Other venues that made the cut with the twitterati were the delightful Cheltenham College with its looming spires overlooking manicured lawns, and historic Swansea, another just a stones throw from the sea. In this era of T20, six sixes in an over will be a more common occurrence as time goes by, but only at Swansea did it happen first. No cricket fan will ever forget the grainy footage of Sobers slapping the ball almost as far as the Mumbles. Like Aigburth, it looks like a long climb of steps up to the pavilion for weary batters. Let's hope that the ageing Australian team don't have to play at either venue this summer, as a Stannah Stairlift will have to be employed.

Guildford is popular with Surrey members, Aigburth in Liverpool with Lancashire, Colchester's Castle Park with Essex and the list goes on. Some counties have taken the outground experience and merged it with commercial ventures. Kent play at the old Lloyds Bank ground in Beckenham in a bid to tap into the South East London commuter belt, and whilst a nice enough venue, Foxgrove Road home of Beckenham Cricket Club just down the road is a far more aesthetic ground. Both venues are a mere five miles from the Oval yet over sixty away from Canterbury. Uxbridge is never easy on the eye for Middlesex, although the batsmen love it. Radlett and Merchant Taylor's School are new venues that the county are trying. Glamorgan have brought games to Colwyn Bay to try and tap into their North Welsh support in a similar way.


Historic St Helens, Swansea

The school ground seems popular. Not only in Cheltenham, but Whitgift's in Croydon and Oakham in Leicestershire.

The players love them too. Alan Butcher was a huge fan of Abergavenny (more to come of that venue in part 2) whilst Jack Russell tweeted "enjoyed them all. Today's players don't get the variety we enjoyed plus matchboxed sized changing rooms and freezing showers. Outgrounds forever".

English cricket loves an outground. Queuing for a barbecue and not plastic microwaved grub, real local ales in the marquees and not weak lager and cars parked on the grass are a sight of beauty. The game should be played in beautiful backdrops such as many are, although the visual side is only half of the story. The atmosphere, the sense of pride in our communities and the chance for hard working clubs to get some hard earned dosh over their clubhouse bar, mean that these venues have to stay as an integral part of the English cricketing calendar.

And as Jack Russell says, may the outground live forever.

COMING TOMORROW...the outgrounds no longer used for first class cricket

2 comments:

  1. I saw one of my first county matches at Weston Super Mare on holiday as a kid. Can still remember one of the batsmen had more class and time than any other. Young lad called Gregory Chappell. You may have heard of him.

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  2. And another: the Shardeloes Ground in Amersham, where I saw the famous Gillette Cup match between Bucks and Hampshire in about 1974. Hants batted against a minor county attack, with a world class opening pair (Barry Richards and Gordon Greenidge), on a ground with small boundaries. Barry got out early, but Gordon didn't.

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