And bowling from the Harrod Drive end is Brian Statham.
It all started in the summer of 1961, with an old fashioned billboard tied to a tree by Birkdale station in Southport. The brightly coloured printing announced that there would be a Cricket Festival at Southport and Birkdale CC’s Trafalgar Rd ground. The following Sunday was to feature a benefit game for Brian Statham: Lancashire CCC v Oxford University.
I had only lived in Southport for a couple of years since moving from Edinburgh after my mother was widowed, but, contrary to popular belief, many Scots are fascinated by cricket; I was intrigued, perhaps, by the attraction of the unknown. Luckily, my mother must have thought cricket a reputable attraction for a nine year old, and so I found myself with permission to walk the quarter of a mile or so to the ground from our house, and on a Sunday in June 1961 headed for my first cricket match.
At this distance I’m quite impressed by my daring in going up to the turnstyle, paying for entry and a scorecard, and entering the mysterious domain. Once through the gate, this being a few years before the ‘new’ pavilion was built, I was faced with a hedge and a marquee. Moving between the two, the first thing I saw was a cricketer sitting in a deckchair, surrounded by friends and family. With the bravery of youth I marched up to him and asked for his autograph. He smiled, signed my card, and I moved further round the boundary to try and decipher who he was.
It was then I was hit, smitten is probably a better word, by that murmuring silence of concentration that exists, uniquely, in a cricket ground. It was a glorious moment, and one I can still recapture. It was special, different and all encompassing. I had never sensed anything like it, and it still thrills me to this day. I worked out that the cricketer was Geoff Pullar, of Lancashire and England – my first cricketing hero. Captaining the University side was the Nawab of Pataudi. and how redolent of former times is that! Cricket has been a consistent and important part of my life ever since that June day, and I sometimes wonder what might have been had Geoff Pullar been surly or dismissive of me and refused to sign my card. I owe him a huge debt.
But, if Noddy was my introduction, Southport and Birkdale CC were to nurture my love of the summer game. Through that club I experienced all types of cricket and its followers, its moods and excitements, its highs and lows. So enthralled was I by the game that I started to haunt the place – winter and summer; if the schools were on holiday, you would find me at the Trafalgar Rd ground, mooching about.
There were a couple of like minded kids, and our chief collaborator was a lovely guy – Head groundsman, Peter Dury, ably aided and abetted by his shy assistant from Huddersfield, Brian Robertson. Peter was a great goundsman, responsible for some cracking county wickets at the ground, and still today an acknowledged expert on the art of groundsmanship, but it was his easy way with us youngsters which was the draw. Nowadays, of course, in line with Health, Safety and myriad other regulations, we wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the place, but he patiently accommodated us, let us walk by the roller, explained the jobs he was doing, let us ‘help’ him by fetching and carrying, and gave us the odd cuppa when he stopped for a brew. What he was really doing, I suppose, was introducing us to the folklore of the game and the huge hinterland it has, far beyond the run scoring and wicket taking. We babbled, and he talked quietly, answering questions, pointing out cricketing terms and knowledge, letting us soak up the atmosphere of a cricket ground in all seasons and moods. Occasionally we’d have a game of French cricket with local rules behind the old fashioned pavilion. The aroma of his shed – all petrol, grass cuttings and creosote, is in my nose as I write, and never fails to bring back memories when I come across it. Peter played for the Extra X1, ans the Sunday he scored a century (possibly aginst Jabisco!) I was ecstatic!
And so I came to love S and B and everything about it. Within a couple of years a friend and I had become schoolboy members. Neither of us having fathers in the club, we were a bit detached, and, in those far off formal days, the members must have wondered just exactly who were the two earnest lads who seemed to haunt the ground and pavilion. We didn’t mind -we knew all the players and club officials, invested them with personalities, watched out for their mannerisms. Silent observers, we had our very own cricketing soap opera – and it was fascinating!
Over the years the attraction continued. Eventually I got to work the scoreboard (instruction from Andrew AD Bunting: Don’t put it up when I’m on 13!) and then became scorer for the Extra X1 on Sundays. We played for the schoolboy sides, received fine coaching from college lecturer, Jim Marsh, a man of inestimable patience, and had the joy of playing on the hallowed turf.
Looking back, it’s easy to see that these were halcyon days – for S and B, and perhaps for cricket. The International Cavaliers played at the ground, TV Cameras, legendary names – Hall, Griffiths, Sobers, Kanhai, Gibbs, and commentators such as Brian Johnston, John Arlott, Dennis Compton, Ritchie Benaud and Learie Constantine. World stars, playing down the road from my house! No wonder my love affair with the game intensified as I moved through my teenage years.
But the highlight for me through the years was the annual visit from Lancashire. Always known as ‘The County Match’, for me this was up there with Christmas as the big moment of the year: the panic when the fixtures were issued – would the game start on the last day of school or the following week? Oh the horror of having to go to school on the train and passing the groundstaff preparing the wicket, the deckchairs and benches all set out for the day’s play; then the frustration of coming home past the match in play, craning to see the scoreboard (in those pre mobile phone times) and then dashing from the station down to the ground to catch the last two hours play.
I fell in love with Lancashire just as surely as I was smitten by the game itself. That original team still turns out in my head on a regular basis – Pullar, Booth, Bond, Grieves, Clayton, Hiltons C and M, Bolton, Houlton, Higgs, Statham; later came many more heroes – Lever, Shuttleworth, Lloyd, Sullivan, Fowler, Allott, Greenhough, Chapple, Hegg – and many happy hours, sandwiches and orange juice to hand, scorecard religiously filled in (Card up to date, Card!).
Over the years I saw most counties – Ossie Wheatley’s Glamorgan, MJK Smith’s Warwickshire, Harold Rhodes with Derbyshire at the height of the chucking debate, Notts, Essex, Worcestershire and the peerless Tom Graveney, Kent and Cowdrey, Middlesex and Parfitt and Murray, and Surrey with John Edrich: games and personalities and hundreds of autographs, all in my memory bank. I think the accessibility of cricketers made them more glamorous; in the pavilion you could rub shoulders with world famous personalities, see them ‘offstage’ as it were, in a way that is far less likely today. Still, as a reputedly fully grown adult, I am in awe of cricketers in a way that would not apply to footballers or actors.
There were stand out moments, of course, like the famous game against Warwickshire in 1982 – 1274 runs scored in a ten wicket victory, the ten thousand crowd for the first one day game v Glamorgan – a record at the time.
However, large in my memory, is the day the Tour match came to Trafalgar Rd. In those days counties valued the game against the tourists because it almost functioned as a Test trial: anyone might catch the eye of the selectors. In 1967 India were touring: Pataudi, Bedi, Chandrasekhar and, my first view of, Rookie Engineer. At two days’ notice, because of a water logged Old Trafford, the game was switched to Trafalgar Rd. Imagine! Lancs v India at S and B! What a tribute to club and groundsman that the switch could be made at such short notice – and what a thrill for a fifteen year old fan! Wisden records that the game took place on June 3,4 5 1967. What it doesn’t record is that my O Levels, specifically the dreaded Maths, started on June 5th.
The strategy with my mother ran something like: It’s cricket – the stats will help my Maths (poor); If I don’t know it now it’s too late (reasonable); I won’t do any revision if I know Lancs are playing India just down the road (clincher).
Suffice to say that Saturday and Sunday were spent at Trafalgar Rd and on the Monday I sat and passed a Maths exam for just about the only time in my life. proof of the power of Lancashire cricket!
The love affair continued, and before returning to Edinburgh, for university, and to stay, I played a few games for the Extra X1. In Edinburgh, for 25 years I played for local side Holy Cross Academicals, with, it has to be said, more commitment than talent. My playing highlights at Holy Cross were playing for the only Scottish club ever to grace Broadhalfpenny Down at Hambledon ( and taking 3 wickets), and returning on tour to captain Holy Cross v Southport and Birkdale at my beloved Trafalgar Rd in the early 80s. Outclassed on the field we may have been, but we matched them pint for pint in that familiar pavilion amidst scenes of unbridled hospitality.
Over the years, the annual pilgrimage to Southport became less regular, family and work taking precedence, but I got there when I could and cherished the memories. Then, at the end of the millenium, it stopped. No more County Matches at Trafalgar Rd. From a distance, it was hard to discern the reason for the sudden abandonment of Trafalgar Rd; certainly there were fewer county championship fixtures but other outgrounds were still on the schedule.
It was a blow that I never really got over: I loved cricket, I loved Lanky, and S and B was integral to that.
Long a Country member at Old Trafford, now my annual trip with my son and friends to Manchester is much anticipated. To wake up in the Lodge and stand on the balcony watching the groundstaff prepare for another day’s cricket is a moving echo of my habits as an excited ten year old in Southport, and I love the old Pavilion with a fierceness that causes me a few jitters when I survey the redevelopment plans.
So, for ten years, since Scotland’s entry to the CB40, my spiritual cricket home has been in Edinburgh, supporting Scotland, and deliciously schizophrenic when Lancashire are the visitors in one day competitions.
When the realisation dawned that redevelopment at headquarters would mean a season played on outgrounds, I dared to hope. And with the announcement of the fixture list, my joy was complete – fifty years on from that first shy encounter with Noddy Pullar.
On July 26th 2011, Lancashire will be at Southport and Birkdale -that ‘delightful seaside ground’ as John Arlott memorably described it – and so will I!