When I were ‘nowt but a lad’ as they say round me I used to sneak out of the house to watch my beloved Yorkshire at nearby Abbeydale whenever they came to town.
Knowing the ground well I used to hide in a clearing in the hedge and would then base myself there for the rest of the morning and afternoon.
Home talents including David Byas, Richard Stemp, Richard Blakey and a young Michael Vaughan (who is a little older than me– I’m not that old!) would wow the crowds with their play.
I was completely in awe of such stars and wanted to copy them. I wanted to be the one who would stride out into the middle for club and country. They were my inspiration.
And I was far from being the only ‘whipper-snapper’ there watching the ball sail over the boundary rope after a well-timed thwack from Vaughney or the tumble of wickets as the seamers ripped through the batting line-up.
It’s a scene I can picture being repeated up and down the country. But alas, in Yorkshire at least, it is no more.
Now, if you want to watch Yorkshire at home it’s a costly trip into Leeds (a city I have very little time for) to Headingley.
Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the ground — and have spent many a happy afternoon in the sun there nursing a beer or two and cheering on England and Yorkshire.
But why oh why must ALL home games be played there (other than a couple of quick forays every summer to Scarborough (even further away).
For those of you who don’t hail from God’s Own Country let me educate you a little: Yorkshire is Britain’s biggest county with a population larger than that of Ireland and all but 14 of the US states and is essentially comprised of four different areas. North Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and them there off t’ east which is sort of Yorkshire, sort of isn’t.
Each area, whilst united under the common Yorkshire banner is a bit different in its own way with its own customs and its own way of doing things. North Yorkshire is wealthy and rural, West Yorkshire is dominated by Leeds which sees itself as the London of the north and South Yorkshire is a bit in-between with strong ex-mining roots thrown in for good measure. We don’t really speak about the east.
Yorkshire CCC brings all of this together under one beautiful and historic label. And the club is and always has been made up of players from all the different walks of Yorkshire life. For example in terms of former stars, Geoffrey Boycott hails from the west of the county, Fred Trueman comes from Maltby in South Yorkshire, Herbert Sutcliffe from Harrogate (North Yorkshire) and David Byas Kilham in the east.
Long may this diversity continue.
So why does the club choose to only play at one ground (OK, one and a half if we include Scarborough)?
Surrey play at four different grounds and Glamorgan, Lancashire, Middlesex and Sussex at three. If we take the one example of Glamorgan the approximate population of wouldbe cricketers is 3million, compared with 5.3 million in Yorkshire.
I am sure the club would argue, with some justification, that money has a big part to play, as do the facilities available to the modern cricketer that can be found at Headingley. In fact our very own Geoff Boycott made this very point at the Yorkshire Sesquecentennial Soireé at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield back in January.
And I accept those arguments – the influence of money in the modern game must be acknowledged and is here to stay.
But other counties manage with grounds that are not up to test level.
And in Yorkshire there are grounds that, with a little bit of investment, could be suitable. If they were before then why not now with a little bit of tinkering around the edges (I concede that I haven’t been to Abbeydale for a few years so don’t know how it’s shaping up but the point is general rather than specific).
There’s a well trodden business saying: you have to speculate to accumulate. So if some of these grounds invested a bit of brass (money in Yorkshire speak), with help from the County, then games could be drip fed out bit by bit.
As more games were played at additional grounds so in turn the grounds would have additional funds to invest. And new audiences would start to follow our beloved game, so bring in more money… do you see where I am going with this! The ideal solution would be for a new ground to start off with a T20 match – a crowd puller and pleaser – to get the initial shot in the arm financially needed for work on facilities.
If T20 isn’t there to make money and to bring new faces through the turnstiles then why is it in existence?
Then, once grounds have re-established themselves as county venues, they can be trusted with county championship matches. I am not talking about getting rid of Headingley – far from it – but would like to see a situation say in 5 years, where out of 8 Home county matches, half are played there with the remainder shared out between four additional venues.
Below is a map with the locations of all test, main first class and occasional first class grounds in the UK