Hampshire at Dean Park

Many thanks to Gary Sanford, who watched much Hampshire cricket at Dean Park for the photographs of the ground that prompted this post. Mark Nicholas in his book A Beautiful Game gives a very readable account of his time playing for the county at the time, as to the spectators who took pleasure watching, they were a fortunate generation who saw high level cricket played on the county’s outgrounds of which Dean Park was the most picturesque.

Those by the sightscreen at the end  of the ground from which the photograph here was taken  were collectively known as the ‘Winton End committee’;  individuals that came from well beyond the county’s borders each year for the Bournemouth week as well as those who lived locally; an annual pilgrimage of sorts for some, the member for Woking declaring ‘this committee meeting open’ each year.

On a wall of the pavilion there was a photograph of WG Grace at the turn of the 20th century when on the ground, and two distinctive bearded members  of the aforementioned committee  certainly did their bit for English heritage over the years; one who became the chair of the Campaign for Real Ale in its formative years, Dean Park a convivial place to organise and also a place of informed opinion on ales.  By the time the photograph above was taken a decade or so later, ‘Tony’ remained a prominent figure, often immersed in the cricket seen through his binoculars, to the side or at times just in front of the sightscreen, a prime spot from which to watch the game. He was also a natural with a cricket bat.

Despite the very English idyll suggested here, the 1980s were in some respects also very different; a decade in which, for example, Viv Anderson and John Barnes were at different times booed by sections of the crowd when they played at Wembley. Sunday League fixtures at Dean Park had spectator numbers increased  by  ‘football supporters’  and when Gordon Greenidge’s wife approached a group of about 20 or so sitting by the sightscreen collecting for her husband’s benefit, her face betrayed genuine uncertainty as to the nature of the response she was about to receive. Courtesies followed and £1 for the raffle tickets was collected about 20 times over.

As for the ‘actual committee’ Gary’s  photos show  the mayor’s tent and other hospitality tents, the forerunner of today’s corporate boxes; seemingly natural homes for some of its members.  Socially very different, the two worlds did intersect on occasion, the expeditions to distant outgrounds organized at the Winton End being instances of such, most memorably perhaps the trip to Darley Dale in 1975; those who went returned a full 24 hours later after traveling on a very different road network.

About the time these photographs were taken those who held offices on the main Hampshire committee  first mooted the prospect of a new ground with the aim of hosting Test Match cricket, and also alleviating the parking problems at the Northlands Road ground in  Southampton. While it would  be fair to say that the county game as a whole has become more centralised over the years, Stephen Chalke’s book, Summer’s Crown, also makes it clear that Hampshire have been the only county that has relocated away from a town or city centre. The wisdom of this decision in relation both to the county’s heritage, and its future, escaped the blogger at the time, the photos here are a reminder that it still does.