Fifty summers ago the blogger had the good fortune to first watch cricket at Dean Park, Bournemouth, where the end of August cricket week festival compared with any that were held around the country, in an era of cricket festivals. Attended by an appreciative audience of locals and tourists, advance notice of the fixtures was given on the windows of the town’s yellow buses, alongside the adverts for the end of pier shows.
Surrounded by pine trees and the back gardens of large houses, the nearby college clock announced the passage of time on the hour, helping to set the rhythm of days spent watching. A ten minute walk to the town centre allowed some to head off to the pleasure gardens to hear the visiting bands play in the afternoon, or on Saturdays play themselves, or go to Dean Court, returning later.
The PA announced that membership was ‘the life-blood of the county’, encouraging those who weren’t to join. In another age in terms of information, the club office listened to the lunchtime cricket scoreboard on the radio and relayed it to those present.
The game got a new lease of life with one day cricket in the 1960s, the Sunday League in 1969; a t40 competition with one match a week televised by the BBC; 2pm starts, gates opening at 12 and considerable queuing to get in quite normal. In the west country, at the height of the powers of Ian Botham, Joel Garner and Viv Richards gates opened at 10, four hours before the scheduled start.
Travelling west in an Austin A30, not a vehicle known for its speed, or overtaking; although overtake it did with the help of the ‘voice of the Hampshire PA’, as front seat passenger and travelling guest of honour.
The United Services Ground in Portsmouth; where trains heading to and from the harbour station would slow to afford passengers a view of the play, as John Arlott would say when commentating. In later years a new rugby stand was erected and the catering advanced to include homemade teas on Sundays.
Basingstoke; venue for player benefit matches because of the support given. A friendly club-house with teas dispensed in mugs from its kitchen.
John Arlott’s retirement in 1980 coincided almost exactly with the end of an era in British history; the ‘voice of cricket’ of his time, with an appreciation for the contributions of the honest ‘county pro’. In the years that followed cricket festivals succumbed to centralising tendencies, the search for comforts corporate rather than co-operative, although for those that remember them the years before were good ones in which to watch cricket.