Grounds for optimism
Lincolnshire, as we all know, is a beautiful county featuring attractive towns and villages surrounded by swathes of picturesque countryside. It’s an active county too, with many different sports undertaken by large numbers of people of all ages. It’s not that often that a beautiful setting and a sport fuse together in harmony but, as many local cricketers know, there are cricket grounds all over the county that are a jewel in their community’s crown.
Probably one of the most striking combinations of setting and sport is found at Belton House near Grantham. A Grade I listed country house, the front façade is so attractive it was the inspiration behind the road and motorway signs giving directions to stately homes all over Britain. Belton Park Cricket Club of the South Lincs and Border League enjoy plying their trade directly in front of this magnificent façade. It’s not clear if away opposition, taking in the sight of the location of the BBC series Pride and Prejudice, fail to concentrate fully on the match in hand, thereby giving Belton an advantage, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
More conventional but no less pleasant is the aptly named Paradise Field ground that accommodates the junior and senior teams of Long Sutton Cricket Club. Set right in the heart of this South Holland market town that was reputedly once the home of Dick Turpin, it is surrounded by mature trees and Victorian houses, has a pavilion with arched openings along its terrace, and is a fine location at which to play or watch.
Whilst the outward image of local cricket might be one of good natured competition watched by reclining spectators in an idyllic setting, it mustn’t be forgotten that behind this calm exterior most clubs have much to do to stay alive. Often a small core of hardworking volunteers beaver away frantically behind the scenes to raise funds, recruit players, and maintain facilities. Any and every form of fundraising idea is adopted to bring in the income to enable their teams to play, including band nights and beer festivals, carwashes and car boots, duck races and dinner dances.
Keelby Cricket Club, located in the north of the county near Humberside Airport, wins the award for initiative, when their players all perform in a pantomime each year in the local village hall. Last year they performed the Wizard of Oz, no doubt with England and Australia Ashes references, putting on six evening shows and two matinees and raising valuable income for the season ahead.
Of course, not all cricket in Lincolnshire is played in a rural setting. In the heart of uphill Lincoln, close to its historic core and with the cathedral dominating the skyline, Lindum Cricket Club is based at Lindum Sports Association’s impressive ten-acre ground on St Giles Avenue. The club has a range of adult teams playing on Saturdays, Sundays and midweek. Over 150 players aged 7 to 17 make up a series of junior squads. Julius Caesar once played at the Lindum but this one was a Surrey player in a touring All-England XI at the end of the nineteenth century. The ground is significantly different now, with excellent cricket, hockey, and squash facilities overlooked by a superb modern clubhouse.
In northern Lincolnshire between Epworth and Crowle, Outcasts Cricket Club continues to enjoy playing at its Hirst Priory ground. In the mid-’70s a group of disgruntled Crowle Sports players amalgamated with a farmers’ team nearby. Having been forced to take this drastic action, the name Outcasts was therefore adopted. Surrounded immediately by trees, then a golf course, and beyond that open countryside, the club these days doesn’t let its isolated location deter it from thriving. They have weekend and evening teams and three junior squads.
Better still Outcasts has this summer replaced its forty-year-old secondhand, former Scunthorpe Steelworks pavilion with a new contemporary-styled structure, which is a wonderful testament to the admirable way this club is run. Funded with the help of grants from Scottish Southern Energy Windfarms and North Lincolnshire Council, it will be a magnificent home for many years to come.
In the early ’80s the great Geoffrey Boycott played in a benefit match at Hirst Priory. He only made a few runs before being clean bowled by a local fast bowler. Never short of a few words, he’d probably have much to say now about how the Outcasts have developed as a club since his uncharacteristically brief appearance in the middle back then.
Not to be outdone by their Isle of Axholme neighbours, nearby Haxey Cricket Club are also very proud of their facilities. Set in a corner of their pleasant village centre ground, the pavilion is a remarkable example of combined club and community endeavour. The building has all the accommodation you would expect but pride of place is the first floor players’ balcony. This elevated vantage point gives excellent views of the action.
Around the size of a detached family dwelling, the pavilion cost probably less than half the going rate for a building of that scale. Regeneration grants covered most of the material costs but local contractors and club volunteers donated their labour free of charge to construct their new home and they all deserve great credit for doing so. Previous winners of the ECB Lincolnshire Premier League, the ultimate prize in club cricket in the county, Haxey is a well-run club with thriving junior sections and long may this continue.
Clearly, then, the quality of a cricket ground can be enhanced by the pavilion alongside it. You would struggle to find a more attractive one than exists at Stamford School, part of the Stamford Endowed Schools group. The complex has superb sporting facilities, with cricket activities ably led by Dean Headley, who played for England in an Ashes series. The pavilion, with its thatched roof and elevated position overlooking the ground, is a beautiful building that cricket playing boys and girls will remember long after they’ve moved on.
Often a ground can be found in a most surprising place. Carholme Cricket Club plays at its West Common home, which is located no more than two minutes from the hustle and bustle of Lincoln city centre. Surrounded by trees and then common land, you’d think you were deep in the countryside.
Carholme player Scott Borman works for the England and Wales Cricket Board based at Lords and he works hard with County Boards in the East Midlands to support club cricket and encouraging youngsters and adults to take up the game. “Carholme is a friendly little club with a picturesque ground and our players all come from the local West End community. The more people who get involved playing or helping, the more clubs like us can survive.”
There’s the rub really. Your local ground can be a relaxing place to wander around and watch a bit of cricket. Even better though, lending a hand might just be the thing that helps keep your club going. That way, that attractive ground – a real community asset – and the cricket played there can exist for everyone to enjoy for many more years.
Lincolnshire County Cricket Ltd works to provide cricket opportunities of all types for players of all ages and abilities, to support clubs, and to provide a pathway for players to excel. We can be contacted at www.lincscricket.co.uk or on 01522 528838.