It’s probably fair to say that of all the names of past Somerset cricketers that were before my time none is more evocative or held more allure to me than Harold Gimblett. So where could be more apt to write today’s blog post from than a prime seat on the front row of the wonderful little corner of the County Ground that has been named after Somerset’s troubled genius.
A measure of Gimblett’s greatness is that, even the living (and still playing) legend that is Marcus Trescothick is still, after 25 years of service to Somerset t least 2 seasons away from eclipsing the man’s record aggregate runs scored for the county. And while the changes in the format of cricket render many comparisons between eras meaningless this one bears comparison.
Sitting here, watching Somerset’s first innings splutter apologetically (currently over 200 runs away from avoiding the follow on with one wicket left) and a season that is petering out depressingly, it seemed a good idea to write about the wonder that is the County Ground.
It may be over 200 miles away now and require a 5am start to get here for the start of play but it is still my spiritual home and a joy to visit. Of course the distance and the commitments of life render frequent attendance impossible at present but when I do get here I believe I get a greater appreciation than those lucky enough to be regulars of how well Somerset have done in modernizing this ground. So please indulge me for a few minutes.
The ground was, my Dad told me, little changed between the end of the second war and 1970 when I first remember coming to a game. It was ramshackle, had a greyhound tract around the perimeter and comprised mainly of wooden benches on concrete steps. The pavilion, where the new Somerset pavilion now sits was old, dark and provided poor viewing. You could say it had character but that would be to employ that adjective in its widest sense.
It had an atmosphere mind when full. Boy did we make some noise on those great one-day occasions in the glory years, and it was deemed suitable to host an England group game in the 1983 World Cup (VJ Marks 5for).
But, gloriously, over the last decade the club has completely renovated the ground while keeping it as just that, a ground. I say that because unlike Old Trafford and Headingley which I have visited this season it hasn’t had to compromise by adding conference facilities, hotels and other assorted “facilities” which those clubs needed to fund their re-development.
Old Trafford in particular is an abomination now. The wonderful Victorian pavilion diminished to the point of invisibility and large red blocks adorned with vast plate glass now dot the perimeter in a way that jars the senses. And of course it, like its cousin in Yorkshire are built to accommodate the 4 or 5 days a year when England come to town and the ground is full. For the rest of the time the paltry crowd that turns up to watch the home county is lost in the vast bowl of empty seats and closed off sections,
The County Ground is of course much smaller but Somerset also are better supported than most other counties so even on a day like today, end of season and a distinct autumn gloom from mid-afternoon, there is a buzz and an atmosphere about the place.
The redevelopment has been done piecemeal but in a co-ordinated way that means that each part of the ground has its own character and offers a different vista to its neighbour. Which brings me back to Gimblett Hill. It sits now on the site where there was a two tier stand adjacent to the old pavilion. This was the place where we (my Huish schoolmate and I) would rush to at the end of the school day to watch the last session of play to sit in the top tier and watch Richards, Garner, Botham, Denning, Rose, Marks & Co. It wasn’t a particularly nice stand, it was cold even on the warmest day, but the views were good.
The removal of this stand as part of the redevelopment and the replacement with a shallow terrace and rows of park benches has created a place of great character where the great characters (Tractor Telegraph al) congregate. Sitting amongst them listening to the banter (and there has been plenty as Somerset subsided this afternoon) adds greatly to the enjoyment of watching. The place has character and it attracts the characters who add to the place’s character.
And there is one other added benefit of the thoughtful way Somerset have redeveloped this area. The views from the other side of the ground is now greatly enhanced by the clear view to the adjacent St James’ church, St Mary’s in the background and, further back still St George’s.
Wonderfully the County Ground now has 4 pavilions. Most grounds can manage with one. Some push it to two but we have FOUR. It’s a joy to me that visiting supporters and commentators are always moved to comment on the preponderance of pavilions but we like to do things differently in Somerset, long may it continue!
This is the last game that will be played at Taunton before the floodlights are installed which means that the character of the ground will change again. I’ve yet to see what the lights will look like but I am confident that they will add not detract from the ground, and I can’t wait to get to a day/night game here next year.
Another day to add to the catalogue of great days of my life I’ve spent here.