Shortly after stumps were drawn in the final home game against Middlesex, Somerset supporters, players and officials gathered in the stands and on the grass areas in front of the Old Pavilion to bid farewell to the famous old building that was described by Scyld Berry in his article in The Telegraph in the past week as the “best place to watch Cricket in the whole world!”
In an excellent article Berry first asks the question “Where is the best place to watch cricket?” before offering the reader several options for consideration.
“Not heaven,” he writes, “That must be an aerial view, and you want to be behind the arm.
“Not Adelaide Oval. Beautiful backdrop of the cathedral, and the century-old scoreboard and the Adelaide Hills, but the drawback lies in the name on the tin. It is an Oval, and if you are behind the arm the action is too far away.
“Not Lord’s either. An excellent view from either end, but if you are a member sitting in the pavilion you are in the shade, and if you are in the media centre you cannot hear a sound. It is insulated, air-conditioned, remote from the game, like too many modern press boxes.
“Edgbaston’s new media centre is very good but a bit too high. Trent Bridge’s is a bit too low, so the umpire can obscure the ball’s flight. Old Trafford’s is just about the right height, but again behind unopenable glass.”
Eventually Berry decides to share his opinion, declaring: “No, the best place in the world to watch cricket has to be Taunton, in the Old Pavilion, right behind the arm.”
It is a highly recommended read. For the full article click here
The ceremony was not overtly grand, just very pleasant with a small but loyal gathering who watched tentatively as club CEO Guy Lavender, club captain Marcus Trescothick and club President Roy Kerslake, among others, addressed the crowd and spoke of their memories of the Old Pavilion.
Guy spoke as eloquently as always, reading extracts of Berry’s Telegraph article and his hopes for the new facility.
Marcus spoke of how the players would gaze up to the stands while on the pitch during pre-match training, smiling as the supporters hustled and harried in to get front row seats, the “best sets in the house!”
President Roy, who captained Somerset in the 1968 season, spoke of the cramped changing facilities in the stand, an area made even more cramped by having larger than life personalities like “Bill Alley and Fred Rumsey changing into their kit next to you”. He reminisced of the communal bath and how it was best to “get in early” allowing some sentiment for the poor 12th man who had to bathe last in “everyone else’s dirt!”
Good memories. And those in attendance smiled and chuckled in acknowledgement.
From a Cricket supporters perspective this will be deemed the end of an era by many, myself included, whose earliest memories of watching the cider county herald from being seated in the Old Pavilion in days gone by.
You cannot dismiss the history as the Old Pavilion has been the background to many momentous moments and great games over the years since it was built in 1882 at a cost of £800.
It looked on in admiration when Archie McLaren hit 424 not out for Lancashire in 1895, the first individual score topping 400 in the County Championship.
It stood politely in the background when Jack Hobbs took centre stage and scored his 126th first class century in 1925 thereby equalling W.G. Grace’s record.
It looked on proudly in 1974 when local boy Ian Botham struck 45 not out to beat Hampshire in a Gillette Cup quarter-final against all the odds and a legend was born.
It grimaced when Graham Hick hit 405 not out in 1988, the first quadruple hundred since McLaren’s knock 93 years previously on the same ground.
And it smiled proudly when young Tom Abell, one of Taunton’s own sons, strode to the crease earlier this season for his first ever first class innings and fell just five runs short of a century to become the first Somerset player since Harold Gimblett to score a century on debut.
From day one to the end, it watched history unravel. And there are so many more tales too. Some more glorious and some not so.
And from its steps some of the true greats of the game have walked out to do battle on the field. Sammy Woods, Lionel Palairet, Jack White, Arthur Wellard, Don Bradman, Greg Chappell, Viv Richards and Joel Garner – to name just a few – have emerged from the wooden structure with bat in hand.
There is inevitable resistance whenever any sports club updates their stadia replacing an old and, in some cases, dilapidated stands with new modern structures. But time does not stand still and the Old Pavilion was simply no longer fit for purpose for a club as ambitious as Somerset County Cricket Club. And the County Ground has already been subject to many changes over recent years and is unrecognisable to the one I first visited in1976.
The old building hosted the changing rooms and indoor school until 1982 when a new pavilion was built for the 1983 World Cup. This stand is now known as The Colin Atkinson Pavilion and the players dressing room facilities have relocated again and are now in the recently built Andrew Caddick Pavilion. The Pegasus Development gave a home for the Somerset and Trescothick stands and there is also the Ondaatje Pavilion.
It is, of course, the right thing to do for the club to continue the investment in the County Ground and replace the Old Pavilion as there is little room for sentiment in business as the club needs to be a sustainable business maximising income and revenue opportunities at all times.
On Monday 22nd the Bulldozers arrive to start work on replacing the famous old building with a modern structure that will bring the Taunton ground up to the specifications required to host One Day Internationals from the start of the 2016 season. The estimated building costs are £3.8 million and there will be covered seating behind the bowler’s arm, new corporate and media facilities, a large bar and entertainment area, a restaurant and a roof top viewing area.
Seating capacity will also increase from 825 to 1,312 seats across two levels giving the club added seating for big cup games and certain T20 fixtures where demand for tickets is high, such as when Gloucestershire come to town.
But this is not just about Cricket and making the facilities more comfortable for Somerset’s Cricket watching public. The new facilities and introduction of international Cricket will also carry huge financial advantages for the town and immediate area. The 10 towns / city postcodes that currently host One Day internationals have an associated financial benefit of an average £2.3 million income gained in one day. So this project offers a huge financial benefit for the businesses of Taunton and the county.
The past week or so has been one of recollection. Even the most hard-nosed hacks were seen wiping a tear away as they drifted out of the old press box for the last time. Players, supporters all reminiscing of their favourite memories watching the cider county in this famous old stand.
And mine? Well that would have to be the 1978 Gillette Cup semi-final between Somerset and Essex. It was shortly after my 13th birthday and I was sat in the upper tier of the Old Pavilion with some family. Ian Botham was my hero and Somerset my team and we came to Taunton dreaming of a Lords final, the rarest of luxuries for cider county supporters who had only enjoyed one other day out at a one day final when Somerset were defeated by Kent in 1967.
Essex, like Somerset, were seeking that elusive first trophy and were a good team with internationals past, present and future including Mike Denness, John Lever, Graham Gooch, Keith Fletcher and Norbert Philip.
Somerset batted first and we marvelled as the master, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, struck a quite brilliant 116. He was supported by Peter Roebuck who hit 57 as Somerset hit a very credible 287 in their 60 overs.
Essex responded well and took the battle to the cider county. Gooch scored 61 and Fletcher 67 as the visitors nibbled away at the Somerset total and it was all getting very close. It was left to Colin Dredge, the Demon of Frome, to bowl the final over and it all came down to the last ball with John Lever on strike needing three runs to win the game and take Essex to Lords.
It was all very tense. Dredge bowled a straight one but Lever had turned his bat and sliced the ball with the back of his willow and it flew towards the boundary. Everyone in our stand jumped to their feet making the restricted view even more restricted. What had happened? I recall seeing Brian Rose somewhere near third man snatch the ball and throw it to Derek Taylor and the wicket-keeper smashed the wickets down as Smith attempted the vital third run. Was he in? Was he out? None of us knew and then the sight of Botham leaping into the air with his fists clenched in front of his face while landing on his knees confirmed that Somerset had won, albeit by the small margin of level scores but Somerset had lost fewer wickets.
We were off to Lords. This was the first of several finals we would see at Lords in the ensuing years.
For the scorecard of that match:
This is the start of a new era. Let us hope the new structure stands for as long as the Old Pavilion and bears witness to some great games and hosts world famous names. Maybe one day people sitting in this facility will talk of Abell, the Overton’s, Kieswetter, Gregory and others in the same way that we talk about Botham, Richards and Garner?
The Old Pavilion never witnessed Somerset players parading the Taunton boundary, holding aloft the County Championship trophy while the words to “Blackbird” rang out into the Somerset sky and heard echoing throughout the Mendips and Blackdown Hills. Let’s hope the new stand does.