Field of DreamsMartin Chandler |
Author: Ferriday, Patrick and Mettyear, James
Publisher: Von Krumm Publishing
Rating: 4 stars
I’ve known about this one for a while, although I had rather misunderstood its subject matter. It was the book’s sub-title, 150 Years At The County Ground Hove, that fooled me. I blithely assumed it was a history of the Sussex club, something I can confirm it most definitely is not.
In fact the book is primarily concerned with the history of just the one aspect of Sussex cricket, its county ground at Hove. It is perhaps surprising that the Eaton Road Ground has waited so long to be showcased in this way given the number of Sussex grounds that have had their histories celebrated in book form, Hastings, Eastbourne, Arundel and Horsham all quickly springing to mind.
Field of Dreams is however a rather different proposition to the other books I have mentioned, and indeed to the many more that have been published over the years devoted to a single cricket ground. It is a book, to use the old cliche, of two halves. The first being, given the book’s subject matter, exactly what you would expect, and the second being something else altogether.
Part one charts the development, chronologically with a few digressions, of the site and its acquisition, before moving on to the initial First Class fixture in 1872 against a Gloucestershire side led by WG Grace. Sadly that match was spoiled by the weather but, remarkably, from the little play that was possible there survives a photograph of WG batting, one of a number of compelling images that Ferriday and Mettyear, with the help of the Sussex Museum, have gathered together.
Being the county ground, rather than the scene of an annual festival, any history of Eaton Road is inevitably going to intertwined with the fortunes of the Sussex club on the field. All of the big names Sussex cricket, from CB Fry and Ranji to Matt Prior and Clare Connor feature strongly, but the book is much less about them and their deeds than the way the ground has changed and developed over the years.
Mention of Clare Connor, captain of England and Sussex and the first woman to be invited to be President of the MCC, highlights one aspect of the way women have been treated at Sussex and by the game generally. It was as late as 1975 that women became even eligible to become members of the club’s committee or enter the main pavilion. Mention is also made in several places of the old ladies’ pavilion, a facility that to say the least sounds like a very basic one, and was known as the ‘Hencoop’, which at least proves that sometimes change in cricket is a force for good.
The development of a cricket ground is, naturally, tied up to a considerable extent with its owners’ financial resources and the authors have clearly spent a good deal of time poring over the county’s accounting records. It is in some ways surprising that there is no great correlation between success on the field and financial comfort, but at least since inheriting their share of Spen Cama’s fortune in the early 2000s the club has enjoyed a welcome period of stability.
From the history of the ground, how it has developed and a look at some of the now deceased characters who have made it what it is, the authors then move on to the second part of their mission, the impact that the county ground has had on the lives of followers of Sussex cricket and there follow contributions from as many as 24 men and women who share a great love of Sussex cricket.
Many of the 24 are cricket lovers pure and simple, people who have been watching cricket at Hove for years, and are happy to share their own history, motivations and experiences with Mettyear and Ferriday. But there are some familiar names as well, most notably seven who have represented the county. Three of those seven went on to play for England as well. Most notable is every Sussex supporter’s favourite nonagenarian, the great Jim Parks. The others are Holly Colvin, who played Test cricket at 15, and Paul Parker, who was selected just once, for the final Test of the historic 1981 Ashes series.
Other players whose names appear in part two are three stalwarts of the Sussex side of the 1970s in Peter Graves, a classy looking batsman who never seemed to score as many runs as the commentators of the day suggested that he should, seam bowler John Spencer, whose record from a distance of forty years passes the test of time even if actual memories of his bowling action (as opposed to his mane of blond hair) are elusive, and John Barclay, the man who in 1981 came very close to leading the county to their first Championship. In the end that had to wait another couple of decades and Georgia Adams, the daughter of the successful skipper then and a successful county player herself over the last decade or so, closes part two.
There are writers as well, which means Barclay qualifies twice, and Rob Steen and Paul Weaver also appear, as well as Michael Simkins, better known as an actor but also author of the acclaimed Fatty Batter. Also worthy of mention is the new Sussex Chairman, Jon Filby, who started his regular attendances at the county ground as a teenager in the 1970s. We learn that Jon’s enthusiasm occasionally got the better of him, so much so that on one occasion that legendary hard man from Northamptonshire, Peter Willey, felt the need to ‘have a word’.
Many books devoted to a single county are unlikely to be of general appeal, but that certainly isn’t the case with Field of Dreams which is a book that is recommended to all aficionados of county cricket, no matter where their primary loyalty lies. This excellent book can be bought for a very reasonable £17 (including UK postage) directly from the publisher alternatively, for those of us who like that sort of thing, there is an individually numbered limited edition of 150 copies signed by Clare Connor, John Barclay, Chris Adams and Rob Andrew at £49 inclusive.