Dan Whiting continues his nationwide tour of county cricket’s lesser known venues
Nottinghamshire’s origins can be traced back to August 1771 when Nottingham CC took on Sheffield CC and, according to records, the outcome of the game wasn’t “determined on account of a dispute which arose by one of the Sheffield players being jostled”.
It wasn’t the last dispute that happened between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, as you will see.
As a county, their first game was thought to have been in 1835 when they played Sussex but it wasn’t until 1841 that the county was officially formed, although the exact date is rumoured to have been lost. Notts haven’t travelled far from their Trent Bridge home over the years, but the rivalry with Yorkshire has often taken place in Worksop.
Worksop College has provided numerous cricketers over the years.
Phil Sharpe attended school here as did Joe Root, two dyed in the wool Yorkshiremen, which shows how close the town is to the border of Yorkshire.
Richard Kettleborough, now an international umpire, also studied here, although Notts did benefit from Samit Patel attending the school. However, it is at the Town Ground that many of the skirmishes between these two rivals occurred the most; 14, in fact, between 1921 and 1998.
The mining communities made up the majority of the crowds when they played, at least until the mid-80s when relations between the two counties reached a nadir due the miners’ strike in 1984.
Notts miners opted to return to work, much to the chagrin of their Yorkshire counterparts, as fractures ran deep in their respective communities. It was a bitter era for those in that profession.
With Sheffield 15 miles closer to Worksop than Nottingham, the crowd was often split equally between Yorkshire and Notts with many from the mining community making their way over to the ground from the nearby bus station. It was only a short trip from the South Yorkshire coalfields.
The traditions of those that worked underground ran as deep in both teams as the seams where the coal was dug from.
Harold Larwood and Bill Voce both had mining backgrounds for Notts, whilst the son of a Yorkshire miner scored 214 not out here in 1983. That man was a certain Geoffrey Boycott and he averaged over 90 on the ground, as no doubt he will be aware. It was usurped by Glamorgan’s Steve James in 1996 who recorded 235 here, although he failed to trouble the scorers in the second innings.
Another son of a miner has the best bowling figures on the ground – a certain Frederick Sewards Trueman with 8-84 when the rivals clashed in 1962.
On a ground with a pronounced slope, Trueman refused to bowl up the hill and bowled with pace and fire on that occasion. With the Chesterfield Canal at one end of the ground and the River Ryton at the other, it was not unknown for the ball to end up with a splash in either on quite a few occasions.
A new pavilion was built in the 80s and the ground has lost much of its character with the absence of the former focal point. The new pavilion has photos of Garfield Sobers and Richard Hadlee, both knighted cricketers who plied their trade in this county. Worksop isn’t the most beautiful venue on the circuit but its gritty character, its history and geographical position on the frontline of battles between Yorkshire and Notts make it an integral outground for many.
Notts haven’t been to many outgrounds but one they did visit was a long way outside the county borders. The seaside town of Cleethorpes, which adjoins the fisheries of Grimsby, was the venue for two games against the Sri Lankans in 1984 and 1990.
Despite the efforts of the local club to make them feel welcome, along with marquees dotted around the ground, the Sri Lankans weren’t too happy at being taken to this outpost with a bracing wind coming in off the North Sea. Despite the ground being the home of Cleethorpes CC, who play in the Yorkshire League, it is Notts who made this their home.
Lincolnshire also used it and a combined Minor Counties XI hosted the Zimbabweans here.
Newark is a venue far closer to the county home and, in 1972, Derek Randall announced himself to his county faithful with a brilliant 80 here. The ground is the home of Ransome and Marles and the Elm Avenue ground was a works ground for the former ball bearing company.
This shouldn’t be confused with the Kelham Road ground in the town that lies on the River Trent at which Notts took on the All England XI in 1856.
Notts’ industrial roots took them to the Steetley Company Ground in Shireoaks. Even closer to the Yorkshire border than Worksop, Shireoaks is a former mining village but the ground was part of the Steetley Company who made bricks. The managing director was cricket mad and built the ground in 1951.
Many a decent local cricketer found himself being offered employment should he play for the local side. It hosted a couple of 2nd XI games in the 50s and made its first-class bow with a four-day game in 1961. A red brick pavilion is now a private house but this was a wonderful cricket abode with a balcony and a clock tower. A quaint white scoreboard perched on bricks added value and character to what is already an impressive arena. It did host the England Women’s XI in 1979, though. The ground lay dormant for a number of years although cricket has returned here recently.
Welbeck Abbey was also used in the early 20th-century but Notts are a county who prefer the creature comforts of their Trent Bridge home. One venue that they travel to now is Warsop near Mansfield, which has been used in recent years.
The dream of a local businessman who ploughed his last £34 into watches in the 70s, he saw his investment grow and now the ground hosts the county at the Welbeck Colliery Ground.
Dubbed the ‘Welbeck Weekender’, it saw Warwickshire and Glamorgan visit in 2015 whilst Riki Wessels grabbed a hundred there this season as they entertained their other local rivals, Derbyshire.
A host of deck chairs and marquees throng the boundary as decent-sized crowds flock to this new venue for the county circuit. Jake Ball and Bruce French have prominent local links here and it has proved very popular with the local community.
Back to Nottingham and, apart from a trip to the John Player Ground in the city, the county don’t tend to stray too far from their home.
Trent Bridge is a wonderful arena and one of my own personal favourites in the country. There is nothing flash or amazing about it but the people are warm in this part of the world and know their cricket. They will talk about the game for hours with you over a pint, often referring to you as “mi duck”, which has no reference to one’s batting average, may I hasten to add.
Notts have had some fantastic players, including knights of the game, yet have always remained close to their working class roots. The mining towns of the north of the county have hosted the county on many an occasion and as the saying goes: “When England needed a quick bowler, they’d just whistle down the pit for the next one.”
With Ball arriving from the Welbeck Colliery ground, that tradition is still continuing. The mines may have shut down but cricket in these wonderful communities is still thriving.
Long may it continue.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, September 2 2016
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