Sparsholt in the 21st Century

Posted by Nobody on 18 September 2014

On Saturday 17th May 2014, I attended my first match at Sparsholt this century. No, I didn’t beam down from the USS Enterprise or emerge from a blue police box. It was just that distance and life (not necessarily in that order) had not co-incided thus previously and so precluded an earlier visit. I was greeted by former playing colleagues Richard Edwards, Tony Dunford, Colin Lovegrove , Bob Selley, Richard Macer and Graham Lloyd, and met Norman Gough (who liases with Vice Presidents like myself) for the first time.

I played for Sparsholt CC between 1975 (when they entered the Hampshire League, South West Division 2) and 1983.It was a time of transition and change for both myself and Sparsholt. For me it was my first entry to the world of club cricket at the age of 20, halfway through my Teacher Training Course in Bingley in darkest Yorkshire. For Sparsholt it was a time when adult cricket was moving away from playing friendly cricket on Saturdays and Sundays, and some un-named modernist on the Committee at Sparsholt (possibly Secretary Michael May) had persuaded the others to give the Hampshire League a go.

In August, whilst on holiday from Teacher Training College, I was invited to join the side by Peter Haddon and Jim Snell. I played alongside them for Eastleigh Conservative Club in the Eastleigh Evening League. In the same side were Martin Snell, John Snell and Bill Snell. I should have spotted that Sparsholt was going to be a family club as when I arrived I played alongside Tony Robinson and Neil Robinson, Norman Edwards and Richard Edwards, and later played alongside David Waters (son of Derek Waters who watches from near the gate) and Mike Stockwell (son of David Stockwell).

For my first game I met Peter Haddon and his wife and daughter at the White Horse pub in Otterbourne. After beers all round I followed them through Crab Wood (straight from a JRR Tolkein novel) and the windy roads into Sparsholt, and then disappeared (a la Alice in Wonderland) up the track that leads to the ground. “How the hell am I ever going to find this if they pick me again?” I wondered.

I was made very welcome by my new teammates. Everyone was very friendly. Jim Snell captained the side (often from long on), opened the innings and was in the batting form of his life between 1975 and 1977, Norman Edwards played and was the groundsman, “Mick” Edwards and Joyce Snell made the teas, Tony Dunford played as did Neil Robinson, Martin Snell, John Snell, John Pike, Chris James and Graham Lloyd. I got to bowl (SLA) and got 27 when I batted. We lost. At the end of the season Sparsholt were second to bottom of South West II. Team selection seemed to be based upon “friendly” cricket where most people got a go during the game, rather than getting the upper hand over the opposition. So some of the players who were well established might keep their place when others could be more effective. This was more suited to the ethos of a “friendly club” and less suited to the rigors of League Cricket where bonus points and the win are the primary objective. Over the next few years the side would change as players who had less to offer in league games were replaced by those who could offer more or be more consistent. This caused some upset, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Returning to 1975, the pavilion was a wooden structure with a corrugated tin roof. When it rained it sounded like a rock concert if you were stuck inside. I do not remember electricity in any form inside the pavilion. The water was heated by a calor gas boiler, but the teas were good. The floor was wooden planking and needed to be swept regularly to reduce the splinter hazard. There were no showers. There was a chemical toilet (for the ladies) and a urinal that backed onto the woods behind the pavilion (mind the brambles!). The home dressing room had an aroma all its own. There was a bag with some post medieval cricket kit (abandoned since the Battle of Omdurman) that the ill prepared could rummage through if an item had been forgotten. Someone had thoughtfully left an unwanted jockstrap in a biscuit tin on a shelf. There was a pile of old scorebooks, and some items of cricket clothing that previous owners had left, God knows how many years previously. As an impoverished student I took the opportunity to check these out. Then there was another biscuit tin containing odd bails, balls and bowling markers. As an attempt to be symbiotic with nature,  there was the bird’s nest (in use). As a man with a beard I hoped that the users were neither myopic or easily confused. The slow degeneration of all the aforementioned items provided the base of the previously mentioned aroma, however it was supplemented by the sprays and medicinal rubs that some of the older members applied to the (still) moving parts of their aging bodies. In the small dressing room this was more “in your face” than I care to recall. These older members had either been in the services in WW2 or had done National Service (Google for more details) and had a completely different view of personal space than a 20 year old (even in 1975) did. The pavilion was gloomy as light came through two openings at the front that were revealed by raising two heavy wooden shutters. These shutters were held open by two pieces of wood. Very ecologically sound. The inside was “decorated” by a large framed montage called “Famous Cricketers of 1893”. There was a postcard with a photograph of the 1964 Australian team, and an early photograph of Her Majesty (the current one, not Victoria). There was a handwritten note about a high scoring game between Sparsholt and Kings Somborne in the 1940s. Teas were taken at 2 tressel tables (home on left and away on right) with benches at each side. At the end of the game the benches outside were packed back inside the tea room before the shutters were lowered and the pavilion locked up. Outside the pavilion, at each side, was a low hedge of box. The large 4 man roller “lived” near the groundsman’s shed on the right of the pavilion. Many a happy hour was spent with 4 people (2 at each end) rolling the pitch whilst discussing cricket, cricketers and the club. Norman was keen to remind us how to stop/start and/or change direction with the roller without damaging the turf.

The ground – it struck me that I had arrived at a wonderful place to play cricket. Edged by mature trees on one side, a detached house on another, a holloway on another and a view across crops towards sweeping Hampshire countryside on another, I was impressed. Throughout my time playing there I felt that I was blessed to play at such a beautiful venue. In the years since I have watched, played, coached, managed sides, scored and umpired at grounds all over England. Sparsholt is still my favourite ground.
 

The wicket was tended by Norman Edwards. It was firm and true with even bounce. It looked good. A great deal of care went into making it thus. Apparently his decision to become groundsman was a sort of coup d’etat. His predecessor , Jim Tubb, was keen but liable to make errors, and Norman said that he despaired of being bowled by a ball that shot along the ground because it hit a plantain on the strip. To wait all week to bat and then be undone by a weed was too much for him. There was also the incident when the two ends of the pitch didn’t line up as they weren’t positioned opposite each other. Once “in charge” Norman measured out the square, knocked in the 4 corner pegs so that henceforth all the strips would be lined up mathematically ( and not by eye), and attacked every dandelion, daisy and plantain that had the temerity to poke its head out onto any part of his square. I don’t know about today, but Sparsholt wickets were always worth more runs after tea, and so Sparsholt were quite happy to bat second and chase. Any moisture and lateral movement happened before 3pm, and after tea the ground could be bathed in warm sunlight which took any sting out of the pitch, negated swing, and made the outfield seem quicker. Jim Tubb continued to support the club, and was partial to a half pint at The Plough Inn. He was accompanied at all times by Penny and Judy, his dogs.

The Sunday side was captained by Graham Lloyd. The cricket played by the Sunday side meant that everyone got a go, and some of the younger members got fuller opportunities. Neil Robinson, strong and quick but not necessarily accurate, started here. In addition, he could strike the ball a long way, but lose his middle stump early on too. Chris Tee (SLA), Andy May (Off spin) also started here around that time. Friendly cricket allowed older players to continue playing as well as providing a transition from schoolboy cricket to adult cricket particularly for those who have not been involved in schools representative cricket. Graham was particularly skilful at keeping everyone involved and keeping the game alive. We may have lost some games where we had scored big runs in the first innings, but the game was kept alive for the players and spectators. Many clubs today seem to find it a struggle providing meaningful opportunities to play the U-15 to U-19 players in their sides where these youngsters can contribute appropriately. In a League game, unless you are totally on top, it is risky to throw the ball to a youngster to have a few overs from the pavilion end, knowing that some grizzled shark from the opposition might decide to launch into them thus tipping the balance of the match away from your own team. In a tight game, bowling second, if you bring on a youngster and they get a wicket, do you keep them on or whip them off and bring back a more senior player to finish the game off? And if someone launches into them, will others seek to blame them for the loss or will they think that they have let everyone down whether anyone says it out loud or not? Whatever the skipper does is fraught with danger as the youngster’s confidence and feeling of self-worth is so easy to undermine.

In 1975 the club was supported by family members. As mentioned previously, “Mick” Edwards and Joyce Snell made the teas, and various wives and children sat in deckchairs or amused themselves with little games around the edges of the ground. So there might be an impromptu game of cricket or badminton or football going on at some point during the afternoon. Some people would be walking the dog around the boundary, or washing the car (Jim Snell did this having been dismissed early – he used the water from the water tank next to the pavilion) – I’ve never been organised enough to have a sponge, shampoo and a bucket in my car at the same time! There were the “is it clockwise for a wicket?” walkers too. After the match, when the jobs were done, it was down to The Plough and Joe the jovial landlord (irony). Mostly the opposition came as well. Families, lemonade for children and 22 players and the landlord still looked at us as if we were making his pub untidy. I recall that there was a bar billiards table (more Google?) too. Now there’s a game that is undergoing a revival of interest. When we played away, although the name of the pub might be different, the general principal was the same – after the match you drank with your teammates and the opposition. Friendships were formed but, let us not be too Utopian, there were still people that you weren’t keen on because of how they played their cricket or conducted themselves. In “friendly” cricket you could do something about this – Michael May would drop them off the fixture list and someone else would get their slot. However, in League cricket, as long as they were in your division, you were stuck with them. The only alternative was to drink in another pub or come back to The Plough (if you were away).

Those who play or spectate at the club in 2014 can, perhaps, compare and contrast (as in a long lost GCSE paper) what I am describing with what they see as the current Sparsholt experience. You don’t need me to do it for you. Buildings may change. The people may change, although given an open choice many will choose to stay at a place that they still enjoy. However, for me, the attractiveness of the venue as a place to play cricket does not seem to have changed between the first time that I drove through the gate to play on the ground 39 years ago and my most recent visit.  And to think that Terry Harrison recorded it in a painting to celebrate Norman Edwards’ 49 years Treasurer!

I recall playing at Amport (I think) around 1979 when David Gammell (the fast bowler and then Chairman who lived at the big house next to the ground) reported a conversation between two spectators which ran along these lines:

Spectator 1: Who are we playing?

Spectator 2: Sparsholt.

Spectator 1: It can’t be Sparsholt – Norman Edwards isn’t playing.

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