Accrington Cricket Club

Accrington Groundsman Ian McCrae gives us the low down on his holiday to Taunton

Ian in action
Ian in action
©Nigel Stockley

Ian's Busmans Holiday

Thursday 30th August
Set off by 6a.m. from home. Taunton about 280 miles off, M6 then M5. The journey took four hours just a little delay at Birmingham/Wolverhampton. Margaret dropped me off at the main entrance near the cattle market. Admission £12. Glamorgan won the toss and put Somerset in. the wicket had surprisingly a green tinge to it. Several wickets on the square looked unbelievably bare. I introduced myself to Phil Frost the head groundsman. He had just finished his morning bacon sarnie and cuppa and sat in the few seats reserved for the groundstaff directly behind the bowlers end, next to the sightscreen at the cemetery end. I introduced myself as Accrington c.c.'s groundsman and mentioned the fact that I turned down the opportunity to become deputy to Don Price, the head groundsman, in 1978. I was offered £2500 plus a flat at the ground that Dennis Breakwell, a former player, was vacating. Don Price was shortly to have hip replacements which I understand were not entirely satisfactory. Phil had been at the county ground since 1972. I was invited to look at the square at the end of play. At the intervals its o.k. to go on the outfield. The main wickets, fifteen of them are fenced off. There are thirteen practice wickets also on either side of the square which are used each morning by the competing teams. The wickets on which the teams practice are enclosed by easy to erect nets, secured on poles and pegged down. I was surprised that the bowlers footholes were filled in at the intervals. The damaged area was cut out with a square ended half-moon, lightly watered so that the slightly moistened surrey loam could be applied by hand, then with a square-shaped metal beater on a long handled shaft. Some practice wickets that have been relayed play better than the main ones on the square! For the last seventeen years ongar loam has been used, (clay content only 21%). Last season Brian Rose, Somerset's director of cricket wanted more bowler friendly wickets this season. So last autumn the top inch was taken off the square. The cost was about £10,000. The work was done by the former head groundsman at Northants. It took two days.  Phil doesn't know how this was to help the bowlers especially as there have been two scores of over 800 this season. Meddling committee. Incidently a little more grass was left on the present wicket deliberately. At the interval I went to the museum office where there was a booksale. I bought a 1980 Somerset annual report and statement of accounts for a quid.  Interesting, the total salaries and expenses of the entire playing staff was £89,029. For the year and the playing staff included Botham, Richards and Garner!. The scorers, (note plural), received £1501. Less than Lionel if you include his food allowance! 

At the close of play the wicket was covered with four roll on covers. Sheets were put on the bowlers' run ups and the entire square was covered with sheets after Phil hand watered, with a hosepipe the reseeded wickets. Convenient having a water supply next to the square. Margaret picked me up at 7p.m. She was exhausted  from her exploits at the Cheddar  Gorge. The weather has been warm and sunny. Picked up fish and chips , back to the cottage to feed, have a drink or two and share the experiences from the day.

Friday 31st August 

After a hearty fry up at long farm, Margaret dropped me off at the ground. Margaret was going to Sidmouth where her parents spent their honeymoon fifty seven years ago. Phil told me he took over from Don Price on a short term basis, left the club in 1983 when Gordon Prosser was in charge, then returned in 1989 when Prosser left. About ten years ago he applied for and got a job at  Wellington school/college (I think), maintaining the grounds. He even had hired a removal van, was taking a pay cut from £20,000 to £17,500 but then had a change of heart. However he regrets not staying in the police cadets when young and feels that his work is often unappreciated by some officials etc a Northants official accused him of not cutting the wicket in the morning of a match. He did and received £2500 by way of apology! Geoff Boycott said the wicket had been watered prior to a World Cup match between Sri Lanka and India. It hadn't it was just that it's colour was deceptive. It's not how it looks it's how it plays. India made 390!  Heavy scarification has been done on the used and not to be re-used wickets, creating a good seed bed.they use a grayden scarifyer. It can penetrate up to 3/4 inch. In the past only one cultivar was used in their seed 'mix'. Why, because it grew well. Last season a new mixture was used  which hasn't proved satisfactory. Why change ? At the end of the season, the end of September, a contractor will deep spike the square down to at least eight inches, they will then topdress with ongar before reseeding and then covering the seed. They are more fortunate down there with their milder weather. Talking about the weather Phil applied for the head groundsman's job at Headingley after Keith Boyce finished. He drove to Scarborough for the interview and was greeted with Bob Platt, (Yorkshire cricket committeeman) with 'how's a southern softie going to cope with a northern winter?' Phil didn't get the job. Fogherty from Old Trafford got it because of his experience of test matches. Fair enough. I asked Phil about Harry Brind's son who took over following his father at the Oval. He said he heard that he had a fall out with Alec Stewart, took a holiday and when he returned the lock for his flat had been changed. (Bill Gordon took over) he wasn't even admitted to the annual groundsman's do at Lords later and is now working at Wimbledon tennis. Peter Marron now at Old Trafford said he had a fall out with Flack the head groundsman. He lost only to return later. Cut throat business this  groundsman's lot. Worcester's groundsman sent Phil some photos of the flooded county ground. Apparently the top 3/4 inch of the outfield is being cut off to get rid of all the thatch, then it's going to be re-drained with 250 ton of topsoil applied before reseeding. Unfortunately, like most other counties, Somerset do not now take their games to many outgrounds. In fact there is only one match outside Taunton this season, a one day game at Bath on the recently relaid wickets costing £30,000 but hardly ever not played on! at Taunton there is upwards of seventy days potential cricket played each season. 

I took lots of photos of the ground  and especially the square. I also sat in just about every stand in the ground, except the members' stand, during the course of the day. Margaret arrived from sunny Sidmouth pick me up I was still talking 'shop' with Phil and trying to widen my experience. Called at Asda for a chinese meal to microwave, a chocolate icecream to follow swilled down with some scrumpy. Forgot to mention Margaret treated me to an overpriced, but very imformative book on Somerset cricket grounds from the club store. PS, I couldn't believe the price of cricket bats £240, neither could I believe how much wood is in them.

Saturday 1st September 

Down earlier for breakfast to meet umpire Neil Bainton who is staying at the some place as we are. He stayed here on the recommendation of another umpire, Peter Hartley. He is a nice, pleasant chap, 37 years old, an ex postman who is only into his second season on the umpires list. I mentioned Duncan Warburton to him and he said he had seen his name on a fixture list. He told me that the umpires should supervise the mowing of the wicket at about 9.30 a.m. But it can be classed as an insult to an experienced head groundsman and trust often prevails. We enjoyed his company and he said he would leave two complimentary tickets on the gate. Margaret is going north today to the coast at Lynton. At the ground I spoke to one of the three groundstaff other than Phil. He told me that on match days they start at 7a.m. The outfield is cut every day during a match. They have a toro triplex ride on mower plus a 36inch allett and a 36inch ransomes mastiff. I forgot to ask about their wicket and square machines. They have a two ton plant hire roller as well as their own. The hire one is very speedy from garage to wicket. The outfield was fertilised in spring and because of the wet weather it has stayed green and lush. They finish after sheeting up usually over twelve hours later. He said upto eight hours rolling is done for a firstclass county game but this year they have spent only half that time rolling. He added 'rolling kills the grass!' Phil never waters the square after 8a.m. in the morning when matches are being played. He is happy with the grass coverage for the Glamorgan wicket. The big problem for a four day game is making the wicket last. If underprepared the footholes become craters.

After lunch I met Ken Palmer the old Somerset player. I enjoyed a good hours conversation with him. He's now seventy-one and looks well in a west country way. He played over 300 games for Somerset plus one for England. Stood in over 400 county games as an umpire as well as officiating in over twenty tests, a dozen or so one day finals at Lords and World Cup matches. You don't talk just listen and learn from his experiences.

I also spotted the memorial garden. Bertie Buse, Bill Andrews ex players from the thirties and Harry Fernie the headgroundsman for decades were amongst the metal plaques I noticed. Margaret arrived at the ground just in time to visit the barn converted, (about twenty years ago), into one of the few county museums. Admittance £1. excellent value. Margaret snapped away at the excellent display of signed bats, Bill Alley's bat, bag and NSW blazer, Harold Gimblett's blazer and bat, an impressive, large painting by Mike Tarr of Viv Richards all caught the eye amongst other memorabilia. In fact the curator, Peter Yates, in a gentlemanly way, when he found out I possessed Colin McCool's New South Wales cap inquired if I wanted to loan it, give it or bequeath it to the museum. McCool played for NSW and Australia, then for East Lancs in the Lancashire League before joining Somerset for several years. I'll think about it. After tea Somerset finished Glamorgan off to seal promotion against a weak bottom of the league side who were no match for the likes of Trescothick, lLnger and Caddick. Final photos, a handshake and farewell to Phil, (back watering the square), who also invited us back next season as his guests, before leaving the ground to go to the local pub near the farm we are staying at for a meal then a walk back to our nest for bed.

Sunday 2nd September
Another hearty breakfast, grapefruit, then two eggs sausage, bacon, tomato, toast, orange and coffee. Bye to the proprietors, John and Doreen. Cost £65 per night. Visit a car  boot in a farmer's field on the way back. At Birmingham  greeted by the rain, arrive home 5p.m. 700 miles later. Next season the Scarborough Festival or Canterbury Week?




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