New Zealand in England 2013 May 26, 2013

Culture shock at 'eadingley

A strong sense of nostalgia, grimy Yorkshire skies, confetti showers, and dress-up day - a Kiwi misses his time in Leeds

The greatest scattering of newspaper confetti in history © Beige Brigade

"When I was a player I had no issue with Headingley, because back then I was a Leeds United fan and the local people seemed to like me because of it. But now, walking around the ground, I sense an atmosphere that is not very nice and I certainly wouldn't want to sit with my family in the Western Terrace." Nasser Hussain, 2009.

Headingley is a brilliant cricket ground, but provides a culture shock for Kiwi fans traipsing north after the extreme poshness of "the Lord's experience". The Western Terrace, in the student-flavoured suburb of Leeds, is only a few hours from the Edrich Stand as the crow flies, but it is a world away as a cricketing experience. No bacon-and-egg ties here, no bells, no Pimms. The green jacketed stewards are replaced by burly fluoro-vested security guards and policemen with video cameras and an eye for trouble.

There is no Nursery Ground either, there is a sports field out the back, but it's the home of the Leeds Rhinos and metamorphoses into a car park when the Test match comes to town.

As we watched the grimy Yorkshire skies chuck down rain on Friday, there was a strong sense of déjà vu and nostalgia, taking us back to the 2004 Test when the Thursday was also blighted by bad weather. It was frustrating but we were on tour and the day of precipitation gave us the chance to get our bearings and sample the million pubs within cooee of the ground, and our Fawlty Towers-style accommodation that brilliantly backed onto the perimeter fence of the cricket ground.

Not many Kiwis made the journey, as we found out when we landed at the international airport at Yeadon and were confronted by the immigration officials: "Why'd a New Zealander travel from London to Rome to Paris and then to Leeds?" "For the cricket mate," I replied. "What cricket? This is roogby layg country, boyo," said the uniform suspiciously.

Of course once you get closer to this legendary suburban cricket ground, with its tales of Botham's heroics, Dickie Bird's yarns and Boycott's curmudgeonry, it is the only show in town. It's also one of two places in England where you hear banter about 15th century history in between overs, as the War of the Roses is relitigated with visiting Lancastrians. This is white rose country still.

For New Zealanders it is a special place too, scene of our first ever win over the Poms in our 29th start and the inspiration for one of the great quotes in our occasionally successful Test cricket history. It emerged from the articulate, moustachioed lips of JV Coney, hitter of the winning runs: "The main feeling was thinking of all the New Zealand players who have been coming here for 52 years, better players than myself, and making sure that their sweat and effort had not been in vain."

Dress-up day on the western terraces is manna from heaven for the local costume hire shop routinely cleaned out by badly dressed Saturday cricket attendees, and another experience that should be on any true international cricket fan's bucket list. In this Test, we've seen leopards and lions, a Prince Harry or two, platoons of Wallys and Thunderbirds and my personal favourite - a chap in an unidentified brown onesie with a pink frontage.

A highlight for us in 2004 was a WWF-style hammed up confrontation between various characters throughout the day - Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Wetsuit Man and the late Saddam Hussein were all there. We also enjoyed partaking in the clandestine tearing up of one sponsor's freely distributed Saturday sports section, arising en masse with the rest of the terrace in a slow Mexican wave to play our part in one of the greatest scatterings of newspaper confetti in global history.

And so to 2013 - a problematic must-win fixture for Brendon McCullum's XI.

Jet engines thundered across the magnificent blue stratosphere (passengers heading for their own Yeadon interrogation) as Yorkshire Tea signs twinkled in the spring rays. Meanwhile on the telly Hussain had the unchallenging task of getting on the front dog to some gentle Nick Knight lobs.

The commentators showed great control not to implicate James Anderson in their discussion of cricket being a game of angles as the swing bowler worked on some angles of his own, picking his nose behind the not-quite-tinted-enough windows of the kaleidoscopic Carnegie Pavilion.

The New Zealanders wandered out with the Royal Stag* booze logo on their sleeves and breasts - a sharply unpatriotic reminder of our place in the financial back blocks of world cricket. By contrast, England has Brit Insurance in the same spot.

But, of course, this isn't England - it's Yorkshire, the most fiercely parochial county in the kingdom. We wish we were there again this week to soak up the ciders, frighten the members with our lycra bodysuits, feast upon Yorkshire puds and butter chicken, all the while soaking up the traditional repartee of a Test match at Headingley.

It ain't roogby layg country this week, boyo.

*The Indian whiskey producer will live long in the memory for creating one of the worst cricket-related advertisements never to air on local TV sets.

Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 28, 2013, 21:07 GMT

    The barmy army were here in NZ recently, and all I remember is good songs, good banter and the bugle player.

    A lot of people (and drinking establishments) I know enjoy have the Army in town, and I cant remember hearing or reading a bad word about them.

    Unfortunately our cricket team is so poor we will see less and less of them.

  • Dummy4 on May 27, 2013, 17:20 GMT

    @ yorkshirematt I hear you. I would like to think so. Unfortunately here in SA the presence of the gentleman spectator is rare at best. The problem i have is that they (the barmy army) seem to be part of 'team england'. A situation seems to exist where the english press , the public and even the commentators (Botham and Bumble in particular, atherton less so - although i have huge respect for Nassers H's commentary as well as Gowers) seem to gang up on the oppostion in an effort to erode their self confidence. Im all for Anderson Broad and co to snarl in a batsmans face and tell him about his mum - Thats good aggressive cricket, but i dont believe that the defence of home honour starts any further off the field than training sessions. If the barmy army arent unofficially part of team england surely the ECB would do something about them? Anyway - no point in going on about it - theres good and bad spectators all over the world like you say. I suppose you just expect more in some cases.

  • Matthew on May 26, 2013, 21:52 GMT

    @Warren Smith Please don't associate us true cricket lovers with the barmy army either

  • Matthew on May 26, 2013, 21:50 GMT

    @Warren Smith Apologies on behalf of all decent english cricket fans but every country has them, just as every country has true cricket lovers as well. You may think i'm biased but i can honestly say the Headingley crowd are not like that and if anything the non Yorkshire England players get more stick that the opposition. Not sure about other grounds. I certainly wouldn't let it put me off watching England abroad which is something I wish to do some time. If you visited us and sat close to the members area or the family area of any English ground i guarantee you'd be pleasantly surprised

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2013, 21:17 GMT

    @Yorkshirematt Youre right i havent. From what ive seen, heard and read via the media i can tell you that i have no desire too. As for South African crowds i couldnt agree with you more. I dont watch cricket at Newlands any more for the same reason. The disgusting behaviour your barmy army exhibit on a match by match basis makes a mockery of your assertion though. Nothing light hearted about the spiteful booing and deliberate attempts through vocal means to try undermine the mental fortitude of opposition players.

  • Matthew on May 26, 2013, 19:57 GMT

    Excellent article and you've hit the nail on the head regarding Yorkshire as a count(r)y. You've missed out another Headingley characterisitc though; the chuntering Yorkshire members, who never have a good word to say about anyone with the misfortune not to be born in Yorkshire, including the England lot. @ Warren Smith I don't know if you've ever been to a Test here but we don't abuse opposition players like supporters in certain other (southern hemisphere) countries.The rowdy behaviour isn't directed at anyone on the pitch in particular. Usually the west stand at Headingley pick out a certain fielder for each tea and have a bit of "banter". If they give bit back they're hero, if not then they're ignored after a while and another victim is chosen. All light hearted really

  • Bryan on May 26, 2013, 12:56 GMT

    When will people get the message? The Western Terrace was demolished 20 years ago. The facility is called the WEST STAND.

  • Grant on May 26, 2013, 11:29 GMT

    I was on the western terrace yesterday with my seven-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son. They thought the good-natured larking around was great fun. Neil Wagner seemed to think so too.

  • Dummy4 on May 26, 2013, 8:20 GMT

    "walking around the ground, I sense an atmosphere that is not very nice and I certainly wouldn't want to sit with my family in the Western Terrace." Being a test match fanatic i watch real cricket whenever i can on telly and i think that Englands crowds are awful in general (with the exception of Lords perhaps, but not just Headingly) and really unwelcoming for opposition teams. Mocking hypocrites describe them best for me as they dont display that standards of cordial behaviour they expect from players and fans of other countries.

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