Friends Life t20

Full houses and full pints at Twenty20

The signs from this season is that Friday night Twenty20 is the way forward, and from next summer that will be norm, but it does provide a new set of challenges

Tim Wigmore

August 5, 2013

Comments: 15 | Text size: A | A

A sell-out crowd was in high spirits at The Oval, Surrey v Middlesex, FLt20, South Group, The Oval, July 5, 2013
The crowds have flocked to Twenty20 and have availed themselves to a variety of entertainments © Getty Images
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County cricket is an odd specimen. It spends its whole existence bemoaning that it's not like football - and then, when it starts to resemble it, recoils. Football crowds - oh, the horror.

T20 has got its swing back. After a disappointing Friends Life T20 competition in 2012 - hampered by awful weather - packed houses have reigned. Over 50,000 spectators attended games over two nights in London; Headingley witnessed its first county capacity crowd for nine years. T20 is the toast of county chairmen from Derbyshire to Somerset.

No Olympics, no football and some exquisite evenings have all helped, but so have improved marketing and a more coherent schedule. To pack out international venues for a domestic match in an age when county cricket largely exists without either England players or genuine overseas stars - and when the IPL is the only cricket on free-to-air TV - is an impressive feat. And it should only get better next year, as matches are played regularly on Friday evenings throughout the summer.

But not everyone is celebrating. A lot of T20 fans are football ones who want another sport to pass the summer by. There is even one area in which the cricket experience indisputably trumps the football one: you can drink in the ground.

Whatever the merits of the cricket, the booze can certainly add to them. I learned as much when I went to a pulsating London Derby at The Oval recently. For several of the friends I went with, it was their first live cricket experience. Afterwards, they could not contain their excitement at seeing Ricky Ponting in the flesh, Paul Stirling's power or Jade Dernbach's sorcery. That's in an ideal world.

In mundane reality, all this cricketing excitement was secondary to the beer snakes and the streaker (not quite in a classical sense, for he was wearing green underpants) who ran almost the entire pitch until being stopped. The booziness was emphatically a Good Thing. It is a big part of why they want to come again. And so it is for thousands of others. The triumph of beer over cricket was such that many people did not register when the match was over.

It would be great if everyone who went to county T20 was enthralled by Dernbach's assortment of slower balls. They're not. But it is much better for county cricket if people are there on Friday nights, boozing away, than not there at all.

It is also much better for county coffers. A sell-out T20 at The Oval makes more money for Surrey than days of Test cricket do at some grounds. The booze queues are a very big part of the reason why. If people want to pay £20 to have the right to buy pints at £4.20 apiece that, providing these people are not obnoxious and don't detract from the fun enjoyed by others, is good for county cricket.

But it's not only the Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells brigade who recognise that the masses can bring some unwelcome baggage. Deep into a tight run chase, fans deserve better than missing every other ball because someone in front has just bought another round. The sight of spectators getting so rowdy that they need to be escorted out of the ground has become a familiar one.

And sometimes it can get very ugly indeed. At the Warwickshire-Worcestershire game at Edgbaston this season, under-stewarded parts of the Hollies Stand witnessed nasty skirmishes between fans, which spilled over outside the ground after the game.

Much more of this and cricket grounds, like football in the 1980s, might have 'no go areas'. More stewards, acting proactively against provocative behaviour without being officious, are needed. It might also be time to consider a half-hour 'cooling off period' early in the second innings in which no booze is served.

Booze-free family enclosures would encourage parents to go with their children, without being worried that the kids will be exposed to expletive-ridden chanting. The alternative is a Friday night at the summer game no longer being deemed a family-friendly affair.

This unseemly behaviour of a few is not representative: most of those who go to the cricket and drink do not cause trouble. As Friday night T20 takes off, different audiences will want different things. And while cricket cannot afford to be unwelcoming to families, county T20 may also want to consider American-style roving beer sellers in small segments of the ground.

This would be controversial, but it would be selling to people who would be drinking anyway: the main effect, as long as stewards were alert, would be to reduce the amount of cricket missed through getting a drink or others moving back to their seats at an inopportune moment.

The time has also come to extend the ten-minute interval between innings. When T20 was devised a decade ago, everything was done to minimise the length of it all, as if not to give people enough time to realise they were watching cricket. At sell-out grounds the innings break often doesn't allow time to get a drink or go to the loo, let alone both.

In descriptions of 'raucous' or 'rowdy' T20 crowds, the implication has seemed that cricket hasn't seen anything quite like this before - ignoring that cricket and drinking have always been easy bedfellows.

T20 might cater to many who care more about drinking than the intricacies of the lbw law. But it ought to be perfectly possible to accommodate these without alienating more traditional fans.

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Posted by durhamd on (August 12, 2013, 7:52 GMT)

I can't afford to go to a test match in England, and don't usually have the time for a full day of county cricket. T20 is...fun. It doesn't match up to Test cricket, it comes nowhere close, but very few things do. (Although football is one of them). It's good fun, you can have a few drinks, and enjoy some brief entertaining cricket.

Long live test cricket, and good luck T20, if nothing, you're a good drinking pal.

Posted by RobDWalsall on (August 7, 2013, 8:03 GMT)

I recently went to the Oval to watch Surrey v Hampshire. I wrote an email complaint about the behaviour of the crowd and the lack of stewaring. This is the response I got:

Thank you for your email, however we are sorry to hear of your displeasure following a recent visit to the Kia Oval.

It is certainly frustrating when these large groups start with their anti-social behaviour and we apologise that the stewards were unable to defuse the situation. This information shall be forwarded to the head of operations to ensure that stewards are fully briefed on how to help prevent any problems.

We whole heartedly agree with your point regarding beer snakes. This is evident as the Kia Oval has prohibited the staking of glasses within the stadium and any spectators found ignoring this regulation are subject to ejection from the ground. As a club Surrey are fully aware of the duty we have to all Members and supporters to make sure that nothing interferes with their comfort ...

Posted by RobDWalsall on (August 7, 2013, 7:56 GMT)

I recently went to the Oval to watch Surrey v Hampshire. I wrote an email complaint about the behaviour of the crowd and the lack of stewaring. This is the response I got:

Thank you for your email, however we are sorry to hear of your displeasure following a recent visit to the Kia Oval.

It is certainly frustrating when these large groups start with their anti-social behaviour and we apologise that the stewards were unable to defuse the situation. This information shall be forwarded to the head of operations to ensure that stewards are fully briefed on how to help prevent any problems.

We whole heartedly agree with your point regarding beer snakes. This is evident as the Kia Oval has prohibited the staking of glasses within the stadium and any spectators found ignoring this regulation are subject to ejection from the ground. As a club Surrey are fully aware of the duty we have to all Members and supporters to make sure that nothing interferes with their comfort ...

Posted by yorkshirematt on (August 6, 2013, 17:57 GMT)

The Western Terrace at Headingley is a already a " no go area" for anyone who wants to watch a T20 or an international match in peace and quiet

Posted by jackiethepen on (August 6, 2013, 15:56 GMT)

I think the rowdiness is much exaggerated. Most of it happens in a particular stand. My advice book a ticket in a quieter area or make sure you know where they are if you have a t20 ticket to sit anywhere. I've never seen nasty scenes at a cricket match among fans. Plenty of fun and banter and a lot of laughter. The drinking culture doesn't seem to be anything but good natured at cricket grounds.

Posted by   on (August 6, 2013, 14:13 GMT)

Great piece, Tim, and I think this sentence sums it up: "If people want to pay £20 to have the right to buy pints at £4.20 apiece that, providing these people are not obnoxious and don't detract from the fun enjoyed by others, is good for county cricket." Sadly I've been to far too many games this summer where the obnoxious few ruin it for the majority. Maybe worth noting that rugby league, in England at least, seems to have struck the balance between letting people drink at their seats yet 99% of the time this doesn't result in drunken, obnoxious behaviour. However, I suspect that may have something to do with a far greater gender balance in the crowd.

Posted by Jeppo on (August 6, 2013, 13:55 GMT)

Last year I watched a T20 match at Old Trafford, and I must say I didn't enjoy it at all, not because Lancashire lost the match, but because I was sat in front of several young men who were constantly shouting and swearing all through the match. When I politely asked them to tone down the language, I was told to "<bleep> off", and then proceeded to increase the volume of their vulgar chanting. Even worse the nearby steward did not do a single thing to quieten them down.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind a bit of banter between opposing fans in the stands and I can cheer (and occasionally jeer) as much as anyone, but unfortunately you do get the minority, like those who sat behind me that day, fueled on lager, spoiling the fun for the rest of us wanting to enjoy an evening's cricket. Any regulation that limits the amount of alcohol fans can drink can only be a good thing, and those who swear and curse - especially when children are around - should be ejected from the ground.

Posted by Harry-S on (August 6, 2013, 13:28 GMT)

I think the author is right about some of the reasons why the T20 has been so popular this summer. The weather is undoubtedly the biggest reason, but also the fact that it hasn't clashed with football, and Wimbledon (apart from the first few days). And the innings break definitely needs to be 5-10 minutes longer because of the queues at toilets and bars. However, I don't think next season's change to once a week matches across the whole season is helpful, because we are even less likely to attract big overseas stars if the competition is spread out over 3 months. Also, T20 Finals Day should take place BEFORE the start of the football season. Ridiculous for it to be competing with the Premier League.

Posted by Robster1 on (August 6, 2013, 13:11 GMT)

It'd would further help T20 if there was a set time , say 6pm, for all evening fixtures and 2.30pm for afternoon games with the expception of the televised game. It works for all other sports and would further help drive spectator numbers with the casual supporter knowing when matches start.

Posted by njr1330 on (August 6, 2013, 12:52 GMT)

I watch cricket (Lancashire) at O.T. and Aigburth; football at Everton; rugby union at Sale Sharks and rugby league at Widnes Vikings. The best behaviour seems to be at Widnes, where, almost certainly, the most beer is consumed. There is actually very little bad behaviour at any of these venues.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (August 6, 2013, 12:51 GMT)

I don't know whether this is already in force in some grounds, but family areas in big capacity (Test match) grounds where the consumption of alcohol is banned is obviously such a good idea that it may not have been tried yet. Parents of youngsters who are trying to engage them in the fun of t20 of cricket, or just want an evening out to enjoy some sporting entertainment as a family, don't need or want the raucous, beer-fuelled behaviour of the well-heeled fans who can afford to pay way over the odd for their tipple fans spoiling their evening. There has to be room for both, but not in the same space.

Posted by py0alb on (August 6, 2013, 12:06 GMT)

So what? A lot of Test match fans are football fans who have only limited interest in cricket. Particularly in Ashes summers.

More to the point, just because there are groups of young lads who clearly like a few beers, why does that mean they're football fans who happen to be watching the cricket? Why can't they just be young boisterous cricket fans? What a strange logical non-sequitur.

Posted by AlanHull on (August 6, 2013, 11:21 GMT)

Shane-Oh - New Zealand are already the laughing stock of World Cricket.

Posted by shane-oh on (August 6, 2013, 10:55 GMT)

Wait until you get to the World Cup in New Zealand, and the embarrassing nonsense we have to tolerate at Eden Park is shown live to the world. I, for one, no longer attend live cricket in Auckland, because some officious do-gooder has decided that I am not responsible enough to have a beer during the second half of the game. I am; and more to the point I don't like being treated like a child. I'm interested in what will happen during the World Cup, actually; will the officials here make us a laughing stock of world cricket?

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