Hampshire bids farewell to Northlands Road
The final chapter on Hampshire CCC's long association with the Northlands Road ground draws to a close this week as the county plays its last first class match at Southampton before the bulldozers move in and a new phase in the Club's history beckons.
It was 115 years ago that Hampshire played its first game at the ground, but opponents Marylebone Cricket Club, fielding such distinguished names as William Gunn and Russell Bencraft, who became the main influence in Hampshire cricket in the first half of the 20th century, won the game by an innings and 113 runs,
In that first match in 1885 [Match], a Hampshire bowler by the name of James Fellows ended with the best figures of 3-38 in the opening innings as MCC made 269. Batting last, he was also top scorer with 18 in a miserable first innings total of 74 and remained unbeaten on seven when the second innings was wrapped up for 82.
Coincidentally, the name Fellows reappears on the scorecard in this final match and Gary Fellows of Yorkshire CCC would have been harbouring dreams of ending Hampshire's record at the ground in the same momentous way that it began.
After that inauspicious start, Hampshire went into their first championship match against Derbyshire [Match] with their confidence in tatters. Losing the toss, they struggled to stem the flow of runs coming from the Derbyshire blades, in particular from the blade of one Frank Sugg who made 187. Fellows snapped up three more wickets but Hampshire once again replied feebly, crashing to an innings and 243 run defeat.
It was not a happy introduction to championship cricket at Northlands Road but despite that, Hampshire asked for the final fixture to be against Derbyshire as a fitting end to a long tradition but after a controversial final match between the two sides in 1999, a sentimental end was denied them.
The disappointment of early 1885 has been matched during 2000 and Hampshire will bring the curtain down on Northlands Road knowing they will be heralding the new era at the new Rose Bowl ground just outside Southampton playing second division cricket, following one of their poorest summers in years.
If there is a symmetrical feel to the start and finish of the Northlands Road chronicles, the intervening years have delivered an extraordinary range of contrasts, from the championship successes of 1961 and 1973 plus the one day triumphs of recent times to the sizeable collection of nightmare seasons, to which 2000 can now be added.
The highest score on the ground was completed two years after the Club moved to Northlands from its previous base at Itchen. In 1887 Francis Lacey made 323 not out against Norfolk that no batsman, not even Barry Richards, Philip Mead, Roy Marshall or Gordon Greenidge were able to match. Mead came closest with an unbeaten 280 Nottinghamshire in 1921 but Mr Lacey's record remains in tact to this day.
The bad times of 1889 when the groundsman's donkey went missing leading to a ten shilling reward were tempered by some good times in the early part of the 20th century, starting in 1912 with a victory over touring side Australia, Hampshire's first and only win against the auld enemy.
Australia got their own back in 1921 by scoring a whopping 708 for seven declared, the highest first class innings on the ground and again in 1930 when crowds flocked to watch Don Bradman complete his 1,000 runs before the end of May.
But Mead was the local hero and by 1932, the great man had completed centuries against every county, finishing with a hundred against Derbyshire. In a career that spanned from 1905 to 1936, he made 138 centuries in 700 matches and heads the list of Hampshire's great runmakers.
Another prolific batsman Roy Marshall made his debut in 1953 against Australia and he too finished on Southampton's batting leaderboard making 30,303 runs in 19 seasons with the county. Five years into his career, the county appointed a new captain and Colin Ingleby-McKenzie kicked off with a duck, century and victory against Kent then took Hampshire to second place for the first time in their history.
He bettered that achievement in 1961 with the championship title, a famous and historic moment for the county and one that is still fondly recalled by many of today's members.
Between then and now, those members have been able to enjoy some of the world's best exponents in the arts of batting and bowling, including ten years of the legendary South African Barry Richards, 17 years of West Indian great Gordon Greenidge and 14 seasons of Malcolm Marshall who went on to become the county coach in 1996 and remained so until his death from cancer last year.
They have also been treated to some fine recent performances from county stalwarts such as Cardigan Connor who took 9-38 in 1996 and Kevan James who took four wickets in four balls in the match against India the same year.
Mark Nicholas, the popular captain of the 1980's and 90's, had a star studded array of talent in his side, David Gower, Marshall, Chris and Robin Smith to name but four, but despite some one-day trophies - the Sunday League in 1986, the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1988 and 1992 and the NatWest Trophy in 1991 - he was never able to generate enough consistency in his side to add the championship title to his trophy cabinet.
Hampshire have now gone eight seasons without a title but the move to the new £20 million Rose Bowl ground, made possible by Lottery funding, will do much to renew optimism.
In the meantime, the final days at Northlands Road are played out amid a haze of nostalgia and affection and for those who want to keep their special memories of the ground alive long after it has been replaced by a new housing estate, an auction is to be staged on October 21st where patrons can bid for their favourite piece of memorabilia, be it the elegant Edwardian pavilion in its entirety or a tired old slither of the sacred turf.