July 27, 2007

The stuff of legends

Trent Bridge has both beauty and history to commend it. Having staged its first Test 108 years ago, it's been home to some of the greatest players the game has seen, both locally born and those that came over from former colonies



Even on a rainy day Trent Bridge resonates with heroic sporting deeds of the past © Getty Images

Trent Bridge has both beauty and history to commend it. Having staged its first Test 108 years ago, it's been home to some of the greatest players the game has seen, both locally born and those that came over from former colonies. William Gunn, co-founder of Gunn & Moore, whose bats were used by the likes of Steve Waugh and Mike Gatting, played for the county, as did a certain Harold Larwood, whose pace and Robin Hood-like accuracy while bowling to a certain plan caused a diplomatic crisis between the Ashes rivals.

One of the stands is named after Larwood, who came from the collieries to give shape to Douglas Jardine's leg theory, and Bill Voce, his partner in what the beaten Australians saw as a crime against the spirit of the game. Decades later, Nottinghamshire would have another unparalleled bowling combination, Richard Hadlee and Clive Rice, who inspired championship charges in 1981 and '87.

But Trent Bridge is also where perhaps the greatest of them all played his county cricket. Sir Garfield Sobers graced this venue in the 1960s and '70s, and was quite the man about town as well. In fact, in Ken Gallagher's wonderful biography of Jim Baxter, the late lamented Scottish football icon, you can find a chapter called Drunk and Sobers in Nottingham, about the unlikely friendship that developed between a mercurial genius with the 'wee pipe-stem arms' and magic feet, and another who could do just about anything he set his mind to on a cricket field.

All these men are an integral part of Nottingham's sporting lore, but they all have to cede the highest pedestal to a man who was without question the greatest sporting coach the world has ever seen. Brian Clough himself never disputed that - "I certainly wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the business, but I'm in the top one" - and there was a certain irony in watching an Indian team without a coach lord it over the home side.

The author of the most captivating sporting fairytale may be gone, but the legacy endures, just as it does at Trent Bridge, where you can stare out at the abandoned outfield in the late-evening sun and visualise Sobers sauntering down the track to loft one over the pavilion roof

Even three years after his death, Clough's presence is all-pervasive. The man they called Old Big 'Ead led both Derby County and Nottingham Forest to championship glory - the A52 that connects the two towns is now the Brian Clough Way - in an era that must seem almost surreal to people living in the area now. Derby have come back to the Premiership, but Forest, who Clough led to two European Cups, now languish in the third tier of English football. The decline began in his time, and was accelerated by his alcoholism, but it's safe to say that sport will never see a Cinderella team like that again.

Years from now, people will find it hard to believe that a provincial English club once ruled European football. The only comparison that can be made is with the dynasty that Vince Lombardi built in a nowhere Wisconsin town called Green Bay. But unlike Americans, who are inordinately fond of calling their national championships World Series and Superbowls, Forest were genuine world-beaters.

Those days are long gone, and you can only feel the echoes of the glory years when you stare across at the City Ground from Trent Bridge. Again, one name catches your eye. The Clough Stand. The author of the most captivating sporting fairytale may be gone, but the legacy endures, just as it does at Trent Bridge, where you can stare out at the abandoned outfield in the late-evening sun and visualise Sobers sauntering down the track to loft one over the pavilion roof.

Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo