This summer Lancashire are celebrating the centenary of the Old Trafford ground. To mark the occasion, M.C.C. will take a team of Test match strength to play the county on June 5, 6, 7.
Organised club cricket was played in the Manchester area from an early date, and after using various grounds the Manchester club settled for a time at Old Trafford, on the site where the White City greyhound track now stands. In 1856, however, this land was claimed for an Art Treasures Exhibition, and the club had to search for new accommodation. They did not move far; they looked a little to the west and found suitable fields. At a cost of £1,100 the removal was accomplished, and on June 28, 1857 Bell's Life reported the opening of the new ground with a fixture against Liverpool.
The organisers of the Exhibition, who turned out the cricket club, required some music. They engaged a certain Charles Hallé to provide a band and that is why the centenaries of Old Trafford and the Hallé Orchestra fall in the same year.
Seven years after the move the Lancashire club was formed with the avowed idea of playing games all over the county. Two factors combined to destroy this ideal. One was the formation of the Lancashire League, which catered for the wants of players and public, and the other was a growing disinclination to move from Old Trafford as the ground was steadily improved.
In the 100 years since that first game against Liverpool, so much has happened that the ground has become one of the world's principal cricket centres. The centenary celebrations are therefore of more than local interest.
It is of Old Trafford and not of Lancashire cricket that one wishes to write here and perhaps it is most convenient to begin at the wrong end, as it were, and tell of what is happening now. The ground was badly damaged by bombing during the war and since 1946 opportunity has been taken to modernise it in every respect. After dealing with the public accommodation, attention was turned to the pavilion, and last year a three-stage development plan was commenced. This scheme will involve in less than two years an expenditure of £65,000 of which not more than twenty per cent will be met by war damage.
The ground now covers 27 acres and consists of the principal first-class playing area with its stands and pavilion, and two large practice grounds. The main ground will take a crowd of 33,000, with amenities not bettered anywhere, and there is parking for 2,500 cars. For Test matches the reserved seats total 5,838.
Old Trafford once housed a crowd of 46,000, a record for England, but the club do not aim ever to equal this. The overall accommodation has been steadily cut down to give greater comfort and now about 25,000 out of a possible 33,000 people can be seated.
Such is the ground which has been built from the original Old Trafford of 1857, when eight acres were leased from the de Trafford estates. Even in those days the club had ideas about material comforts. Bell's Life said: "Underneath the building is an excellent wine cellar, no unimportant acquisition in a cricket pavilion."
A rule of those early days provided that a member could be fined five shillings if having engaged in a match he quit the same without the consent of his side. A similar fine could be imposed for smoking in the pavilion before dinner or while fielding or batting. There is mention in the minutes of a reprimand for the ground manager, Reynolds, for inviting his friends to a pigeon shoot over the ground.
As the ground improved, the financial commitments caused many a head to shake. A new lease cost the club (still Manchester) a bonus of £2,250 in 1878, yet plans went ahead for new buildings. The Manchester and Lancashire clubs (the latter up till now a tenant) were unified in 1880. For fifteen successive years the accounts showed a profit, and still the money was poured out in improvements.
The present pavilion was planned in 1894 to cost £6,000. It cost half as much again, and almost at once the club were given the opportunity of buying the ground outright at a cost of £24,082. The chance could not be missed, and because the bank's charges seemed too dear, the club issued 200 bonds of £100 each at four per cent.
During the following seasons repayment of these bonds, maintenance of the ground and erection of new buildings, all bore heavily on the club. But the years of crisis were safely passed and in 1914, though the outbreak of war affected the response, an appeal fund raised over £7,000, Again after the war there was another public appeal as new extensions were planned. After various ups and downs the last of the purchase money was paid of in 1934.
Lancashire's vigorously progressive policy received its finest compliment just after the 1930 Tests. This was Bradman's first tour, and great crowds flocked to see him bat. Facilities for housing these crowds often seemed inadequate, and the sequel was an inspection by a committee of M.C.C. They reported: "Old Trafford was in every respect most desirable, and in fact the only ground they had visited where no improvement could be suggested." Now, in 1957, the county club have to cater not only for the big paying crowds on important occasions, but for 6,827 full members, 614 country members, 2,371 lady subscribers, 315 life and 42 lady life members, 675 juniors, and 169 schoolgirls; grand total 11,013 members.
Players have always appreciated the ground because of its splendid light for batting. That it has retained its open situation is all the more remarkable because in the last half century a vast industrial area has been built around it in one of the most thickly-populated parts of Britain.
These are notes on the ground, and not about Lancashire cricket, and there is not the space to deal with all the great players, all the famous feats, all the splendid matches, associated with it. The ground is for ever linked with the history of the game, and almost every corner has its story. On a ledge may be seen the initials carved by Ranjitsinjhi as he waited his turn to bat. There is the railway scoreboard, near which Bradman made his celebrated catch off Herbert Sutcliffe's hook.
In the long room are the old score cards and the pictures: pictures of MacLaren, Spooner, Makepeace, the Tyldesleys, that brilliant individualist Tommy Higson, and of course of "My Hornby and my Barlow," famed in prose and poetry. No ground surpasses it in style or tradition; little wonder it holds a special place in the affection of Northern people. Old Trafford is in safe, loving hands as it moves into its second hundred years.