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The potato farm that became a field of dreams

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The story of the Farmer's Field cricket ground in Jersey (5:35)

How Jim Perchard turned a potato field into a cricket ground (5:35)

"If you build it, he will come."

Those are the words whispered by a mysterious voice to Kevin Costner in 1989's Field of Dreams, whereupon the Iowa corn farmer decides to plow out part of his farmland to build his very own baseball field.

Hollywood fantasy turned reality the better part of two decades later - albeit with a slight twist toward another bat-and-ball sport - on a tiny island off the north-west coast of France. That's where Jersey potato farmer Jim Perchard decided to convert his farmland into a cricket field.

"There were hundreds and thousands of little smallholdings in Jersey," says Perchard, a 61-year-old whose family history goes back several hundred years on the island. "Every little corner was cultivated. To see a field, a patch of this size now, I suspect my great grandparents would be surprised that it's not growing food for cattle, or potatoes or vegetables. But that's it now. Life changed and recreation is an important part of life. People need space like this."

Officially the Farmers Field belongs not to Perchard but to Farmers Cricket Club, founded in 1977, and named because, you guessed it, most of the club's membership were farmers who played socially in their spare time. Perchard's brother Rob is the club's president, and Jim leases the ground to the club for a nominal fee of £50 per year, but for all intents and purposes, it is Jim Perchard's baby.

"I come out sometimes early morning at 6 o'clock in the summer, the birds are tweeting away, there's quite a racket, the sun comes up just on the east boundary and I just watch it peering over those trees," says Perchard, whose family home is on the same property as the cricket ground and remaining potato farmland. "It's good, it's a great feeling, I do get a buzz and I'm never bored of it.

"It's fabulous and it's seasonal, which is good. It's not grinding you all the year round. So I look forward to September, when we start to wind up the [cricket] year. The field does nothing in the winter. All I do is just maintain it, which is very low maintenance. So it's a sort of six-seven month project and then I switch off. But I'm always delighted when April comes again and off we go."

So how did it all come about? When it was founded 41 years ago, Farmers CC lacked its own facility. Perchard says the members of the club would routinely toy with the idea of building their own ground during post-match pub sessions, but discussions usually died down by the final round of drinks. It partly took pressure from Perchard's own kids to turn the huff and puff into tangible plans.

"They didn't want to play just friendly cricket with their dad, so they joined a cricket club," Perchard says. "We used to go watch them on other fields, play cricket."

"I suppose all that conspired to me saying, 'Well, I'm only here once. I own land and I'm very fortunate. I'm going to apply to the local authorities for permission to change the use from agricultural to recreational and apply for a cricket club.'

After two years Perchard got permission from the planning department, in August 2003. Over the next 18 months it was all hands on deck from Farmers CC to raze the crops, level the ground, grow outfield grass and lay a turf square, as well as building a pavilion.

And so it was that small potatoes turned into big aspirations in the form of a cricket ground that has hosted a host of cricket personalities and teams in the years since Mike Gatting and Geoffrey Boycott helped christen the facility at its opening in May 2005.

"It's literally amazing to have a ground like that on the back doorstep," says Charles Perchard, Jim's son and the current Jersey national captain. Jersey, which has an island-wide population of 100,000, punches above its weight in WCL Division Four of the global 50-over rankings ladder.

"Me and my brother and my dad used to go down there every day after school, in the nets training hard, it's really brilliant and I'm so lucky. He's unbelievably committed to it."

Within a few years that commitment helped the ground earn a reputation as one of the premier non-stadium facilities in Associate cricket. In the pavilion hang flags of all the visiting countries that have played there, and plaques of recognition from the ICC for each time the ground has served as a host venue for international tournaments - among them World Cricket League events in 2008, 2013 and 2016.

Aside from the various Associate sides, such as USA, Nepal, Oman, Germany, Vanuatu and more, who have all toured Jersey and played at Farmers Field, numerous county sides and junior festival touring teams have come through, including, among others, the likes of a teenage Joe Root.

"Some set-ups bring the best out of you," says USA fast bowler Usman Shuja, his country's leading one-day wicket-taker, who in 2008 claimed a pair of five-wicket hauls in that year's WCL Division Five. "Farmers Field is one of those special set-ups for me. That wicket was very kind to me. I wish I could pack the wicket and take it with me all around the world."

USA wound up losing in the semi-final to Jersey in that tournament, in a match played elsewhere on the island, causing Shuja to lament that the match wasn't scheduled at Farmers. Upon returning to the ground for the third-place match, against Nepal, he took another five-wicket haul.

To Shuja, an important aspect of Farmers is of the Perchard family's association with the facility. Apart from Jim and Charles, oldest son James Jr is the Farmers CC fixtures secretary and first XI captain, Jim's wife Susan is Farmers CC treasurer and sometimes tea lady, along with daughter Holly. "The history and the homey feel of the club made it special," Shuja says. "Cricket is truly a way of life for the Perchard family and Farmers cricket community.

"It rained a lot during our tour, so the fields required a lot of work. I remember seeing Jim in his hat working diligently and tirelessly to get the field ready for the Mozambique game. Then someone told me that he is also one of Jersey's senators, which took me by surprise."

Indeed, Perchard served one six-year term in Jersey's government after winning an election bid to serve as a senator in 2005. But six years later he decided not to run for a second term, announcing he wanted to pursue personal and business interests.

Perchard's children have all pursued professional opportunities outside of the world of agriculture, which makes them the first generation of Perchards who won't be continuing the centuries-old family tradition of farming. This contributed to the family patriarch's decision to lease his remaining potato cropland out to other farmers, generating an income that allows him to spend the majority of his time maintaining Farmers Field.

Perchard says his background in farming gave him the best training possible for creating a cricket field. "I spent a lifetime in agriculture, so I'm used to using machines, tilling soil. We had a herd of cows, so we were good at growing grass. I knew soil and water. I'd spent my lifetime with it.

"I'd also spent a lifetime loving cricket and just watching carefully what the groundspeople do and what a good wicket is: a dry wicket, a grassy wicket, a wicket that has been hammered and been cut too close. So I've learnt my skills, but I've sort of got my own brand of cricket strip up here and it's popular at the moment, so I've been very careful not to change too much."

"The loam I use up here is a heavy clay loam, 35% clay, imported from the UK, only responds if I water it. I need to water it and then bake it, and between those two find the optimum time to get the roller on. If you can imagine pastry or Play-Doh, it's nice and pliable when it's just moist. If it's too wet, it's sloppy. If it's too dry, it crumbles. It's actually not very different to what I'm doing there.

"Timing is critical, and understanding weather forecasts. As a farmer, I used to have to make sure I understood the weather. What can happen in one day sometimes takes three days if the weather is not quite the same."

Perchard says the biggest point of pride for him is seeing the number of Jersey national team players who have developed by virtue of being a part of Farmers CC in the era of Farmers Field. Of the recent national squad, five players - Charles Perchard, Ben Stevens, Ben Kynman, Rhys Palmer and Harrison Carlyon - are members of Farmers CC who get to play on a weekly basis at the facility.

"They may never have made the Jersey team, their passion for cricket may not even exist, had it not been for this club," Perchard says. "Throwing balls at those kids ten or 11 years ago, when they were just ten or 11 years old, it's incredibly satisfying to see them walk out in a Jersey jumper, knowing that I had a little bit to do with that.

"I remember saying once, 'They're all my sons.' I feel like that about even the lads that don't play at this club. They practise here. I know they like coming here, and I leave them messages on the changing room wall, 'Welcome home boys, get stuck in today.' It's great that they like playing here, they want to be here, and it makes you proud."

Despite its already impressive reputation, there's always room for improvement. Perchard says they try to add "a little bit" each year. A few years ago that meant a barbeque patio on one side of the pavilion to contribute to the social atmosphere for big matches. Another addition was a Lord's-style honours board inside the pavilion, marking centuries and five-wicket hauls taken at the ground.

Farmers hosted the annual Inter-Insular against Guernsey in 2014, as well as two other matches between the two sides at ICC tournaments in 2015 and 2016, all three of which resulted in wins for Jersey.

In 2017, floodlights were installed, and Jersey's inaugural T20 club match under lights was played between a Farmers CC XI and an all-island Jersey Royals XI.

It was another milestone for the ground at the intersection of La Rue du Hucquet and Rue de la Vignette in the Jersey parish of Saint Martin, about six kilometres north of the port capital of Saint Helier.

"I'm not quite sure what I envisaged when we started out other than playing some friendly games on our own cricket field," Perchard says. "There was no master plan, but as is often the case, when you become a bit compulsive-obsessive, you're always looking to improve what you've got, and I have become a bit compulsive-obsessive with this cricket ground. It takes over my summer, my family's summer, and I love it. It's the best place to be."