On Wednesday I made the trip down to Taunton to watch the 3rd day of the Championship match between Somerset and Middlesex. Despite Somerset having little riding on this end of season match, they had run through Middlesex’s top order the previous day to leave the visitors fighting for their Division 1 status. The scene was set for an intriguing day’s play.
As it turns out, Middlesex found some resolve and doggedly batted through the day to set up a draw and leave them in the box seat to escape the drop.
The cricket was inconsequential however, I hadn’t really come to watch the cricket (although Morgan and Rogers did bat with superb application and no little skill), I had come to say my goodbyes. There was no fanfare, no fuss and certainly no tears just a sad sense of a piece of history being lost. The ‘Old Pavilion’ was to be reduced to rubble immediately after the match to make way for new multi million pound media and spectator facilities.
Admittedly the plans for the new building do look hugely impressive and undeniably befitting of a ground with international ambitions. Spectators will be able to view the play in much more comfort and there will be media facilities to rival the best on the county circuit. Not to mention over a 1,000 new seats and a restaurant too. But will the charm of the ground be lost?
The demolishing of the Old Pavilion is the final part of Somerset’s mass reconstruction of the ground over best part of the last decade. The new additions of the Andy Caddick Pavilion, as well as the Somerset stand and retirement flats have actually been pretty well received and I think they have enhanced the ground no end. Taunton retains it’s small ground charm but is also capable of creating a raucous atmosphere when at capacity.
But there is something about the Old Pavilion that remains innately Somerset and innately County Cricket. My earliest memory of the building is as a child climbing the old stairs to be greeted by an officious steward who told me that I didn’t have the requisite membership to enjoy such a splendid view of proceedings. So it was that I spent a lot more of my time at the County Ground staring at the building rather than enjoying its benefits. Still, the Old Pavilion was, to me, a huge part of the fabric of the ground. It’s mostly wooden timber frame looking increasingly archaic, as the new stands popped up around it.
Fortunately, I was finally able to enjoy viewing the games from the Old Pavilion this season from the press box. I have enjoyed every moment of it. The view itself is second to none, perfectly elevated and right behind the bowler’s arm, the thin old windows allowing all the sounds of the game to flow inside. You feel as if you are actually stood at long on, it really is a beautifully intimate view of the game. The short straight boundaries at Taunton mean that you can be no more than 70 yards from the bat – which would be inside the playing area on most international ground!
At tea during the match, I took some time to amble onto the playing area and outfield. Not comment on the rapidly appearing footholds or to chat about next season’s prospects with the locals, but to get my final picture of the old building and a reminder of my childhood at the ground.
The Old Pavilion has been, or rather was, in place since 1881 and all manner of great players have passed through its doors. Players such as WG Grace, Jack Hobbs and Don Bradman all played with the famous wooden structure in the background. It is as much a part of cricketing history as it is a building.
It will certainly be a bittersweet moment when I arrive at Taunton for the first match of the 2015 season. My sadness at seeing a gaping hole and construction site where the once the historic pavilion stood will be lessened by the excitement of seeing the sensational new project coming together.
Very few people conjure up such emotion about buildings, but then county cricket followers are a funny bunch, tradition and history have a very prominent place. Many people at the ground on Wednesday were there for exactly the same reason as me – just to sit in the sun at Taunton one last time with the old building looking over proceedings. Perhaps if I’m still around in 50 years time, I’ll be able to tell people that I was lucky enough to enjoy the best view in world cricket.