Four Generations – Still Waiting
Today is opening day for all cricket fans. The earliest day in its history that the county championship has ever started and for true cricket fans this is the start of the competition that we treasure most.
The ECB with its focus groups and marketing budgets chose to ignore those of us who are devoted to this form of cricket, who follow every session of every day of the summer with its glorious dramatic changes in fortune, its slowly evolving shifts in momentum and the wonderful backdrop of an English summer that it is played against.
There are many county fans who will at this time of the season be making a case for their county deserving success and I am fine with that but I’d like to take a few moments of your time to make the case for my beloved Somerset in the hope that many neutrals will be swayed and many partisans will adopt us as their “second team” this year.
Somerset County Cricket Club was founded in 1875 and for the majority of the next 100 years weren’t (even I have to admit) very good. Now I am not claiming any credit (One DB Close is entitled to that) but fortunately for me shortly after my Dad took me to my first game at The County Ground in June 1970 Somerset’s fortunes started to improve.
The arrival of Viv Richards as a then unknown overseas signing shortly followed by Yeovil’s very own IT Botham and a crop of youngsters saw a team coalesce to win Somerset’s first ever trophy at Lords in 1979. A day that I shared with my Dad and that I will never forget.
Other one-day success followed, but Somerset in that glorious period in the late seventies and early eighties, were never able to achieve success in the County Championship and honestly never really threatened to finish any higher than third.
Some fallow years followed which the good folk of the county took in their stride in good grace, even when relegation to the second division happened in the mid 2000s but from a nadir of finishing rock bottom in 2006 things began to change for the better.
Success on the field, with promotion as division 2 winners, was allied to the development of an academy programme and an ambitious plan to improve the ground. Somerset returned to division one at the end of the 2007 season and have stayed there ever since, a record 11 consecutive seasons surpassing anything the richer “Test Match Ground” counties have achieved. In the period since 2009 Somerset have finished second in the championship four times usually agonisingly close to that elusive first ever title.
We are a county with a population of a shade over 550,000, dwarfed by the majority of our competitors but we regularly have among the largest attendances in the competition, lead the way in social media and live streaming and continue to provide a lot of young talent through into the county side and on to England recognition. Achievements which we are all hugely proud of.
In addition, Somerset have developed the Cooper Associates County Ground to a level where it is able to host three world cup games this year, without losing the fact that it is a cricket ground. The state-of the-art floodlights new for 2019 are further evidence of the club’s status and ambitions.
But still we wait. Loyal, devoted, often heartbroken, never cowed. We are Somerset and that means everything.
On a personal level this will be my 50th season of being an active Somerset supporter but the club has been in my blood from birth (I was born in a now long-gone nursing home a couple of hundred yards from the St James’ Street entrance).
This will be the fourth full season since my Dad passed away. He loyally supported Somerset in the fallow years of the late forties, fifties and sixties, indoctrinated me to his club in the seventies and, sometimes in a happily bemused way, looked on in wonder as the club became competitive.
He was the 80-year-old who phoned me in tears on the day in 2010 that Nottinghamshire pipped Somerset to the title by one point on the last evening of the season. He was the 85-year-old diagnosed with terminal cancer who said to me a couple of months before he passed away that he desperately desperately wanted me to see what he hadn’t seen, a Somerset Championship.
He passed on that desire to me and I feel that “responsibility” every day of my life. Since he passed away, I have felt his spirit burning inside me. I can’t even tell if I want it more for him than for myself all I know is that it stirs me like nothing else and each of the last four years the pride and passion in my club grows despite the near misses, perhaps even enhanced by them.
We are a friendly welcoming bunch by nature, often irked by the way we are seen as a backwater that can be ignored, a source of amusement and a county to be driven through on the way to a summer holiday in the south west. But make no mistake we have as much passion for our county as Yorkshiremen or Lancastrians and crucially unlike them, our County Cricket Club is our sporting focus with no top flight football to divert passions and dilute loyalty.
Somerset is a cricket county. It’s as simple as that. The County Ground in Taunton is our spiritual home and our players are part of our extended family. Tom Abell and his side understand that and embrace it in a way that symbiotically fuels the passion and desire to succeed.
I think about the moment when I am sitting next to “Dad’s seat” in front of the Ondaatje Pavilion watching the run being scored or the wicket taken that secures our first title. Whether it comes this year, or next or several years hence I promised Dad I will be there. If it doesn’t come this year or next, I like my compatriots will continue to poor our support and devotion into our team, unstinting, devoted, long suffering.
That’s me, that’s us, that’s Somerset people for you.