Back At The CACG

Mike Unwin writes movingly about how it felt for him to be back at the County Ground after twenty months.

Mike Unwin

Mike moved to Montacute (4.5 miles from Yeovil) in 1952, he started watching Somerset in 1956 and has been a supporter ever since. In retirement, when not at the County Ground or Taunton Vale watching the Somerset Second XI, he can be found, volunteering at the Ilminster Arts supporting the Stock and Sales system or in the Somerset Cricket Museum cataloguing the collection items and putting them online, on the museum’s website

I was lucky enough to be at the Cooper Associates County Ground for the last game of the 2019 season. Memories of Tom Abell’s scored 45, Roelof van der Merwe 60 and, on that pulsating final day, Jack Leach’s 5 wickets  fleetingly giving Somerset an outside chance of beating both Essex and the weather and as a consequence clinching the first-ever Championship for my county. 

A bittersweet day in so many ways. Not just the site of Essex lifting the trophy on our hallowed turf but a day that belonged in so many ways to Marcus Trescothick. Yes, I was there when Marcus joined the slip cordon for the final overs with it seemed, every Somerset fielder clustered around the bat and I was there when Tom Abell realised it was to no avail and offered Essex the draw. I stood there, drained of emotion, politely clapping at the champions 616 long days ago.

As I slowly left the County Ground that evening I said to the gentleman in the ticket office ‘See you next Year’ to which he replied ‘Winter Well’. Prophetic? Such memories, such poignant moments.

I was in Boots in Taunton early in 2020. A lady spotted me SCCC gilet and said to me, “we will soon be back” little did she or I know that soon would transpire to be 20 long months.

During that period I have been sustained by the loyal Somerset YouTube Live Stream Chat Supporters, who have been great company during the 2020 and 2021 seasons some of whom, like me, are back in the CACG today for the first time since September 2019. You know who you are, too numerous to mention but thank you.

I have visited the ground in that period several times; for a coffee and delicious carrot cake in Stragglers (before the financial drawbridge was raised); to go to the SCS Shop to buy a 2021 WPA replica shirt, and to visit the SCCC Museum to meet with David, the Curator. 

On each occasion taking time to quietly sit in the empty open section of the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion I have reflected on what I was missing, thought back to the many wonderful memories and forward  with thoughts of a packed ground once again.

Today was, finally that day.

The club was faced with the gargantuan task of the ticket ballot process to go on top of meeting all the regulations currently in place to allow us to return, ticket ballot emails arrived, applications were completed and returned, and then my ticket allocation email arrived. Tickets for the first two days play – such elation, such a feeling of anticipation. A huge thank you to all concerned.

I have in my mind an image of folk travelling yesterday morning from all parts of the West Country to the County Ground. I mused at a similar mass movement to join King Alfred, after his long exile on the Somerset Levels, prior to the Battle of Edington in 878. That day our opponents were the Vikings not Hampshire! The faithful of Somerset were roused again, finally to the loveliest county cricket ground in England.

Match day routine reinstated. (1) sandwiches bought, (2) a parking space in the Canon Street Car Park secured,  (3) allocated seat in the Marcus Trescothick Pavilion located and (4) scorecard obtained. Such simple pleasures, what a day to be alive, just like going to seaside as a child for the first time in the summer. And a nice welcome to the ground from Gordon Hollins and some of the execs in the St James Street car park didn’t go amiss either.

Words echoed around the stand ‘I can hardly believe it!’, ‘ Great to be back’, ‘It’s been a long time!’, ‘It’s nice to be here again’. There’s a palpable buzz around the ground again as the players warm up. Josh Davey, Lewis Gregory, Jack Brooks and Marchand de Lange are in front of me after the traditional game of football, the anticipation of play starting rising amongst the assembled members.

10:30 – Tom Abell and James Vince shake hands – Hampshire win the toss and elect to have a bowl first.

I hate to say this but normal service resumed quickly – Byrom gone for 0,  Tom comes in amid loud applause responsibility once again heavy and early on his shoulders but can only score 8 before edging to Dawson in the slips off Barker (20/2), next James Hildreth is caught behind off Barker (26/3) and it gets worse with Bartlett LBW off Barker for a duck (26/4) – the crowd have gone quiet, a bit sombre now. Goldsworthy goes too before twitter tells me that Ian Shepard, host of The Somerset Podcast, is planning on fish and chips for lunch – we all need some nourishment already!

But now there is something perceptible in the crowd, the atmosphere was changing and a counter attack was underway. Banton was the first to change the innings’ gear either side of lunch but was bowled for 43 just when he was looking set to do something significant. Davies, a stout yeoman who would have fought the Vikings to the last is caught behind for 47 (113/7) after almost three hours of toil in trying conditions.  Both the wicketkeeper batsmen leave the arena to warm applause from the appreciative crowd.

As the afternoon session progresses the Somerset crowd really warms up as does the eighth wicket partnership. With 30 minutes to the tea interval the sunshine and the fifty partnership  (all aided perhaps by the effects of a post lunch Thatchers Gold or two) brings a real sense of the swing of fortune in  the match  around the ground, 78/5 at lunch had become 232/7 at the tea break. 155 -2 in that session in those circumstances is outstanding and the knowledgeable Taunton crowd recognise the fact.

If the events of the afternoon session were outstanding those of the evening were beyond words. The Lewis Gregory / Roelof van der Merwe partnership continuing adding 171 runs before RvdM was run out from a sharp piece of fielding by Brad Wheal a dozen short of a deserved hundred. The standing ovation he received leaving the square was a sight to behold.

If the reception for Roelof was amazing you had to be there to witness the admiration for Lewis Gregory when he reached his century off 135 deliveries. It was a privilege to be there and see it first hand.

Lewis Gregory and Josh Davey took another 54 runs off the tiring Hampshire attack before Kyle Abbott claimed his only wicket of the day bowling Gregory for 107. The applause could probably be heard in Southampton as he left centre stage. A day, despite that wicket that Kyle Abbott (1-132) will want to forget. A little of the heartbreak he has dealt us repaid?

To add insult to injury (as the saying goes) a rapid burst of boundaries Josh Davey (22 not out) and Marchant de Lange (17) with 2 towering sixes took Somerset to 360 and 4 batting bonus points.

Regrettably bad light curtailed the day and Somerset were left ruing what might have happened it they had been allowed to bowl at the Hampshire top order in the 10 overs left in the day.

Somerset took the day’s honours although the BBC Solent commentator Kevan James believes it is 50:50 but recognition must also be given to Keith Barker, his morning spell of 4-4 and final figures of 24-5-72-6 were outstanding. The fact the crowd was generous in acknowledgement of that spell despite the travails of the morning for the side says it all really.

What a privilege to be there on the first day back after 615 days – a day that showed the fighting spirit of the Somerset team. For this one of the 2,000 members lucky enough to be there the memories will last for a long long time.

If you would like to share your thoughts on being back at the County Ground there is a dedicated page on the discussion forum here. Please do so, this is a (hopefully) once in a lifetime event in the history of Somerset County Cricket Club and deserves preserving for posterity.