The Greatest Day

I make no apology for reposting this only 6 weeks after I first wrote and published it. 42 years ago today Somerset County Cricket Club won their first every trophy and my Dad and I were lucky to be there.

Gillette Cup Final, Lords, Saturday 8th September 1979, Somerset 269-8 (Richards 117, Rose 41) beat Northamptonshire 224 all out 56.3 overs (Garner 6-28) by 45 runs.

I defy anyone to put into words what this day means to me. I’ve tried and failed so many times. All I can say some 42 years later is that I was so incredibly lucky to be there and to have shared the journey to the final with my Dad. 

To get a full understanding of what this win meant to every somerset supporter back in 1979 here is a little context. Everyone knows that Somerset County Cricket Club had never won a trophy. It had flirted with silverware but until 1978 had not got within touching distance if any silverware apart from the 1967 Gillette Cup Final. All that changed in 1978 when in that same weekend in September we reached the Lord’s final only to be beaten by a Sussex side who performed far better on the day. All was not lost however as the following day we just had to win our final Sunday League game and that title would be ours. We didn’t.

The winter of 1978/79 was spent by many of us wondering if we were destined to support a team that would never win anything. But as ever in Somerset hope sprang eternal as Winter turned to Spring. We had the same squad as last year, more experienced and, if it was possible more determined to pick up a trophy.

The Gillette Cup at that time was a big thing. It was the FA Cup of cricket building through a straight knockout phase which began in mid-season with a draw which included a bunch of minor counties to the showpiece in St John’s Wood on the Saturday of the last weekend of the season. The game was covered live on BBC1 from start to finish.

There was though the early season Benson and Hedges Cup to attack first. Somerset began the regional group phase as one of the favourites and were already through to the quarter-finals before the final group game at Worcester. Somerset, for whatever reason declared after 1 ball of their innings reasoning that preservation of run rate was paramount and were summarily thrown out of the competition. So by the time the Gillette Cup started Brian Rose’s side had something to prove and a bunch of monkeys to get off our collective backs. 

A routine win over Derbyshire at Taunton in the second round was followed by a pulsating win at Taunton against Kent in the quarter-final in early August. The draw took us to Lord’s for the semi-final, Peter Denning anchored the Somerset innings with an unbeaten 90 in a 7 wicket win with 10 overs to spare. Middlesex had been restricted to a paltry 185 with Joel Garner (4-24) and Graham Burgess (3-25) in their vastly different ways excelling. 

Burgess, one of the unsung heroes of this side had guided Somerset to just 180 in the home quarter final with Kent with a crucial 60 after Somerset had collapsed to 45-4. The value of Burgess’ innings was emphasised when Kent, with Garner and Botham 5-11 and 3-15 respectively both bowling terrifyingly quickly to decimate Kent for 60. The atmosphere at the County Ground that day was something a 17 year-old me had never experienced and still gives me chills today. 

Somerset had played Northamptonshire twice in 1979 winning by 10 wickets in the County Championship in early May, Vic Marks 6-36 in the second innings and by 7 wickets in the Sunday League in mid-July. Reasons for encouragement if not over-confidence as this was a strong Northants side with as good an opening pair as any county in Geoff Cook and Wayne Larkins, England regulars Alan Lamb and Peter Willey and Pakistan pace bowler Sarfraz Nawaz.

We set off from Taunton via one of the special trains the club had laid on to Paddington. Arriving in the capital on a beautiful crisp but sunny early autumn morning we set to walk to the ground as we had the previous year, feeling the atmosphere building as we got closer to the ground. 

Two things stick in my mind from that walk. The first was in one of the underpasses heading up the Marylebone Road, we came down the steps and headed for our exit, it was all a bit bemusing for a 17 year old but Dad had been to London for work on many occasions and knew this area well. He knew where we were going and I duly followed. It wasn’t so easy for a group of West Country fans who were standing in the very middle of subterranean area pondering which was the correct exit. As is often the way in such situations someone emerges with the confidence to lead the group and the rest, no doubt relieved for the assistance, set off in tow. Sadly their confidence was misplaced and we watched with a mixture of amusement and concern as they headed for the south east exit away from Lord’s.

The second came at the traffic lights on the corner of St John’s Wood Road. A West Indian bus driver saw us (we were unmistakably Somerset supporters) and opened the window at to his cab to shot his love for Viv, Joel and by extension Somerset. We arrived at Lord’s smiling at both incidents and grateful for a couple of distraction to ease the nerves we both felt.

The toss was seen as crucial in the Gillette Cup Final, the early start and September conditions often favouring the side batting second so when Brian Rose lost the toss those nerves tightened inside the stomach. The reassuring sight of the two blond left-handers Rose and Denning marching out to open the innings brought back a memory for me from the opposite end of the season. I’d been lucky enough to open the bowling for Taunton Deane in a game in early April where Brian and Peter opened the batting. I remember I didn’t disgrace myself and I think picked up four wickets (neither of my heroes were among those 4) but their understanding and running between wickets was something I had never experienced before.

So as the Somerset innings got underway the two of them settled into their easy understanding. Rose, as was usual to play the anchor role, “Dasher” Denning the more aggressive but his innings came to an end with the score on 34 for 19 off just 21 balls.

Enter King Viv. The great mana said later that he steeled himself to bat through the innings, for his team and eschew any flamboyance for the good of Somerset. So determined was he to help lift that first trophy that his usual imposing presence when he walked to the wicket seemed even more magnified. These were the occasions he was born for and I was lucky enough to be there. He and Rose took the score to 95 before the skipper departed, Roebuck, so often the foil to Richards struggled for 14 off 52 balls and Botham breezed to 27 off just 17 deliveries but when he was dismissed with the score on 213-5 Richards remained in his bubble playing what David Foot called a “controlled gem” of an innings. He was last out in the final over for 117 but had been added in a crucial eighth wicket partnership by Garner (24 off 26) which added 49. 

A score of 260 in 60 overs represented, at that time, probably just above par but by no means a definite winning score. Northants had the better conditions to bowl in but Somerset had Joel Garner. He reduced the reply to 13-2 almost straight away and with Botham unusually miserly (10-3-27-0) they choked off the Northants innings at the start.

Back in 1979 one day cricket still had two intervals, the traditional lunch and tea breaks. You therefore had usually around 35 of the side batting first’s 60 overs pre-lunch and, if I recall correctly, around 15 overs of the second innings before tea. Seems bonkers looking back at it but that was the norm.

Either side of tea Alan Lamb and Geoff Cook set about the considerable task of rebuilding the innings and slowly added 113 as the unheralded back up seamers, Milverton’s Keith Jennings leading the way with 0-29 off his 12 (the maximum any one bowler could bowl in this format) kept the pressure on. But there was a growing sense of unease among the Somerset faithful as the third wicket partnership grew. They were always behind Somerset at the same stage but never out of touch and, as true then as it is now, had that precious currency of wickets in hand.   

Vic Marks who was developing into one of the best one-day bowlers of the time had an off day and was only used for 4 overs meaning that Viv Richards had to bowl 9 overs that was well beyond his norm in this competition.

But Somerset had Garner and after Cook was run out and Richards dismissed Lamb for 78 thanks to a typically unfussy but beautiful stumping by Derek Taylor Northants required another 131 a target that they were never going to reach especially after Garner removed Willey, and Sharp in quick succession.

In very untypically Somerset fashion we could relax, enjoy the occasion and contemplate. For me, a relative newbie in just my tenth season of supporting Somerset it was pretty special but I could sense from the unusual silence from my Dad that this was almost too much for him I recall that he would not anticipate the win, fearing something incredible would happen to dash our hopes, a sentiment that all his years of memories of Gimblett, Wellard, Tremlett et al only added to.

But we were in control now and, almost as a act of mercy Garner and Botham were brought back to end Northants agony. With captain Jim Watts unable to bat due to a broken thumb Garner wrapped thins up with two wickets in three balls and three and a half overs left. The 49 runs he had added with Richards being almost exactly the winning margin. I’ve added a link to the full scorecard here for those of you who might be interested.

I wanted it to be all over but I didn’t want it to end wishing this moment of history for Somerset cricket would last for ever. We stood on the outfield in front of that old pavilion as Brian Rose lifted the trophy but I can barely remember it due I think to the overwhelming emotions I felt not just for myself but for Dad. 

I certainly don’t recall any of the journey home but, in case you were wondering, this 17 year old did not have an alcoholic drink of any kind and neither did his father. It was without doubt an occasion and achievement which took time to sink in. 

And of course, in a complete reverse of the previous year Somerset went up to Trent Bridge the next day, beat Notts and unexpectedly clinched the Sunday League title as well. No trophies for 100 years and then 2 in 2 days. Typical Somerset.

Somerset picked up £5,500 for winning their first trophy. Viv Richards was rightly named man of the match, Brian Rose and Joel Garner were named Wisden cricketers of the year, Viv and Joel had won the World Cup on the same ground earlier in the season but none of those come close to what I felt having shared that day with Somerset’s wonderful travelling support and the most important person in my cricketing life.

And, to this day, Viv Richards and Joel Garner stand at the very top of my tree of favourite players for what they achieved in the second half of the 1979 season.