I think I can say with some certainty that this has been the first flaming June that I would have preferred to have spent in Poland or Ukraine rather than in England. Perhaps the weather has finally broken my spirit, though – as I explained in a recent post – the concentration of T20 in the fairest month of the year makes it a waste land for the non T20 fan, whatever the weather. Or maybe, as I suggested in another recent post, I’ve simply overdosed on mediocre cricket.
Perhaps, though, all I need is a change of scene. Much as I love Grace Road, there is a limit to the number of days anyone could spend there eating pie and chips in the rain without hankering after the glamour of Lviv or Donetsk.
So, I’ve arranged myself an itinerary for July that (weather permitting – which I don’t expect it to) should take me to Radlett, Edgbaston and Chesterfield (two grounds new to me and one old favourite). But I thought I’d ease myself back into the world of cricket with a visit to a ground that I’ve often glimpsed from the bus to Northampton but never visited – Brixworth’s Dallas Burston Ground.
Brixworth is a large village that’s teetering uncertainly on the brink of becoming a small town (welcome to Northamptonshire – let yourself grow!) and there’s something about it that suggests it isn’t very happy in its skin, being very self-consciously A Village but looking increasingly to the outsider like suburbia. There’s something obscurely odd about the cricket ground as well.
The first match at the Dallas Burston Ground was played in 2005. Where they played before that I don’t know (I imagine it was a smaller, more rustic affair nearer the centre of the village). The new ground is on the outskirts, overlooking the Pitsford Reservoir (though you can only glimpse this from the ground) and was hewn out of farmland, which involved levelling a 20 foot slope. You can still see the evidence of this at the ground (evidence, too, of why true Northamptonshire buildings have that characteristic reddish hue)
As at most new cricket grounds, the playing area at Brixworth is – to the naked eye – a perfect circle and perfectly flat. I think this contributes to the sense of there not being something quite right about it. Longer established grounds have generally accommodated themselves to the existing landscape, respecting and making a virtue of its peculiarities of contour. This feels artificial, imposed, almost Roman.
There is clearly some money around somewhere too. There were posters everywhere for a visit by the Lashings XI. In recent years they have attracted some publicity by signing Darren Gough and Devon Malcolm (who, I was informed by @LordBonkers when I met him on the bus back home, is now the President of the Club). Malcolm did make an appearance at this game, watching from his vehicle parked at the top of the hill.
Dallas Burston himself (he is advertised around the ground) appears to be a former Northamptonshire GP who now runs some kind of healthcare and property development empire from the Old Rectory in Arthingworth. He also seems to be involved with polo. This all sounds like what my Grandfather would have called a bit of rum do, but there you are.
The pavilion is a kind of barn conversion (very popular in this part of the world) –
divided down the middle by a wooden partition and with – possibly – a firm of chartered accountants tenanted in a kind of gallery. It was quite grand, and I can imagine it being hired out very successfully for weddings and other exercises in corporate hospitality (if you want a corporate table for the Lashings game it will set you back £650.00) but it didn’t feel much like a cricket pavilion to me.
The real oddity of the ground, though, is the mock castle-cum-fort that overlooks the pitch.
All’s that left of this – or perhaps all there ever was – are the walls, with the interior being gradually reclaimed by scrubland. I suppose this might have been erected to give the ground the feel of Galle in Sri Lanka, but I suspect it is evidence of some kind of failed crypto-Disneyland. It offers some interesting views of the pitch
but also contributes to the feeling that this is a somehow a place of facades.
The game itself was between Brixworth and Finedon Dolben in the First (Premier?) Division of the Northamptonshire League. I ought to take more interest in this league. My father played in it for Kettering in the ’50s and for Rushden in the ’70s and ’80s and my mother’s father for Kettering when they were top dogs between the wars. Even I once had a net at Rushden.
If you felt so inclined, you could attempt some kind of social history of the county by looking at the teams who have dominated Northamptonshire cricket – Kettering in the ’20s (when they were strong enough to beat a Northants XI containing most of their first XI), British Timken in the ’50s (when Freddie Brown worked there as a ‘Welfare Officer’) and in recent years Finedon Dolben (who have won it in 10 out of the last 13 seasons). I don’t think I’ve ever been to Finedon, but – like Brixworth – it is a large, quite affluent, village resisting being swallowed up by the expansion of its larger, less toney neighbour, Wellingborough. I imagine a lot of its residents drive 4x4s.
It was a bit hard to see, on this showing, quite why they’ve been so successful, and I suspect the general standard of the league is lower than that of the Leicestershire ‘Everards’ League. I certainly wouldn’t back Finedon against Loughborough, Harborough or Kibworth.
There didn’t seem to be much mingling between the two sets of supporters (and there were quite a few on both sides) – the Brixworth men sat in front of the pavilion, the Finedon contingent camped up on a grassy bank. I suppose this ornery suspicion of outsiders and near neighbours, at least, did give the occasion an authentic whiff of the old Northamptonshire.
If the ground made me feel uneasy, I seemed to have the same effect on it. Seeing a scruffy looking man they didn’t recognise nosing round their pavilion and taking photographs, someone asked me – perfectly reasonably and politely – who I was and what I was doing there. Presumably they suspected that I was a would-be burglar casing the joint.
Still, on to ‘fresh woods and pastures new’. In Radlett, possibly (and possibly armed with a new camera, as this one seems to be suffering spots before the eyes).