Andrew Gallon reflects on his journeys across Yorkshire club cricket as an avid ‘groundhopper.’
From the best views, finest cricket teas and strangest geography, dozens of clubs feature in his round-up:
The arcane practice of groundhopping – watching matches at as many different grounds as possible – is fairly well known in football. There are magazines devoted to the hobby.
In far smaller numbers, groundhoppers (or ‘travellers’) exist in several other sports, such as horse racing, ice hockey, rugby league, rugby union and speedway.
There are even a few club cricket groundhoppers. Generally, enthusiasts start out with the first-class grounds then get stuck into league cricket, initially in the vicinity of their home base before looking progressively further afield.
One Lichfield-based groundhopper of my acquaintance aims to see a game at every ECB Premier League ground.
Given the turnover of clubs – two up, two down every season – that’s quite an ambition. He’s watched cricket on more than 900 grounds.
The two most recent occasions I bumped into him were in Yorkshire, at New Farnley and Woodhouse Grange (his 900th!).
Having ‘ticked’ for decades football, rugby league, rugby union and speedway stadia, I came to cricket groundhopping fairly recently, 2015. For reasons I won’t go into here, I fell out with cricket as a teenager.
A fellow groundhopper, from Scunthorpe, rekindled my interest. He recommended starting with the Bradford League. At the time of writing, I have 12 of the league’s present 48 member clubs to ‘do’.
Within a few weeks, I was spreading out into the Halifax and Huddersfield leagues, which cover the area in which I spent most of my childhood.
Things have now got so out of hand, we (my wife, a former schoolgirl scorer, usually joins me) watch cricket in 15 leagues.
Most are in Yorkshire but I’ve developed soft spots for the Great Manchester, Lancashire and Northern Premier leagues.
I guess it won’t be long before the pull of the Cheshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire ECB Premier leagues proves irresistible.
Most football people know what a groundhopper is. They may doubt your sanity but at least they’ve heard of the hobby.
Not so in league cricket, I’ve found, where the concept of the non-partisan travelling spectator appears almost completely alien.
I doubt I’ve driven more than 90 minutes to watch a cricket match but admitting to any journey longer than 45 is generally met with incredulity.
The most recent example was at Houghton Main, whom I saw hammer 10-man Crossflatts in The Cricketer Magazine’s 2020 National Village Cup first round.
I got talking to an old-timer on the boundary (the friendliness of cricket people is a constant delight).
He assumed (as all home supporters tend to) we’d travelled from Airedale, and was astonished to discover we’d come down from York, to watch a match in which we had no emotional investment.
So, what makes a good cricket ground? Well, I do like a traditional pavilion. The older, the better.
Think, in Yorkshire, Bradford & Bingley, Castleford, Honley, Friarmere (whose groundsman insisted Saddleworth is very much Yorkshire), Lightcliffe and Saltaire.
Being able to ‘take tea’ in a traditional pavilion is even better. Take a bow,
Lightcliffe! For quality of food, I’d single out Bowling Old Lane. Asian cuisine at its finest.
A scenic setting or backdrop is equally desirable. This, unfortunately, is where many cricket grounds in the pancake-flat Vale of York fall down.
Often, there’s the pitch, the players, the sky – and very little else. At least at Sessay, the White Horse of Kilburn is visible.
Leagues in the hillier districts of Yorkshire boast numerous grounds either in glorious locations or offering fine views.
Particular favourites include Bolton Abbey, Delph & Dobcross, East Bierley, Londesborough Park, Ossett, Scholes (Huddersfield League), Settle, Thornton, Todmorden, Triangle and Whitley Hall.
I love grounds with a strong sense of place. Things like the railway viaduct at Copley, the Chevin above Otley, the view of the castle at Richmondshire (above) or the cooling towers of Ferrybridge power station at Townville.
I must get around to watching Ferrybridge Power Station, of the Pontefract League. Their ground is right next to those cooling towers.
Anything quirky is a bonus. The Retreat (York) is in the grounds of a mental health hospital. You can read Cricket Yorkshire’s feature on a T20 match.
Hoylandswaine and Idle (defunct, sadly) have the strangest pitches.
At the former, the wicket is about the only level bit. Parts of the latter are reminiscent of a ski jump. Mirfield Parish Cavaliers’ ground is tiny, affording the spectator a superb close-up view of the wicket.
A peculiar little hill, rising steeply from the eastern boundary, dominates at Rastrick. Thorp Arch & Boston Spa, accessed via a gate to the rear of a pub car park, is hemmed in by back gardens.
Clearly, the club’s neighbours are accustomed to fielders asking for the ball back.
You can’t beat cricket enclosures that are tucked away, hard to find and havens of peace and tranquillity.
Hopton Mills, reached through the yard of a former mill, is a beauty. You’d
never imagine Crossbank Methodists, fringed with poplars, was so close to workaday Batley.
Something commonplace (though not unique) in Yorkshire is the side-by side layout of cricket and rugby (both codes)/football grounds.
As a boy, I was familiar with this at Bradford (Park Avenue), Halifax (Thrum Hall) and Huddersfield (Fartown).
I’ve since discovered similar arrangements at Batley, Bradford & Bingley, Brighouse, Carlton, Copmanthorpe, Dringhouses, Heworth, Houghton Main, Middlesbrough, Morley, Pickering, Treeton (above) and York. Mirfield and Shelf even manage side-by-side cricket clubs!
One final desirable element is shade, preferably in the south or west. A dislike of spit-roasting in sun for several hours puts me in a minority. But, please, plant some trees!
Most cricket grounds, their pitches and other facilities, are maintained immaculately.
They’re a tribute to the dedicated volunteers who work long and hard to keep them in such great shape. I hope players appreciate the graft.
Two particularly tidy grounds I’d single out are Driffield Town (whom I believe employ a full-time groundsman) and Walton Park.
Where to next? That, of course, is always the question. Part of the fun, each midweek, is going through the league tables and fixtures to spot a potentially exciting Saturday or Sunday match at a new venue.
Not that I neglect midweek cricket. I do enjoy a bit of Foss Evening League action.
The 2020 season might be shorter than expected but there’s still time and opportunity, between now and the end of September, to garner a few more ‘ticks’.
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John Taylor says
Changing the subject of local cricket grounds currently in use and looked after, I’ve been informed that Netherton cricket ground, Nr Horbury Bridge Wakefield is available for a new club to move in, If any group wishes to form a new club and use the ground following the demise of Netherton CC former members of the Pontefract and district cricket league.
Enquiries should be made to Sitlington parish council.
Thomas Wilson says
As a cricket lover and avid local league groundhopper myself, it is sad to see the current hiatus at Netherton CC.
I’m a resident in Horbury Bridge currently playing locally and have a genuine interest in occupying Netherton CC with a newly formed cricket club made up of like minded, aspiring cricketers. Do you have any specific email addresses or contact numbers for whom I could get in touch with to follow up on this or will the Sitlington Parish Council be able to deal with me directly ?
Any help would be appreciated,
I love this as a fellow groundhopper. I think I have done over 300 of the 770 plus grounds in Yofkshire. We should publish a ground directory of Yorkshire.
Andrew Gallon says
300+ is good going, Peter!
A ground directory sounds a splendid idea.
Out of interest, which are your favourite Yorkshire grounds?
Any you would particularly recommend?
Keith Hudson says
You must check out Bridgeholme CC Andrew.
Ask John for a reference.
We love visitors to our little ground.
Well worth a visit. ?
Andrew Gallon says
Thanks for that, Keith.
Bridgeholme CC has been on my ‘to do’ list for a couple of seasons now.
Good to see the ground looking so spick and span (judging by the pictures on the club’s Twitter account, @bridgeholme) after the most recent flooding.
A credit to all who put in so many hours restoring the facilities.
Rich Lumb says
Always welcome to come down to Ferrybridge.
Some of the cooling towers have come down now, due to the closure of the power station.
Still a few towering over is while we play though..
John Fuller says
Thanks Rich, I’ve been to Eggborough but not Ferrybridge yet. Enjoy the rest of the season.
Steve Jordan says
Great article Andrew, I make a point of looking out for grasshoppers at Sowerby Bridge CC and try my best to welcome them to the club offering a brief resume of our history, especially if we’re batting !! you’re absolutely right in acknowledging the amount of time, effort and finance that go into local cricket grounds, as well as hours of free coaching and junior management. It’s clear all those volunteers must get huge satisfaction in seeing their efforts rewarded and recognised so thank you and John for continuing to promote our grounds and our game.
Steve, it’s very good to hear Sowerby Bridge CC has such a positive attitude to groundhoppers (visitors generally, I daresay). Makes me regret even more not coming to see you last Saturday! At the 11th hour, I opted for Cawthorne, which proved to be a lovely ground but their game against Barnsley didn’t provide as close a contest as Sowerby Bridge-Bradshaw appeared to be. I have a note of Sowerby Bridge’s remaining 2020 home fixtures, and will endeavour to get to one of those.
On the subject of the Halifax League, not far from Sowerby Bridge, Booth is a cracking little ground I’ve been to and neglected to highlight in my piece.