With 145 days to Headingley staging the Investec Test Match later between England and Sri Lanka commencing on Friday June 20, this week we are looking at what it takes to stage a major match at our famous old venue.
There’s only five days remaining to take advantage of the Early Bird Discount and with tickets selling well for the first two days, particularly for day two (Saturday January 21) which is heading for a sell-out, cricket fans are being encouraged to buy now and save before the prices increase on Saturday February 1. Click here to book now
In the first of our series of interviews, we sat down with Operations Director David Ryder, Yorkshire’s unsung hero. Duly dedicating over 38 years of service in various roles for Yorkshire County Cricket Club, his experience of major match days are second to none, having worked approximately 214 days of international cricket at Headingley.
His current role as Operations Director has him overseeing everything from St John’s Ambulance to the bar queues, to the umpire’s lunches, and it’s not a role he takes lightly.
“We have to make sure the ground is safe at all times for everyone to carry on enjoying their day,” he said.
“It’s important that the things people might not necessarily notice are kept that way.”
But what does a Major Match Day involve in David’s eyes? Here’s a typical day in the life of the Operations Director at Headingley Cricket Ground, when England come to town.
Pre – Gate Opening
I usually arrive at the ground around 6:45am and the first thing I do is turn the lights on! Usually I’m the first one in, apart from the security guys so my first job is to unlock all the rooms made available for the broadcasters, who arrive usually around 7am.
Around 7:30 we meet with the crowd safety manager and open the gates for any other vehicles, such as any late catering facilities or the garbage disposal teams. Most of these things will be done the night before, but there may be the occasional one that requires access in the morning. All vehicles (aside from catering and ambulances which must be stationary until required) must be off site by half an hour before the gates open, so we do monitor any vehicles on site closely.
About 7:45am it’s a chance to arrange for St John’s Ambulance, ambulances and the crowd doctor to be on site and ensure they’re briefed on the expected crowd numbers and other important information for the day. Then it’s time for the steward’s briefings and another chance to meet with the Crowd Safety Manager to ensure there are enough stewards to cover the expected attendance.
We’ll then start to ensure any vehicles on site are ready to leave ahead of the 30 minute before gate opening curfew and start to prepare for gates opening, which involves ensuring the turnstiles are set up correctly and the ticket systems are live as well as ensuring the stewards are aware of their positions and ready to go.
The final checks on the stadium ahead of gate opening times will go ahead around 8:45 am and the stewards will head to their positions. The gates will open and then the day begins!
Ahead of play
Ahead of play starting, we’ll be continuously monitoring car parking and entrance queues to ensure the smoothest entry possible for spectators. If queues look to be increasing, arrangements must be made to ensure the quickest and safest entry routes for all spectators and particularly the closer the time gets to the start of play. Everyone should be in the ground approximately 15 minutes before start of play, aside from people who are just arriving about that time.
Mostly consistent monitoring of queue times, both at the gates and the bars and monitoring of the steward reports on crowd behaviour. The facilities are also checked on regular occasions, to ensure the toilets, bars, catering facilities and other facilities are clean and in serviceable order. We co-ordinate all day with the Crowd Safety Manager to ensure any decisions are made with the crowd’s best interests in mind, particularly for occasions where the bars may be closed early or an ejection is required.
We also troubleshoot any problems for the broadcasters, media, sponsors, partners, hospitality guests… anything they need facilities wise we have to be on call for and there’ve been some interesting ones, ranging from the players televisions breaking to the central heating not working in the hospitality suites! You can be as prepared as you can but there’s always something that happens on the day. There’s also a lot of interaction between us and the ECB to make sure everything is running as well as they’d like it to, after all they manage the match and we’re just in charge of making sure the venue runs perfectly.
Immediately as play ends everything focuses on crowd management and ensuring the safe exit from the ground. Again, the stewards would be watching out for crowd behaviour and any potential problems as the crowd heads for the gates. And then the clean-up operation starts!
It can take up to about two and a half hours to clear the whole ground and afterwards we do a safety check on all facilities and make sure it’s clean and show ready for the next day. Everything needs to be in place ready for the morning and any problems throughout the day will need to be sorted out.
There’s also the debriefing of the stewards, St John’s Ambulance and the crowd doctor, as well as any de-rigging the broadcasters might need to do, depending on the day.
Once everyone is out of the buildings, approximately 11pm, it’s time to go home and prepare for the next day! It was a lot easier to do the long days when I was younger!
What’s the silliest fancy dress costume you’ve ever seen?
One that stands out is someone who dressed as a carrot. Which was slightly odd so that’s why it stands out I suppose! But my favourite has to be the pantomime cow, which was two people in one costume, and for a bit of mild amusement after the match they were allowed to “nibble” the outfield. It was a bit of fun!
What’s your fondest Test Match memory?
I’d have to have two. 1977, Geoffrey Boycott’s hundredth hundred was an incredible moment to be part of. And the other one is 1981, when an inspired Ian Botham helped beat the Australian’s against all odds. Quick bowler Bob Willis took eight wickets for 43 runs after they enforced the follow on and we actually ended up beating them despite all claims it was over. Great moment. Find the scorecard here
Who’s your biggest claim to fame?
Oh a few, there’s a few good stories to tell! But my favourite one has to be Darren Gough, I’ve known him since he was 16 and we’ve always got on well. I also met Ellery Hanley of Rugby League fame, Great Britain and Wigan Captain. I met him when he was at Leeds Rugby League and he’s always been a hero of mine.
There are often celebrities or famous people around the ground on match days and it’s part of our job to make sure they’re looked after and know where they’re going. It’s an honour to welcome them, especially when we receive somebody like a member of the Royal family!
Nothing will ever beat cricket at Headingley - it's what it's all about really, isn't it?
Finally, your favourite thing about a Test Match at Headingley?
The atmosphere. At Headingley it’s just unrivalled, especially when a player is close to reaching a milestone like Michael Vaughan and Joe Root’s hundreds.
It’s really special, especially when you’re in the office or around the ground and you can’t see the play happenings and suddenly you hear the huge roar of the crowds.
Nothing else really matters really, you can fix the toilets and the scoreboards and the seats as best you want to make it the best place in the world for facilities… but nothing beats the thrill of hearing the roar of the crowd and knowing something special has happened and I do think the crowds at Headingley are some of the best for that.
It’s very humbling and really makes you feel proud to be here and it’s one of the reasons I keep coming back even after 38 years. Nothing will ever beat cricket at Headingley – it’s what it’s all about really, isn’t it?
David Ryder, Operations Director of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
Don’t miss a moment of cricket at Headingley this summer. Tickets are available at the Early Bird Discounted rate until 31st January 2014. Click here to book.