With having lost the use of Bramall Lane after well over 100 years of cricket at the venue the search was on to find a new ground that could do its job in being able to retain county cricket in Sheffield. Paul Dyson takes up the story.
The obvious course of action for Yorkshire CCC to follow after their final 1973 game at Bramall Lane would have been to go where Sheffield United CC had led. This was to Bawtry Road Recreation Ground to the north of the city and the early 1970s saw some effort put into raising enough funds to turn the venue into one suitable for the staging of first-class cricket. Unfortunately, not nearly enough was raised and so the county authorities turned to Sheffield’s other major cricket club.
Sheffield Collegiate had been formed in 1881 by the former pupils of Collegiate School and originally were one of the six cricket clubs who shared the facilities at Bramall Lane. However, SUCC formed its own exclusive cricket section in 1892 and so SCCC moved to a ground on Bawtry Lane where Tinsley CC played for many years. However, the formation of Sheffield Amateur Sports Club presented a further opportunity and so Collegiate joined forces with it and moved to the suburb of Handsworth, in the south-east part of the city, in 1911.
A bigger opportunity came the way of SASC in 1922 when it was able to acquire a 30-acre site at Abbeydale Park, a venue which could host the main sports under its umbrella and Collegiate duly went along. The contrast with SUCC’s home at Bramall Lane could not have been greater. Situated in the leafy village (then, suburb now) of Dore the ground had more in keeping with Tunbridge Wells than the venue at Bramall Lane where Yorkshire continued to play.
It was, therefore, not long before its use as a county ground was suggested and discussions gathered momentum in the 1930s. Unfortunately, the Second World War got in the way of the plans but in the first season following the cessation of hostilities, the opportunity was taken. But it was Derbyshire who first hosted first-class cricket there, not Yorkshire. They entertained Sussex in 1946 and Kent a year later. The ‘home’ team won the first game and drew the second but, for reasons which remain unclear, the arrangement was not repeated. Yorkshire stuck with Bramall Lane as its southern venue and it seemed that Abbeydale Park’s ambition to remain a regular first-class ground was thwarted.
(Dore was originally in Derbyshire but became part of Sheffield in 1933 and two years later an Act of Parliament decreed that all those areas within the city’s boundary which were formerly in Derbyshire should be transferred into Yorkshire.)
However, 27 years later, Abbeydale Park received another chance. The choice of the ground was not meant to be permanent, initially, partly because SASC would not allow Yorkshire to use the ground over a weekend. Despite this, two County Championship matches were scheduled for 1974 and that number continued until 1992, inclusive. The competition’s number of matches were reduced at that point, Durham having become the 18th county, and so the ground hosted just one such match in each season until its status was lost.
Within the first decade of Yorkshire’s use of the ground it became obvious that a better venue in the south of the county would not be found. SASC also saw the hosting of county cricket as being to its advantage and so rescinded its no-weekends rule. This meant that matches in the Sunday League could be incorporated into the scheduling and so from 1985 until Yorkshire’s abandonment, with the exception of 1994, there was one List A match in every season.
During this period all seemed rosy, especially as attendances were holding up well in comparison with other out-grounds in the county. The knife came out after 1996, though, and Abbeydale Park, along with Bradford, Harrogate and Middlesbrough, was summarily deleted from Yorkshire’s fixtures. The reasoning was logical; with fewer matches to share out it made economic sense to put all the county’s eggs in the Headingley basket as well as continue to use the ever-popular Scarborough.
Sheffield Collegiate is one of the most successful and highest-profile clubs in the country. It shot to fame when one of its products – Michael Vaughan – first played for England and even more so when he assumed the captaincy. Now Joe Root, with the same background, finds himself in the same position. What a duo for one club to have nurtured. SCCC now runs seven men’s teams, 12 junior sides and a rapidly developing women’s and girls’ section.
It has passed into legend how a young Vaughan was playing on the outfield during the lunch interval of a county match and how, with his elegant style, correct technique and high left elbow, he impressed the watching Doug Padgett, Yorkshire’s coach. On enquiring whether he was attending the county nets and the answer came in the negative, the youngster was immediately promoted.
Abbeydale Park has a lovely openness about it. There are three main buildings – the clubhouse and pavilion, the Michael Vaughan Academy and the scoreboard. When county matches were played, as with many other out-grounds in England, tents were positioned around the perimeter of the playing area and these added to the feeling of being more in a countryside setting rather than the edge of a big city. Long may it continue with its production line in its attractive setting.
Main sources: Steven Draper Cricket Grounds of Yorkshire
Photographs Courtesy of Mick Pope.