Steelin' away' - Sean McPartlin

22 Jul
Sean McP
Well travelled Cricket Scotland Blogger Sean McPartlin looks back at some grounds which have struck a chord with him over the years. 

In the last month, I’ve visited three cricket grounds for the first time: Scarborough I have written about, Titwood which I fell in love with at first sight, and Aigburth in Liverpool, where my grandfather watched his cricket between the wars. 

I think  in cricket, it being a long form game, appreciating the ground is crucial  – and this set me thinking about some of the grounds I have played on. 

Undoubtedly, my last game as a player –at Hambledon’s Broadhalfpenny Down, provided me with the most memorable experience: playing on the shoulders of ghosts! The ground where I learned cricket in Southport, and my home ground, Holy Cross’s Arboretum Rd in Edinburgh, are, naturally, great favourites. I retain a huge affection, as well, for the Royal High’s long gone Jock’s Lodge. I grew up opposite the ground, and was wheeled round the boundary in my pram. I suspect the cricket bug first subconsciously affected me there below Arthur’s Seat. I certainly enjoyed eventually playing there. 

As a player, I looked forward to visiting  Penicuik, Falkland and Freuchie, as well as Glenrothes’ former ground at “Hippo Park”. I had an affection for the old Craiglockhart ground at Watsonians and thought Carlton’s home at Grange Loan an almost perfect setting for the game. Kirkcaldy’s  ground with its homely pavilion is still missed. 

However, playing in the Grade leagues gave one a wide experience of cricketing delights. Dalgety Bay played in the back garden of the Flag Officer Scotland and Northern Ireland: ‘country house’ cricket on a reduced sale. The short boundaries meant that, as a batsman, your first intimation that the quickie was starting his run was a rustling and movement in the trees behind the umpire. In the seventies, cricket at Bush House, near Penicuik, had a similar grand aura to it, but to play at the National Hospital at Bellsdyke, near Larbert, created an altogether different ambience. 

I remember playing at BP Grangemouth during one of those burning hot summers in the mid seventies. The wicket seemed mostly made of sand, and, combined with the heat, and the flames issuing forth from the refinery, it was almost a foretaste of the national team’s later Middle East experiences! 

There is something about the linking of industry and the summer game which seems to promote a quirkiness of conditions – and nowhere could be more illustrative of that than the much missed Atlas Steelworks ground at Armadale. 

The ground was a car park during the week, and the team organizers had an uphill battle in more ways than one. It was so undulating that, crouching down, the wicketkeeper could only make a wild guess as to the arrival of the bowler in his delivery stride. The pitch, too, was predictably unpredictable, and a team mate, having lost three front teeth to a ball that rose sharply off a length, developed a case of the ‘visiting relatives’ whenever availability for the Armadale trip was later being discussed. 

For the batsman facing the “Foundry End”, the view behind the umpire was the looming hulk of the Steelworks – big as a transatlantic liner, and just as dark. At ground level was about 3 feet of brick, topped by a huge expanse of corrugated iron – the world’s first ever black sightscreen – blocking out the sky. Ten feet above the ground, a steam pipe ran the length of the works, gurgling and hissing throughout the game. Local rules stated: two runs for hitting the bricks, four for reaching the corrugated iron under the pipe without bouncing, and the maximum could be achieved by a hit on to the building above the pipe. 

Changing rooms were in a railway wagon without wheels, and at tea, hot water was fetched by an Atlas player who climbed a fence into the nether regions of the factory and returned with a boiling urn. Playing there once on a holiday weekend, come tea time, the foundry was locked up and deserted. The Atlas lads drove into the ’dale and returned with 24 cans of Export and 24 pies. Non-coincidentally, the number of runs we amassed batting second was…..24. 

Soon after, the team folded, and later the steelworks was closed and demolished – and so was lost one of the most interesting experiences in east of Scotland Grade cricket. 

A couple of years ago, a colleague invited me out to see her new house in a recently built development in Armadale. I thought about Atlas CC as I drove there. When I arrived, she was on the phone and ushered me in, telling me to have a look round while she finished her call. 

It was looking out of the kitchen window that I finally established my bearings, realized where I was standing, and the years fell away. When her shouted question penetrated my reverie: “Where are you?” – I answered without hesitation: “Deep Mid off.” 

Happy days indeed!

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