It’s 150 not out for much-loved County Ground and this is what makes it special

A full house watches Sussex against Australia in 2013 and, inset, Field Of Dreams, with an eye-catching front cover
A full house watches Sussex against Australia in 2013 and, inset, Field Of Dreams, with an eye-catching front cover

Life is not always peaceful at Hove’s much-loved County Ground.

Just ask the current Sussex chairman.

In a treasure trove of facts and memories, marking 150 years of cricket along Eaton Road, Jon Filby shares a tale about how, as a kid, he and his mate Ingram Losner were giving Northants players some brief.

They were invited to “bring your mouths” to the changing room, where England international Peter Willey grabbed Losner by the scruff of the neck.

All was smoothed over but the lesson was no doubt learnt and, clearly, remembered decades later.

Filby recalls the episode in Field Of Dreams, 150 Years At The County Ground, Hove, by Patrick Ferriday and James Mettyear (£17, Von Krumm Publishing).

They are the sort of tales which might be told in the pavilion tonight as president John Barclay hosts a sold-out celebration of 150 years of cricket at the County Ground.

The guest of honour will be MCC president Clare Connor.

Sussex played at the Brunswick Ground, on the seafront, until 1871 and had established quite a nice little set-up down there.

They were turfed out by landowners who saw other potential for such a prime spot but were offered a plot a little way inland.

There was nothing there at the time other than a field of barley.

No flats or houses over-looked the site, although it was handy for the station.

Over the autumn and winter, the barley was harvested, turf laid and the flint wall you still see now was built around the perimeter of the site The sloping field was levelled. Or made more level that it was.

The slope which remains is considerable and remains one of the ground’s distinguishing features.

A Gentlemen v Players fixture kicked things off in 1872 and was followed by a county game against the great WG Grace and his Gloucestershire side, though this was ruined by rain.

That was an early indication that life would not always be plain-sailing but, 150 years on, Sussex are still playing at the County Ground.

Ferriday said: “I’ve been going down there for donkey’s years because I like sitting there with a beer and my mates watching a bit of cricket.

“I’ve seen them win the Championship, I’ve seen Alex Hales hit sixes over the pavilion and I’ve seen some not so good stuff.”

The book’s cover photo shows a packed house, and supporters watching from outside, as Sussex faced Surrey in the 1964 Gillette Cup semi-final.

Jim Parks and Ken Suttle are batting.

The old place has changed but not much and is still instantly recognisable.

“It was THE picture to use,” Ferriday says.

“There are probably still a few grounds like this in England but it is getting less and less.

“It’s in the town so they have resisted all the commercial pressures which, of course, Hastings couldn’t.

“That ground at Hove is worth a lot of money.

“I have used the word ‘oasis’ at least once.

“There are still features which date from 1872 – such as part of the pavilion and the flint wall.

“There are a few grounds like that but they are probably under less commercial pressure than Hove.”

Ferriday believes the ground would have been sold some time ago but for money left by the late Spen Cama.

He said: “Now they are trying to ensure it pays its way with the flats and the hospitality - and good luck to them.

“I really hope they can pull it off.”

For Sussex, and indeed many, clubs, modernising while maintaining tradition is a tricky balance.

The two big venues in London appear to have done it and look better than ever.

Headingley is a bit odd in parts and Old Trafford is downright ugly.

But it is an ugliness which serves a purpose as big crowds are packed in for cricket and other events.

Sussex have resisted any temptation there might have been to relocate to, for example, a soulless arena off a motorway exit.

There was talk of such a thing not so long ago, with a potential move to Pease Pottage.

But tradition also has to add up on the balance sheet and finance a competitive team.

No one wants to lose match after match while being told they have a nice old ground.

Ferriday said: “It is a delicate balance. Do people want to go and watch a cricket match in a shopping mall? No, they probably don’t.

“Take down the pavilion and you are looking at having shopping outlets all around.

“It probably won’t matter for the T20 but you will lose a lot of the character and a lot of your potential spectators.

“They are doing well. They have kept the pavilion.

“I think they understand but the next committee might not.

“There was a guy 20 years ago who wanted to demolish everything.”

The ground has hosted tennis, a skating rink and a factory in the past.

It was put to good use in war years and, later, there would be a Sunday morning market, even ahead of John Player League games.

Hove’s greatest day? It was 20 years ago next year, Ferriday reckons.

“Winning their first Championship, it has got to be!

“I have written a fair bit about that day.

“People came into the ground and were able to sit back and think, ‘We’re going to win it’.

“But there was also an amazing one which cricket historians will know about, an innings in 1911, by a Nottinghamshire player called Ted Alletson.

“He wasn’t a particularly good player. He was built like a brick outhouse and he could hit the ball harder than anyone else in cricket.

“This was the time when everything worked for him.

“He scored about 130 in 40 minutes and hit about seven balls out of the ground.

“Now, with T20, it doesn’t sound so great.

“It’s trying to cover all bases.

“I have written for cricket enthusiasts but it is also for readers who want to dip in and out.

“James’s approach is very much people-based. He loves interviewing people, talking to people.

“I am much more the researcher.

“I spent a lot of time at The Keep looking at old files.

“I’ve done five cricket books before which have all involved a lot research.

“I love the research and I love the writing.”

Field Of Dreams combines meticulously researched history (of Brighton and Hove as well as the cricket ground in places), great photos and personal memories from, among others, Paul Parker, John Spencer, Jim Parks and Georgia Adams.

Will someone have to update it 150 years from now?

In the afterword, current chief executive Rob Andrew highlights developments which can make that happen.

He writes: “Let us hope cricket is still being played here – in whatever format is deemed appropriate.”