Beyond the boundary – #2 – Thornbury


GACO’s roving reporter, Phil Smith, pops into The Ship Field, home of Thornbury CC.

Goodison Park, the home of Everton FC, is actually situated a mile and a half from the area of Liverpool bearing the football club’s name; AFC Wimbledon, despite relocating from MK Dons still don’t play in the tennis-playing borough and Grimsby Town’s Blundell Park is located in the seaside town of Cleethorpes. In a similar vein, the wonderful Ship Field, home of Thornbury CC, is not in Thornbury at all, but in Alveston.

Today, Thornbury II are entertaining Fairford in a GCCL Division 2, top v not-top of the table clash and the ground is looking a picture as the visitors elect to make first use of a really good-looking track. Having been dismissed for just ten in their opening fixture of the season, this may be a brave move on Fairford’s part and they lose their first wicket with the score on 14, Craig Muir being snaffled by Peter Banks off the bowling of Dan Harrod.

When Sam Young departs without troubling the scorers, it’s 34-3, but Will Bowers and skipper Joe Welch add 42 for the fourth wicket as the early-afternoon sun beats down on an outfield where the batters are getting full value for their shots.

A walk around the boundary of the Ship Field is a voyage of discovery for anyone who wants to take a little time meandering on a gloriously sunny afternoon. Hidden away behind the famous ‘in-play’ tree (four runs, wherever it hits), is the Village Water Pump, sporting an ‘In Memory of Derek Hawkins’ plaque, while next to it and acting as a very effective sightscreen is the wall of an oft-hit house with strong steel mesh covering its port side windows, thus ensuring its inhabitants are not offered the clearest of views as the action unfolds. There’s a second electronic scoreboard nestling in the next corner, beside which two of the ground’s six advertising hoardings are displayed. The first offers monthly memberships of the Riverside Leisure Centre for £24.99 a time, while the second aims to entice the more well-heeled amongst the local residents to send their offspring to Tockington Manor School & Nursery where, judging by the photo of well-groomed children wearing pristine maroon uniforms and overly cherubic smiles, the monthly rate is probably a shekel or two higher.

At the northern end of the ground, the boundary incorporates an almost perfect ‘S’ bend, which ensures the well-maintained net cage, in which a beleaguered father is spending ten excruciating minutes ‘teaching’ his far more talented ten-year old how to bat, is kept separate from the playing area. Moving westwards, the hotel wing of the Ship Inn watches serenely over the ground, its plentiful glass and nice-touch balconies making it look like a row of executive boxes, though minus the usual ubiquitous prawn sandwich brigade that often inhabits such cubicles. It’s on this side of the Ship Field that the Thornbury ultras have resided ever since the ground was built – all elderly

men with folding chairs, suntanned faces, matching boaters and a line in conversation to which only they are privy.

Bowers departs for a well made 35, the first of five wickets for spinner Anir Sanat, whose mother spends the day sitting in the ground’s north-west corner, reading Lisa Jewell’s ‘The Family Upstairs’ during every over her son isn’t bowling and clapping and cheering loudly in response to every wicket he takes. Welch becomes Sanat’s second victim to make it 87-5 and after that there’s little resistance from a lower order that seem in two minds whether to attack or defend and in the end does neither.

With the Fairford innings lasting just 30 overs and one ball, it’s a big thumbs-up to the TCC catering team in that the excellent tea, featuring some fine, fresh rolls and a whole assortment of other goodies, is ready a full ten minutes before the FA Cup Final on the screen next to the bar is due to get underway.

The county’s lowest cricket pavilion is fronted by a sizeable patio featuring a score of picnic tables, a number of eye-catching flower boxes and a collection of memorial benches commemorating a host of players, supporters and club officials who graced the Ship Arena in days of yore. One person who doesn’t have a bench though, is former club president and Gloucestershire and England cricketer, David Allen. Instead, he is featured in a stunning mural on the exterior wall of the pavilion next to the scorebox, bowling his off spin alongside Dr William Gilbert Grace, who himself played 51 times for TCC back in the day. DA was a lovely man, who would always enquire of the umpires: ‘Did they behave themselves today?’ and on invariably being told that they had, followed up with: ‘If you ever have any problems, just let me know.’

The Thornbury openers kick off the home side’s reply with a fervour that suggests they want to get back in the pavilion in time to watch the second half of the Manchester derby, the first wicket going down at 31 with only 20 balls bowled. The patio chat of beer, dogs, holidays, the odds on Rashford scoring the winner and more about beer continues unabated, with most of the protagonists completely unaware a wicket has even fallen. Also high in the unawareness stakes is a fella who’s hunched so far across the table in an effort to get his point across that he doesn’t realise his shorts have slipped so far down his person that the two teenage lads who’ve just arrived pay serious consideration to parking their bikes in there. A man with a navy ‘Help for Heroes’ t-shirt arrives, but not even he can rescue the situation.

Out in the middle, Simon Weeks goes cheaply, Fairford’s top scorers now becoming their two wicket takers, while over in the nets, Coaching Dad has been replaced by half a dozen youngsters who are engaged in an animated discussion as to whether the batter amongst them is out LBW or not. Umpires Bailey and Williams wisely refrain from getting involved, despite there being a likely breach of Law 42 about to take place.

Fairford continue to bowl and field enthusiastically to the end, but Logan Bowden’s unbeaten half-century and a measured 35 not out from Jack Benkenstein guide the hosts home with a lot of overs to spare.

Even taking post-match showers into consideration, the players can still catch the last rites of City’s 2-1 cup final victory, though the TCC stalwarts amongst the gathering are more taken by the live stream being fed back from Wiltshire on the other screen, where Corsham are heading towards a three-wicket success against Thornbury’s 1st XI.

There’s so much to admire about this cricket club: the quality of its facilities, its attention to detail and the slickness of its operation. Even the litter bins have the TCC legend and sealed knot emblem emblazoned across the front. But this isn’t enough for the ever-progressive hosts. There are plans in place to extend the pavilion outwards and upwards as this hub of the community continues to move ever forwards.

‘Is everything okay today?’ DA might have asked afterwards and when being told that it most definitely is, he’d be pleased as punch to hear it’s also likely to be far more than okay for many years to come.

Fairford 107 (W.Bowers 35, J.Welch 24; A.Sanat 5-15).

Thornbury II 110-2 (L.Bowden 53no, J.Benkenstein 35no).

Thornbury II won by 8 wickets.