One of Hampshire's oldest sporting venues - Lymington Sports Ground - celebrated its 175th anniversary with the re-enactment of the first cricket match to be played on the ground. Organised by Lymington Cricket Club, which itself pre-dates the venue by some 29 years, the event saw club members dress up in the fashions of the day - top hats and straw boaters, bow ties and braces - and play the match under the 1836 laws of the game.
In the very first match in 1836 Lymington had played Brockenhurst, either drawing or losing (depending on which newspaper report you read at the time!). On this occasion, XI Men of Lymington took on XI Men of the World with the match ending in an honourable draw with the former completing their two innings just one run short of the latter's total. The match was quite an eye-opener for all concerned. Back in 1836 there were no such things as protective gloves or boxes, and although there are reports of rudimentary batting pads being used for the first time in 1836, it was assumed the new invention wouldn't have reached Lymington in time for the Sports Ground's first match.
All runs had to literally be run since boundaries weren't introduced until many years later, and overs consisted of just four balls. Perhaps the biggest difference was the style of bowling in 1836 with 'round-arm' the preferred technique, although the modern day Lymington bowlers found this skill particularly tricky to master and so resorted to the underarm method of earlier years. One other fundamental difference was the direction of the pitch - up until 1900 the Sports Ground wickets were aligned east to west, rather than the current north to south. Thus, when Mark Gannaway bowled the first ball of this particular anniversary match, he became the first cricketer in more than 110 years to open the bowling from the Pavilion End!
The Sports Ground - or 'Cricket Field' as it was called in its early days - has had quite a colourful past. Over the years, as well as cricket, football, bowls and tennis it has hosted athletics, baseball, cycling, boxing and even rollerskating. There have also been other non-sporting events such as circuses, fetes, army parades, donkey derbies, peace celebrations and, bizarrely, an invasion of water buffalo.
One of the most intriguing events was a May Day rally in 1920 when hundreds of demonstrators marched up the High Street to the Sports Ground where, from the steps of the old pavilion, they heard impassioned speeches from Trades Union leaders supporting women's rights and condemning high food prices and profiteering while the Town Band played 'The Red Flag'. For sleepy old Lymington this must have been real revolutionary stuff. Six Test players have appeared on the ground for Lymington - Henry Jupp and Christopher Heseltine (England), RM Poore (South Africa), Andrew Jones (New Zealand), Keith Dabengwa (Zimbabwe) and Simon Cook (Australia). The biggest name to play football on the ground is probably Alan Shearer who played for a Southampton FC side which defeated AFC Lymington 10-1 in 1989 in a match to mark the opening of the new grandstand.
The 1836 re-enactment took on extra significance following the recent news that Lymington & Pennington Town Council (who own and maintain the ground) are intending to move the cricket club off the Sports Ground and re-locate them to Woodside where the club's third and fourth XIs currently play. The council claim this will overcome the groundsharing problems that exist between the football and cricket clubs at the Sports Ground (the cricket and football pitches overlap by some 40 yards), and will also solve the issue of the odd stray cricket ball flying in to the nearby tennis courts and endangering the tennis players.
Unfortunately, the council made the decision without any consultation with the cricket club and the news came completely out of the blue, leaving cricket club members angry and bewildered. Worse still, the alleged budget for bringing Woodside up to standard for Southern League cricket is a fraction of what it would actually cost, and even then the council would expect Lymington CC to fund and build their own pavilion. Many club members are concerned that Lymington will end up playing on a sub-standard pitch with few or no social facilities and in serious debt. Some even fear that it could spell the end of the club.