Friday 4th June 2021 – LV County Championship – The Spitfire Ground, Canterbury
“Starting from Sunday, England will be basking in a two week spell of warm and dry weather”
That was the cue I needed to book some cricket trip in whilst I still had the time during the week to do so. After the red-neck inducing sunshine at The Oval last Sunday, I planned to make my first trip to Canterbury of the season for the second day of the County Championship game with Northants.
A cursory check of the weather forecast on Wednesday suggested a cloudy day with a small chance of a shower, a standard forecast for most summer days in England. Nothing more to worry about until David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd mentioned in the final session of the Test Match from Lords on Thursday that “Friday looked ominous for any cricket”. I checked the forecast – cloud had been replaced by 50% chance of rain all afternoon. Being an optimist, I took this as meaning there was a 50% chance it wouldn’t rain. I never learn.
Friday morning saw the forecast now 60% chance of rain from 10am. On arriving at the appointed hour at Canterbury West there wasn’t any rain in the air at all. Ha! Cricket 1 Weather forecast 0. I went for breakfast and of course as soon as I readied myself to leave, it started to rain. Not light rain, heavy thumping rain.
I sat in Costa weighing up my options. Having spent so long getting here I was loathed just to turn around and come straight back home. I had my lunch in my bag , a few beers and a good book. But would there be anywhere undercover to sit and pray that the rain would stop, the sun would come out and we would get to see any play?
My mind was made up as I overheard the conversation on the next table. A women was greeted by a friend and their loud discussion focused on the fact that her ex-partner was due out from prison today, having been incarcerated for ABH on her, inflicting a stab wound and a head injury. “But I still love him, June”. I would go to the cricket rather than risk the odds of running into “cuddly Tel” as she called him.
The Spitfire Ground is a good 20 minute walk out of the centre of Canterbury. Unsurprisingly, I was a lone walker in the direction of the ground. Every few minutes I looked skywards in the hope of a break in the rain but the clouds said otherwise. The good news was that I wasn’t the only spectator heading into the ground on the very very off chance there could be some play. “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”, Noel Coward once said, but likewise, cricket fans will sit in the pouring rain until the last possible moment of a chance of play.
The Spitfire Ground has been transformed in recent years, more around the non-cricket side. A Sainsbury‘s local at the entrance, and a smart complex of retirement flats with the best views in the ground sit on the Old Dover Road side, whilst the cluster of old, unique stands at the North end of the ground were providing shelter from the now torrential rain. Long gone is the tree that stood within the boundary ropes and some of the other temporary stands. It does have a bit of a lop-sided feel with the covered accommodation all at one end, whilst the open to the elements seats was around the main scoreboard.
A few hardy souls were sitting in their uncovered seats, huddled under umbrellas but by the scheduled lunch break even they had given up hope. A cheerful tweet that the players were taking lunch belied the futility of any possible play. The bars remained shut, the hog roast remained very much unroasted.
But still, here I sat. I was dry, the vista was perfect, albeit damp and I could enjoy my lunch and watch the big screen that was showing some highlights. The way I figured was I’d be able to rebook my ticket anyway so I may as well enjoy the day as much as I could. It was serene, with the rain hitting the roof of the stand, the birds prancing about in the puddles and the occasional player peaking their heads out of the dressing room before quickly retreating. I’ve had worse afternoons although the smug tweets from other friends around the county grounds in the Midlands and the North where there was play, and even sunshine didn’t dampen my mood..much. Their turn would come.
After so long without fans being able to be in grounds, then severe restrictions put on the numbers that could attend, days like this are a kick in the teeth for the counties, but rain is a permanent natural hazard of the game in this country and the sun would shine another day…perhaps Sunday when the cricket ground tour heads to Leicester.