Richard Spiller looks back to 1971, when Surrey won the County Championship but were threatened by extinction – and turned The Oval into a rock venue.
The 1971 season was a historic one for Surrey as Micky Stewart led the way to the first County Championship success since the golden years of the 1950s.
But it came in the teeth of a financial crisis which threatened the existence of the club and required a public appeal just to stay alive.
Maurice Allom, who had taken over as president a year earlier, authored what he described as “the most important letter written by a president to members since the club was formed in 1845”.
He went on to warn that “the very survival of the club is in doubt. It is not using extravagant language to say that unless the finances are radically and quickly improved, the club will not exist two years hence.”
Allom stressed that unless £50,000 could be raised to “restore our capital”, with reserves having been eaten up by rising costs – which included having to patch up one of England’s most historic sports grounds, where the first Test in this country had been staged and which had hosted the first FA Cup final- which had produced several years of serious financial losses.
The crisis had been building for some time. Even since the second half of the 1950s, despite the successes on the field, crowds had been in decline and that continued through the following decade despite the Gillette Cup – the world’s first domestic limited overs competition – attracting considerable support when it was inaugurated in 1963.
Such was the precarious state of cricket’s finances that the cancellation of the previous summer’s tour of England by South Africa, even though it was replaced by a five-match unofficial series against Rest of the World, which drew smaller crowds.
Allom stressed that administrative, maintenance and groundstaff had been pruned to a “bare minimum” already, the squad being limited to 17 in 1971 and a further reduction to 14 planned for the next summer.
The public relations and sales promotions sub-committees, in which Raman Subba Row and Bernie Coleman were displaying their entrepreneurial skills, worked hard to raise revenue from sponsorship and other enterprises, while the Surrey Taverners and Supporters Club were thanked by Allom for efforts which had “kept the club alive”.
Now subscriptions, which had not been raised for five years, would have to be lifted but he added that every member was being asked “to give the club a once-and-for-all donation of no less than £10. The committee realise that for some this is asking a great deal over and above an annual subscription but the alternative is, regrettably, closure.”
Surrey accepted that the summer’s Test against India – which produced a historic win for the visitors – was unlikely to produce much in the way of gate receipts but with Australia due in 1972 for an Ashes series, it should produce the revenues to refill the coffers.
It was an era of frustration, a revolutionary plan to rebuild The Oval, which would have included the construction of a hotel and utterly change the look of the ground, had failed to make progress. Consideration was even being given to move away to a new ground.
But the response of members, and many others from outside the club, was strong while Coleman and company came up with a number of other money-making activities for the ground.
Among them were bonfire nights, Sunday markets and Stewart, having also taken over as manager of Corinthian Casuals, arranging for them to play home matches there.
One scheme which bore fruit was the staging of a rock concert, which raised money for the victims of flooding in war-torn Bangladesh and saw around 40,000 descend on The Oval on Saturday September 18. Not only was much money raised to assist with the crisis but the £4,210 which Surrey earned for hosting the event was fundamental to making a slim profit of £561 for a year which had started so worryingly.
“If rock ‘n’ roll can help salvage the financial situation at The Oval, then cricket should be in awe of rock ‘n’ roll, not the other way round,” reckoned promoter Rikki Farr.
A stage was built at the Vauxhall End and the packed ground rocked to the likes of The Who, Rod Stewart & The Faces and Lindisfarne.
“Goodbye Summer” was the title for the occasion but happily it went some way to ensuring that it wasn’t goodbye Surrey.