Published: 21st July, 2017
Earlier this year, cricketing periodical The Nightwatchman published a special edition in honour of The Oval’s impending 100th Test, which is now less than two weeks away.
The issue is still available to buy for just £10, but over the next ten days we will be publishing short extracts from some of its finest articles, where some of the world’s finest cricket journalists have unburdened their soul on what makes our ground such a wonderful and special place.
Today it’s the turn of Daniel Norcross, part of the BBC Test Match Special team, who recounts his lifelong love affair with The Oval with the strong influence of a 1990s literary classic from Scotland’s finest, Irvine Welsh.
From the heart
Dan Norcross chronicles his Oval love affair
Choose Lord’s. Choose “The Spirit of Cricket”. Choose a private members’ club. Choose handlebar moustaches, egg-and-bacon ties, red trousers and cravats. Choose gatemen schooled by the CIA. Choose self-appointed arbiters of the Laws of Cricket. Choose a 30-year waiting list just to get the chance to be “approved” by double-barrelled former First Lords of the Admiralty. Choose compulsory ties in the Pavilion. Choose not to let women, with the exception of the Queen, into the Long Room until 1999. Choose the so-called Home of Cricket that didn’t even stage the first Test match in England. Choose expensive booze, freezing-cold stands and an eight-minute walk to the tube. Choose to “look up not down”. Choose a dead pitch. Choose that bloody slope. Choose to turn the floodlights off because the poor multimillionaires in St John’s Wood had no idea there was a cricket ground there when they bought their houses and occasional shafts of artificial light at nine o’clock keep their Bichon Frises awake. Choose a flushed Paul McCartney emerging from the gym. Choose Real Tennis courts. Choose to ban flags and trumpets. Choose not to select Basil D’Oliveira to tour South Africa. Choose to sit on the Estates Committee. Choose cultural homogeneity. Choose a nod and a wink. Choose the old-boy network. Choose Edward Bootle-Wilbraham, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, Edwyn Scudamore-Stanhope and Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby. Choose the 5th Marquess of Londonderry. Choose William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam. Choose Arthur Gilligan, of all the monsters. Choose the Earls of Rosebery, Pembroke and Sandwich. Choose the Dukes of Norfolk, Rutland and Edinburgh. Choose Gubby Allen and Pelham Warner. Choose the past. Choose Lord’s.
But why would I do a thing like that? I chose not to choose Lord’s, I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got The Oval?
I chose The Oval. I chose “the Surrey strut”. I chose sandwich crumbs on brown cardigans, brown suits and brown replica shirts. I chose nattily dressed stewards with waistcoats, gold teeth and welcoming smiles. I chose John Major, Sir HD Leveson-Gower and the Prince of Wales, which I wouldn’t normally do. I chose Trevor McDonald, Percy Fender and Neil Kinnock (yes, he used to go The Oval quite a bit). I chose Alf Gover’s greying cravat. I chose the Bedser twins’ shared wardrobe. I chose Esmé Chinnery. I chose smiling, knitting grannies. I chose years of on-pitch failure. I chose “the Growler”, barking incomprehensibly at the opposition from his position by the T20 dug-out. I chose “the Gaffer”. I chose resistance to city-based T20 competitions. I chose drunken Bobby Abel urinating on the outfield. I chose Pat Pocock’s surprisingly brilliant singing voice. I chose the “Surrey Stuffed Yorkshire” even though we haven’t got close to stuffing Yorkshire since some bright spark came up with the idea. I chose pigeons and foxes. I chose Harry Brind. I chose Ramprakash when he was at his best. I chose Archbishop Tenison. I chose packed-out, floodlit Friday nights, loud (mostly terrible) music and incompetent streakers. I chose a 47-second walk to the tube station. I chose perpetually disgruntled fans. I chose Douglas Jardine. I chose life itself.