Seemingly as permanent a sight at The Oval as the gasholders, Tommy Field – who has died aged 89 – served Surrey CCC for more than 50 years on the groundstaff. Richard Spiller pays tribute to him.
Having started with Bradman, Tommy Field’s half-century took in a notable chapter in the life of The Oval.
He served Surrey County Cricket Club as both man and boy, having been taken on to the groundstaff as a 14-year-old in May 1948.
It was only on arrival that John Field became Tommy – there were already two other Johns on the groundstaff – and it stuck. That moniker was handed to him by Bert Lock, the first of four head groundsmen he worked under, the others being Ted Warn, Harry Brind and Paul Brind.
Field’s only previous experience had been catching pigeons in south London churches during the Second World War – someone had to benefit from meat rationing – and he was taken on with a school friend, visitations by feathered friends rather less welcome at his new place of work. Intending only to stay for the summer, he remained at The Oval until early 1999, broken only by two years of national service. That saw him serving in Malaysia, where he had a lucky escape when a man standing next to him was fatally shot.
Working as a groundsman requires strength and stamina and that was even more the case in Field’s early years at The Oval. There was little or no motorised equipment, the four ton roller needing 16 men using guy ropes to pull it across the ground. Each day would start at 8am, duties including selling scorecards and clearing the rubbish left by spectators.
Rationing was not just confined to meat in the years after the war, shortages of material being common and money tight. The lack of mechanisation was underlined when having to shovel the huge heap of grass clippings at the Vauxhall end, a task usually suffered only if the wrath of the head groundsman had been incurred after which Field reckoned “you’d end up smelling like a skunk”.
Field’s first Test proved to be Don Bradman’s last, the great Australian suffering a second-ball duck amid much tumult, while 20 years later Australia were again the visitors. An enormous thunderstorm at lunchtime on the final day looked certain to deprive England of the chance to force a series-levelling victory, the ground being covered in lakes.
But once Warn persuaded England captain Colin Cowdrey that the situation could be remedied, the groundstaff – helped by volunteers from the crowd – magically cleared the water and Derek Underwood bowled out the tourists for a remarkable victory. Blankets, brooms and a mangle were the only tools at their disposal, before Brind snr imported the first ‘whale’, a precursor to modern super soppers.
Field was philosophical about all that life and the conditions could throw at him. Long-term colleague Bill Gordon, who joined the club in 1964 and worked alongside him for 33 years – he remains a fixture now – reckoned he only saw Field lose his temper twice in that time although the explosive result from a younger member of the staff setting light to his newspaper ensured no one tried it again.
“Tommy was a very equable man. He went about the job in his quiet and efficient way,” said Gordon. “He wasn’t ambitious for promotion but he had an enormous amount of knowledge and he taught me everything I know.”
Surrey recognised his half-century by appointing Field as an honorary life member to mark his 50th year at The Oval and he retired in February 1999. With his June, who died in 1997, he had a son and two daughters.