Blink, and you will miss the entrance to Scarborough Cricket Club's North Marine Road Ground, which is tucked away behind a line of old Victorian terraced houses. Once through the gate though, you are taken aback by the 11,500-capacity ground. Lee Williams met with Head Groundsman John Dodds, who has been at the club since 2011.
First established in 1863, Scarborough Cricket Club's North Marine Road Ground has held a record 22,946 people who watched Yorkshire play Derbyshire in 1947, back in the days when it was known as The Queen's Cricket Ground.
The North Yorkshire seaside setting also hosts Yorkshire County Cricket Club, who play a series of games in the second half of the season each year, and the club annually hosts the Scarborough Festival.
John Dodds first got into groundsmanship whilst playing cricket at Stamford Bridge in York. "They were looking for a part-time groundsman and, ironically, brought in the then Scarborough head groundsman, Mike Corley, to advise them and I started to learn the profession from him."
"I worked at Stamford Bridge for around fifteen years, whilst still doing my full-time job in the building trade. I started getting asked by a lot of clubs around the York area if I could help them with their autumn and winter work, so I decided to set up my own little business."
"I was then contacted by Geoff Cook, who used to be the director of cricket for Durham. Stamford Bridge hosted many of Yorkshire second XI games and, at that time, Durham used to visit a lot. Geoff liked the work I was doing there and asked me if I would move to South Northumberland CC, and that was the first full-time role I had as a professional groundsman. I spent four years there."
"But, when Paul Harrand, who is now the Scarborough chairman, contacted me to say they were struggling, and would I like to take up the position of head groundsman, I jumped at the chance. As a young boy, I used to watch a lot of cricket here, and I have enjoyed every minute so far."
John has been head groundsman at the club since 2011 and one of the first things he noticed was that the training pitches needed some improvement; he also felt he could get more pace out of the strips.
"When I came here, the practice facilities were not very good. We have county cricket here, and they would not use them. I was finding that, if I had a county match in July, by the time I had got practice and match pitches for them, I had nowhere left to play club cricket! To solve this problem, I made the decision to extend the square down towards the West Stand purely for practice."
"They are all constructed with Ongar loam, which is what is on the main square as well. I employed a contractor to construct the new pitches as it was easier for them to do with the equipment available to them. For example, they could use lasers to get the levels correct and follow the slope of the ground. They were built on the natural base with four inches of loam on top. The rest of the club pitches are very old and the chap who was here before me, who had a farming background, brought in a power harrow from the farm and power harrowed them all and mixed them up. This meant they were fairly slow, but I now dress them heavily with fourteen bags of Ongar a strip each year. They have now improved to a state where they are the quickest in the area."
John has twenty-four pitches, used for junior, practice, club and county matches, but not all the pitches are the same. "The six county pitches are constructed in a slightly different way. Where you would normally have a ten-foot-wide strip, the county pitches are constructed with an eight-foot-wide, twelve-inch-deep slab of Ongar loam. One of the critical things with the square is that I must always have the exact point where the corners of the county pitches are. It is imperative that they actually play on the eight-foot."
I am intrigued to know how John knows exactly where they are year on year? "Well, I use an old method really. I just have a stump hole and, every time I go out with the stumper, just put the stump in again and have it there at each end, it's just a basic old fashioned way of doing it."
The outfield soil profile consists of a very fine black sand, which John tells me compacts itself and sets like concrete. There are minimal drains; some work was done on one half of the outfield in recent years, but they don't perform as well as he would like. Irrigation consists of a mains tap and a hose which is dragged over to the square when needed.
John doesn't worry too much about the lack of drains, with the ground being on a slope. "A bit of history about the ground which I find impressive is that it was built in 1863, and I'm told that the natural lie of the land is the bank on the east side of the ground, which is dug down about eighteen feet and was all done by hand and brought across to the other side which has a massive drop. This has given the ground a natural fall across the field so, when we get the torrential rains, it all gathers on the west side of the ground."
"I had a situation four years ago, on a Sunday night, where we had some really heavy downpours and I was worried the game on a Monday would be called off but, within four hours, there was no water left standing on the ground. Hats off to the guys who constructed the ground all those years ago to achieve what they did in that day and age."
Additional equipment available to John includes seven Stuart Canvas domed mobile covers; four of which were purchased this year. He also has a set of flat sheets which cover the whole square should heavy rain be forecast, but he much prefers the mobile covers for their ease of use.
John is kept busy when the season is in full swing. "We have Scarborough Seniors who have three sides, county matches, junior cricket (all age groups), and we host all the local cup finals and a lot of junior representative cricket; and the girl's cricket has started to get stronger in recent years. We have no specific girls team at the minute, but that is developing well."
"On average, we will host around one hundred and twenty games a season, along with training sessions between April and September."
"The season has got longer over the years; one of the last games we have is a county second XI game. With the county season being extended, the seconds games marry up with the first XI to keep them match fit, so their last game is at the end of September, which is a friendly. This means we are one of a few club grounds that are still open."
John talks me through the maintenance of the outfield and the pitches. "I will scarify the outfield hard, at least once or twice, using the tractor-mounted Sisis TM1000 Rotorake, which I run without the box on. With the amount of debris that comes out, I have a sweeper collector to clean up the surface. It is then 'shockwaved' or verti-drained by an outside contractor, and then I will apply a granular fertiliser. I generally only use a few bags of seed to overseed any high wear areas, but last year, with the extreme temperatures, we found ourselves having to overseed the whole of the outfield with forty bags of a straight ryegrass mix; the same as I use on the square."
"As a rule, I will cut the outfield at 14mm with the Toro Reelmaster, depending on the weather and growth. This varies from one to four times a week. Starting in the autumn on the pitches, I will cut them down to pitch length, then flood them for two or three days, depending on what's happening from above, to get plenty of moisture in and then let the surface dry. I then scarify a couple of times using the TM1000. Last year, I had the county pitches fraize mown - and that will be done once in every six years - and clean them off. After this, I apply pre-seed fertiliser and overseed using a bag of seed every six pitches."
"Finally, I topdress with Ongar loam. I have always been an advocate of using more than others. I will often be in double figures; a minimum I will use per pitch is ten bags. It's an extra expense, but I'm lucky the club supports this, providing the right results are achieved."
With the amount of cricket John has to accommodate, how does he use the pitches? "I have a varied amount of cricket here, from county right down to under 11s that play hardball cricket. I have different areas of the square I use for different games; starting nearest the top end, I have two junior pitches for under elevens and thirteens. Then I have a pitch that can only take lighter use, so the girls and women play on there. Then four club pitches, six counties, another four club pitches and the rest become net areas as the boundary comes into play. I like to get as much use out of each pitch as I can, depending on who is playing on it."
"Procedure after a game on a standard pitch would be to sweep the ends off and, if the pitch is in a satisfactory condition, I will not do anything with it until the day before the next game. It will then usually be a cut and possibly a light roll and play the next game and so on until I'm finished with that pitch."
"I generally try and repair the ends, although, to look at it now you, you would say some of them haven't been repaired, which they haven't. But let me explain. What I find is that repairing ends with the amount of cricket I have means it is sometimes difficult to get the moisture in. So I find it a lot easier to repair ends up to about the second or third week in June as, usually, there is enough moisture around to get the grass germinated again. I find, as we get into July and August, which is a hectic time for me, that it is tough work to get grass to germinate in amongst everything that is happening."
"Then, if you do try and flood the pitch, the square has a 3mm slope on it from side to side, which equates to a 70mm slope from one end to the other. This means there is only so much water you can apply before it starts running off onto the next lot of pitches, so it can take two to three days until I can get enough moisture in."
The club has recently invested in a new Toro Reelmaster from local supplier Russells in Malton, replacing the twelve-year-old John Deere triple ride on mower. "It was still working alright but was starting to come to the end of its life. What I do like about our new Toro is I can cut the outfield when there is moisture on it, and I don't get reams of grass laid behind me."
What's in the shed?
Iseki TH4295 tractor
Bomag 2 tonne roller
Toro Reelmaster triple mower
Dennis FT610 cylinder mowers x 2
Sisis TM1000 Rotorake scarifier
Pedestrian fertiliser spreader
Tractor mounted fertiliser spreader
John Deere rotary mower
Bowdry water removers x 2
Sisis hand rake
The two 'ends' are known as the Peasholm Park End and the Trafalgar Square End.
Cricket was first staged at the ground in 1863, when the tenancy of Jackson's field on North Marine Road was obtained, matches having been played at Castle Hill in Scarborough since 1849.
Yorkshire has played here since 1878, with the MCC beating them by seven wickets. The first County Championship game was held in 1896 when Yorkshire beat Leicestershire by 162 runs. With the demise of the other outgrounds, Scarborough is the only regular venue for county cricket in Yorkshire other than Headingley Stadium, Leeds.
The end-of-season Scarborough Festival, staged to capitalise on the large numbers of tourists in the seaside resort, saw touring teams, county teams and Yorkshire play in a mixture of friendly, championship and one-day cricket.
The Fenner Trophy, a one-day competition featuring four counties, ran from 1971 to 1996 under the names of various sponsors. The centenary of the festival was celebrated in 1986, with Sir Len Hutton as president.
The ground has also staged two One Day Internationals, pitting England against the West Indies and New Zealand in 1976 and 1978.
The ground is situated close to the sea and features a raised cricket pavilion built, in 1895, at a cost of £2,150. A new seating enclosure was added in 1902 and further extended over the next five years. A concrete stand was added in 1926, at the cost of £6,700 and, in 1956, a new West Stand was erected, costing £16,000.
More recently, the Jack Knowles Building was completed in 1995, and cost £210,000, new all-weather nets and a press box were constructed in 1997 for £50,000, and the enclosure and tea rooms were refurbished in 1998 for £95,000.
After the 2010 county season, The Guardian named North Marine Road 'Ground of the Year'.