The Football Stand

12th April 2020

Today is Easter Sunday: a day of joy and hope and expectation.

It should also have been the start of the 2020 County Championship cricket season: the scheduled Division One fixtures were Lancashire vs Kent, Somerset vs Warwickshire and Yorkshire vs Gloucestershire. The coronavirus put paid to that some time ago, of course.

However, to mark the occasion – and to register a reminder that better times will, one day, return – I offer some reflections on a change in the landscape at the Headingley (correction, Emerald Headingley) cricket ground.

The old Football Stand has gone. Inaugurated at a match in May 1933, when the great Bill Bowes took 12 wickets in Yorkshire’s innings victory over Kent, it has now been demolished and replaced by a modern steeply-banked structure. Last August, I made my annual pilgrimage from Scotland to Headingley – for a T20 match against the Durham Jets – in order to take in the fresh new perspective from behind the bowler’s arm.

Strictly speaking, it was not the Football Stand in the first place. It was the Rugby Stand, as it is the oval-balled games – both league and union – that are played on the pitch on the other side. But the Football Stand was the name by which it was generally known.

It was on the rugby side that I first took my seat in Headingley’s dual-facing facility. The Yorkshire Cup final of 1962: Hunslet 12 Hull Kingston Rovers 2. Over the years, I saw Reg Gasnier and Ellery Hanley and Kevin Sinfield et al. On my most recent trip to Leeds – only just over a couple of months ago, but in what now seems to have been a different era – I watched games in both codes: “Arresting Decline” (5th February 2020) and “The Return of Sonny Bill” (7th February 2020). But let us focus here on the north-facing side of the stand.

On my first visit to watch the cricket at Headingley – for the Roses match of 1966 – the Football Stand was out of bounds for the likes of me. I was not a Member of Yorkshire CCC and, therefore – with my Dad – I watched the play from the vast array of the Western Terrace. We chose our wooden bench with care, obviously favouring one that had been recently restored with new timber, rather than an alternative that was damp and rotten and populated by those sinister-looking little red spiders. I looked across with a pang of envy when the Members let out a collective groan as Geoff Pullar nudged tentatively forward and narrowly missed another of Freddie Trueman’s outswingers. Yorkshire won by 10 wickets on the second day.

Eventually, we graduated to take our rightful places in the stand. From the mid-1980s, after my father had retired, we would attend the second and third days of the test match, the first of which was always viewed from the lower stalls and the latter from high up in the balcony. The single exception was the West Indies test in 2000, when, in a change of routine, we booked the first two days. That was perfectly judged, of course: England duly won on the second day – Andrew Caddick completing the rout by taking four wickets in an over – and the young Michael Vaughan was man-of-the-match.

Other clear memories remain: Merv Hughes – hitherto known more for his moustache than his batting – sharing an improbable century stand with Steve Waugh in 1989; Graham Gooch’s batting masterclass against the West Indies in 1991; Hansie Cronje bowled first ball by Phil deFreitas in 1994; Ricky Ponting’s first test century in 1997; Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly flailing England to all parts in 2002 (the last test I attended with my father before he was claimed by mesothelioma)…

In truth, however, I shall not miss the Football Stand. The seats were cramped and the level of comfort was poor, to say the least. In the balcony, the threats from either wasps or pigeons were persistent. (One year, one of the latter took particular exception to an unfortunate man situated a couple of rows in front of us and to our left, who twice received direct bombing hits). In its later years, viewed from the other end of the ground – where the “coconut shy” and the poplar trees had once been – the stand looked tired and past its best.

The replacement is named, inevitably, in line with the ground’s sponsors: the Emerald Group. The Football Stand is dead. Long live the Emerald Stand at Emerald Headingley.

For those not entirely familiar with the brand, the Emerald Group’s website states that it is “a specialist global search and selection company focused on supplying high calibre services across the financial services industry”. Boldly emblazoned on the front of the Emerald Stand are the motifs that underpin the company’s approach to business: “Bringing research to life”, “Championing fresh thinking”, “Equipping decision makers” and “Making an impact”. That tells us a lot, I think.

Mind you, I still haven’t viewed any cricket from the Emerald Stand. As I reported in “For Valour” (19th August 2019), Yorkshire’s match with Durham was rained off without a ball bowled.