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Behind the Scenes – Hallowed Ground

Lord’s Cricket Ground is famous as ‘the Home of Cricket.’ With more than 200 years of history behind it, it is the quintessential summer sporting venue. Kirsty English meets the people who keep it that way.

There’s nowhere quite like Lord’s Cricket Ground for tradition and good old- fashioned Britishness. Every summer, people come from all over the world to drink Pimm’s, enjoy picnics and watch world- class sport at this unique venue, which is home to a Grade II*-listed pavilion and the MCC – Marylebone Cricket Club. It’s called Lord’s because it was founded in 1787 by Thomas Lord, a Yorkshireman, wine merchant and professional cricketer. The following year, the club produced the first set of Laws for the game of cricket. The original venue was not the current location in London’s St John’s Wood, but several miles away in a once secluded rural meadow that is now a smart Georgian square in Marylebone, central London. As London became busier and more urban, Lord moved his club to its current site in 1814 – taking the original turf with him. Today, the MCC is the world’s most active cricket club and the sole authority on the game’s Laws. Want to find out the legal length of a cricket bat? Check with Lord’s. Such is the importance of the history of Lord’s, the ground’s museum is home to the iconic Ashes urn.

This year, the ground will host 35 matches, including its fifth ICC Cricket World Cup
Final, an England vs Australia Test match and
a historic England vs Ireland Test match. We headed through the iconic gates to find out how the team prepare for a summer to remember…

Pitch perfect

Head groundsman Karl McDermott joined Lord’s seven months ago after his predecessor retired after 49 years. He lives on-site and this year, he will fertilise, mow and water the emerald turf, getting it ready for a full schedule of cricket. “I’ll be out there marking pitches with a piece of string and a post – the old ways are still the best!” he smiles. Karl has five full-time groundsmen and three extra workers during the summer. During the cricket season, they are out on the pitch every day from dawn, mowing the grass using a sit-on mower before play starts mid-morning. Perfectionism is key. The grass on the pitch has to be between 3mm and 6mm long and 12mm high in the outfield. The grass is then raked and Karl scours the pitch for any damage caused by animals. “Foxes sometimes leave droppings and scratch around but they’re not too much of a nuisance,” he says. Up to 80 pop-up sprinklers are set off every evening to keep the grass moist overnight, and the grass is sprayed with liquid fertiliser every month. For the rest of the year, there’s daily mowing, watering and fertilising to do, plus reseeding ready for the next cricket season.

Public service

Senior marketing executive Nicole Dyer answers a constant stream of emails to inform people about the ticket ballot. Matches are often oversubscribed so a ballot is the fairest way of distributing tickets. She keeps match-day handouts up to date and maintains the email database. She has been at Lord’s for two and a half years, and last year launched Lord’s Dining Club, where members can enjoy dinner made by a Michelin- starred chef in the Long Room. “On match days, there are 28,000 people here enjoying the day and I like to think I’ve played a small part in that,” says Nicole.

Bowling them over

Getting children into cricket is the job of community cricket coach Jayde Ellis who delivers coaching programmes to schools in Westminster. “Everyone can feel valued in cricket,” she says. “You can be a good runner, or good at catching or batting.” She works with two full-time coaches and an apprentice coach. “Today, I’m teaching Year 7 children how to play, and during the holidays I’m setting up a pop-up taster session in a local park,” she adds. “You can have a great time playing cricket and it doesn’t have to be technical.”

Picture this

A former museum curator with an art history background, collections manager Charlotte Goodhew has worked at Lord’s for ten years and arranges a wide range of exhibitions for the ground’s museum. The museum’s collection was established in 1864, when members were invited to donate items of interest to furnish the Pavilion. In 1953, the Duke of Edinburgh opened the Imperial Memorial Gallery, which enabled the club to display works to the public for the first time. The museum is open to anyone with a ticket for the day’s game and to members of the public who book a tour of the ground. “We’re always trying to think of ways to reach a wider audience” says Charlotte. “We’ve had exhibitions on women’s cricket and this year, we’ve collected items to celebrate 100 years of cricketing games.”

What’s cooking?

Award-winning head chef Karl Pearce is a much-loved character at Lord’s, both for his cooking and his enthusiasm. “I love food and I love it here,” he says. “No day is the same – I can be planning canapés one day and a seven-course banquet the next.” Over a four-day Test, he manages 120 chefs on-site and serves 6,000 afternoon teas, 16,000 scones, half a tonne of beef rib, 850 packets of bacon and 300 sides of salmon.

Look out

“Welcome to the House of Cards,” it says on the control room door where ground superintendent Jeff Cards heads up security on match days. There are high- tech CCTV
cameras around the ground linked to monitors, but Jeff still uses old-fashioned binoculars to keep an eye on things. “People expect a certain level of security these days, but we don’t like to think of Lord’s as a fortress,” he says. “During the World Cup Final this year, we’ll work closely with the police to keep the ground safe.”

The long view

As the most active cricket club in the world, the MCC plays more than 600 matches a year all over the world. This means that cricket office manager Kate Matheve has to be super organised. And as she also coordinates the match-day umpires and scorers, she needs to have a good view of the ground. “The idea is that developing cricket nations and teams get the opportunity to play against a high-standard team,” she says, adding, “Our oldest player is turning 80 this year and has played 761 days of cricket. What an achievement!”

Keeping it real

The best-kept secret at Lord’s is the real tennis court, where tennis professional assistant Jack Clifton, 23, hides away in a back office making tennis balls and stringing rackets for the ancient game, a favourite of Henry VIII’s. “I have a lawn tennis background but when a fast-track programme to learn real tennis came up, I jumped at the chance,” says Jack. Real tennis pre-dates lawn tennis and Jack is an apprentice professional who coaches MCC members and organises the club’s matches.

Members only

Membership of Lord’s is much sought after. There are 25,000 current members,
and a staggering 29-year waiting list for new members. Assistant secretary (membership and operations) Jamie Clifford directs the Membership department and oversees proceedings on match days, when he manages 1,400 staff working in stewarding, catering, ticketing and security. To become a member and gain access to the Long Room, you must prove your love of cricket. Members include Sir Mick Jagger, Theresa May, Stephen Fry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Playing by the rules

Fraser Stewart is a stickler for the rules. He is the manager of the Laws of Cricket – the code which specifies the rules of the game worldwide, of which MCC is the guardian. “In recent years, cricket bats have been getting larger in size and Lord’s has had to step in,” explains Fraser. “Bats were getting so big, players were hitting the ball way outside the pitch, so we devised this device to measure the size of a bat. If your bat can’t fit through, it’s not valid for play!” Fraser also manages the Cricket Academy, where children come to Lord’s for coaching throughout the year.

Reaching out

MCC’s Community department organises many goodwill initiatives to benefit the local community. Community development assistant Yvonne Muigua explains, “These include reminiscence sessions for dementia sufferers, physical activity for older people, career networking for students and interview presentation workshops. When people say, ‘Lord’s is not for me,’ my job is to try to break down those barriers. I take cricket out to the community and build relationships with organisations outside Lord’s such as helping
to rehabilitate ex-offenders, which is so rewarding.”

Going green

Everyone is aware of the importance of the environment these days, and Lord’s is no exception. Dr Russell Seymour is the club’s first sustainability manager. He has a PhD in biodiversity management, having specialised in giraffe conservation. He oversees initiatives including increasing the number of free water fountains to fill up reusable bottles. “We’re determined to combat single-use plastic consumption
and in the last year, we’ve reduced the pieces of plastic on-site by 1.5 million by getting rid of straws, lids and plastic cups. Lord’s is also the first cricket ground in the country to run on 100 per cent renewable energy.”

 

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