My memories of St Helen’s go back to the early sixties. We lived close by, both my parents loved cricket, and Dad watched the Whites rugby team – sometimes with me as there was a baby at home. Dad was a University lecturer so also worked near the ground and Mum wasn’t working then, so St Helen’s was my playground, winter and summer.
It seemed almost infinitely huge with the big concrete stepped bank to clamber up and down, the old strange smelling wooden grandstand, the mysterious overgrown corners and patches of wilderness…and in the background the rugby shirts and cricket whites played out their rituals, gradually drawing me in. Cricket lasted days, and in those times we seemed to be playing nearly every week in summer, so cricket became more interesting. I discovered the laws and basics from Dad – a proud Yorkshireman – and school friends, so increasingly time was split between playing and watching, though always keen to join in the endless games on the rugby pitch side or drag Dad away to bowl at me.
My first real memories of actual games start in 1968, the year of my twelfth birthday. That year there were two great occasions – the one I missed, and the one I saw! I know I saw at least some of the first two days of the great victory against the 1968 Australians, and I know I said I wouldn’t bother coming down on the Monday.
I suppose I was convinced it would be a draw, and I had the twelve year old’s disdain for draws. Looking at the scorecard now I curse my imbecility. I followed progress on television as you could then, on and off, and felt very silly when we bowled them out and my triumphal parents returned. So I am not in those wonderful photographs of the crowd on the pitch and gathered singing in front of the pavilion, though I can pick out one or two familiar faces. Still, my time would come.
The one I didn’t miss needs little introduction; I was there for the six sixes. From the old Members’ Enclosure I saw the ball fly over the road into Gorse Lane and down St Helen’s Avenue; I was perfectly placed to witness Roger Davis fall back just over the boundary line (and it was a white line – no ropes at St Helen’s then) as he took the catch that wasn’t. I wanted Gary Sobers out, one-eyed Glamorgan boy as I was; everyone else wanted him in, it seemed. And I was on the outfield when Notts declared and I patted the great man’s sweaty back. So I saw it, my Dad saw it, and my Yorkshire Grandma saw it, as she reminded people for years after. But my Mum missed it, having been dragged off to the fair with my sister and cousins. She never quite forgave us!!