NO-ONE with an ounce of romance in their soul or an appreciation of the aesthetic could possibly fail to conclude that Scarborough cricket ground is one of the finest in the world.
It might not possess the sparkling facilities of a Test match venue, as much as those facilities have improved in recent times, or the size of many county arenas, but it has something indefinable that sets it apart.
You just have to keep working at it, and we’re seeing people spending more time with us every year, so I hope that we’re doing something right.Bill Mustoe
“I honestly don’t know what the ingredients are,” says Bill Mustoe, who has stepped down as Scarborough Cricket Club chairman after 15 years.
“Whether it’s because it’s an amphitheatre, whether it’s because it’s not a big stadium and you still get a great atmosphere even with a few thousand people in, I don’t know.
“When I first came here in the early 1970s, I couldn’t believe it walking through the gates. The ground just unfolds before you and, to be honest, I haven’t lost that buzz.
“All the players love it because they’re near to the spectators, and all the spectators love it because they’re near to the players.
“It’s just incredibly special, and every time you walk through the gates, something just says – this is a good place.”
It is a place that has been Mustoe’s second home for the past 15 years, a place that he has left in a better condition than when he arrived.
A genial man, and a proper cricketing man to boot, Mustoe has upheld the traditions of North Marine Road and ushered it into a new era in which its timeless quality continues to be felt with an almost spiritual intensity among those who make the annual pilgrimage to the seaside town.
North Marine Road, if one might be permitted a fleeting diversion, is where this correspondent watched his first county match in 1988, a non-descript Sunday League affair between Yorkshire and Lancashire while on a family holiday from Lincolnshire.
Like Mustoe, I, too, have never forgotten that first sight of the ground unfolding on walking through the gates, as though stumbling on the great Amphitheatre of Pompeii hidden behind a row of terraced houses, and the sense of awe and wonder that grabs hold of the heart and never lets go.
“The jewel in Yorkshire’s cricketing crown,” says Mustoe, and small wonder.
From the red-brick pavilion, which all the greats have graced, to the sweep of the popular bank and its wooden seating; the old Tea Room; the houses at the Trafalgar Square end, where clothes dry on washing lines as the cricketers play beneath squawking seagulls; the white marquee adjacent to the West Stand; the Coronation Street-style rooftops away in the distance, North Marine Road retains a long-lost air and fills the senses in so many ways.
At lunch or tea, a short walk across the main road rewards the wandering spectator with the spectacular sight of the North Sea below, roaring or restful, and the stunning vista of cliffs and rocks, a view as dramatic and evocative as any in the country.
Yes, this is “a good place” all right.
Mustoe, 74, first came to Scarborough in 1971.
“I’m a Gloucestershire man, from Cheltenham, and I moved to Yorkshire as McCain’s first marketing manager,” he says.
“I played for Scarborough – bowling left-arm and batting right – and we won the national knockout competition at Lord’s in 1972 (Mustoe top-scored).
“I worked in Belgium towards the end of my career, and when I came back, I was asked by the previous chairman at Scarborough whether I’d be prepared to take over.
“I was delighted, and it’s been a wonderful privilege and I’ve loved every minute.”
Mustoe, who has been replaced as chairman by Paul Harrand, with whom he serves on the club’s committee, has been a splendid custodian of the keys to Yorkshire’s cricketing jewel.
Under his chairmanship, North Marine Road has undergone myriad improvements, both cricketing and commercial.
“We’ve relaid the outfield, relaid the square, got more pace and bounce in the wicket, with groundsman John Dodds doing a magnificent job; we’ve extended the square, got more social cricket on the ground – another 30 days a year, and we’ve improved the facilities for spectators,” he says.
“You just have to keep working at it, and we’re seeing people spending more time with us every year, so I hope that we’re doing something right. But there’s always more to do, and we have a duty to provide the best possible experience that we can.”
Further improvements include plans for a new £3m West Stand, which would hold around 600 spectators and include a room capable of hosting weddings and parties, thus providing a year-round facility.
Assuming that the necessary funds can be found, with Mustoe hoping that the new stand will be up-and-running as soon as 2020, this, in turn, could lead to more games at the ground, possibly representative fixtures, such as England Lions, and even televised matches.
That North Marine Road is more attractive now than it was even a few years ago also owes something to a heartfelt piece by the former Yorkshire Post cricket correspondent David Hopps in The Guardian in 2009, in which he feared that the ground might be in “terminal decline”, citing such factors as rubbish outside the back entrance, blocked drains, and so on.
As Mustoe admits, the words touched a nerve and were not without foundation.
“It stings you into a situation where you think: ‘I don’t like it, but how can I do this without any money?
“You have to face up to it, and you just work hard to try and do the best that you can.
“We started to address the situation with the NatWest Cricket Force scheme, where people turned up and painted walls and all the rest of it, and it developed beyond that as we rebuilt toilets, etcetera, as part of a key involvement with Tesco as one of their community projects.”
Hopps loves Scarborough as much as anyone – even more so now that journalists answer the call of nature in the ‘Hopps Inn’, the Mustoe-inspired sign that adorns the toilet door at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the press box, which shows that the criticism was taken in good spirit.
Perhaps Mustoe’s greatest achievement as chairman is that he is indeed leaving North Marine Road in a better state than he found it, which is all anyone can ask.
Not that he could ever turn his back on the place completely.
“I’ve offered to help out and will continue to do that,” he says.
“I’m still on the committee and will assist in whatever way I can.
“Scarborough is part of my DNA.”