Scarborough Cricket Festival - a celebration of summer, sport and the seaside

Author John Fuller.
Author John Fuller.
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An olive-coloured oblong ticket stub sits on my desk as it has done since the day I was given it. No 01929. Scarborough Cricket Club. Pass out ticket.

Thousands of county cricket fans are given one annually when dipping out of the Scarborough Cricket Club gates at the interval for a poke of chips or to savour the jewelled reflection of the North Sea.

Scarborough Cricket Festival - a summer institution.

Scarborough Cricket Festival - a summer institution.

This faded paper memento from the Scarborough Cricket Festival is a snapshot of why watching Yorkshire County Cricket Club at the coast has retained its magic since the migration began in 1876.

When we visit British seaside towns, we step into a time warp and are transported back to our childhoods; riding the donkeys on North Bay beach or watching the naval battle on the lake at Peasholm Park.

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It was this newspaper’s former Cricket Correspondent James Maurice Kilburn who famously described the Scarborough Cricket Festival as “first-class cricket on holiday” and it’s that relaxed air that appeals to so many.

Crowds enjoying the Scarborough Cricket Festival and a match between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. (Richard Ponter).

Crowds enjoying the Scarborough Cricket Festival and a match between Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. (Richard Ponter).

Cricket fans will leave a simple message with their bed and breakfast when they depart Scarborough: Book me in again, once the fixtures are out.

This ritual is engrained across generations; they flock each August for the salty tang in the air, the seagulls’ beseeching cries and the chance to watch their beloved Yorkshire over four days.

At a time when focus in professional cricket is on the shortest format of the game and Twenty20 dominates the agenda, there is still an appetite for a drama that takes its time to play out. It’s a source of pride that crowds at Scarborough routinely top attendance figures in the County Championship.

To the uninitiated, a stroll along North Marine Road is to be oblivious that a cricket ground is nestled nearby, out of sight and cocooned by terraced houses.

Entrance to Scarborough Cricket Club is through the ‘rush preventative’ turnstiles by W T Ellison & Co. Limited of Manchester; collector’s items in their own right from a past century and a nod to the old-fashioned.

Scarborough’s Festival continues to add to flood tide of memories

To observe the early-bird supporters who have queued at the gates is to witness a comical race for favoured seats, including the unreserved pavilion enclosure through which the players walk onto the field.

For those not under starter’s orders, many pause in wonder and can’t help smiling. The playing surface, expertly maintained by groundsman John Dodds, is below eye-level. The Popular Bank wooden benches wrap around like weather-beaten ribs and give Scarborough the feel of an ancient amphitheatre.

Unlike Test match arenas, there are no barriers so children can sit with their feet on the grass, clutching an autograph bat to be signed, while an England international fields a few feet away. It is an intimate, inclusive experience of county cricket; best demonstrated at lunch and tea intervals when spectators fill the outfield to play games with family and friends.

A popular pastime is to stroll out to the middle where the cricket square is condoned off and observe the ground staff repainting the lines and rolling the pitch. It’s a recurring tradition; just something you do at the cricket and while there’s little to be usefully gleaned, you feel closer to the professionals as a result.

After all, many of the finest players ever to have graced the game include North Marine Road on their CV from Bradman to Tendulkar and Trueman to Boycott. It was dubbed the ‘Sixth Test’ with touring sides finishing up at Scarborough after playing England.

However, the reduction of the County Championship, allied with changing player priorities and more tournaments meant Scarborough’s status dwindled, as did the Festival’s length.

No matter. There is joy aplenty to be found in the modern festival whether that’s relaxing on a deckchair outside the hospitality marquee or stocking up on slabs of chocolate cake from the Tea Room. I’ve grown particularly fond of the apple crumble, with its own custard moat, from the North Bay Cafe on the corner of North Marine Road.

Everyone has a story to tell about the Scarborough Festival and they do so with an affection; as if the setting itself is an old friend.

Play was once paused in 1979 when a match between Yorkshire and Middlesex was hit by an aphid invasion as squadron after squadron of greenfly filled the skies. There was the time when North Marine Road became alive with ladybirds who had descended en masse; particularly seeking out anyone dressed in yellow.

A favourite tale of mine is of the tannoy at Scarborough Cricket Club which has something of a mind of its own and can get accidentally hijacked by outside broadcasts. The PA system once picked up a local funeral service; a bemused batsman made his way out to start his innings with the Lord is my Shepherd booming in his ears.

Despite the gentle surroundings, the cricket can be full-throttle with a partisan Yorkshire crowd roaring on their heroes. Championships have been won by the coast and reputations forged but there are plenty of memories that point to a more relaxed approach at times.

Sir Michael Parkinson had his own World XI in the Festival for several years and remembers the teams being given a formidable Balkan vodka to aid preparations. Geoffrey Boycott once went out to bat with itching powder in his cap, the unsuspecting victim of a practical joke.

The Scarborough Cricket Festival continues to be a sporting institution; a date in the diary around which life’s other commitments can be reshuffled.

Last of the Summer Wickets: Tales from the Scarborough Cricket Festival by John Fuller is published by Great Northern Books, priced £9.99.

Scarborough Cricket Festival, Scarborough Cricket Ground, August 18 to 21. Tickets £12 to £18.