© The Fan Experience Company 2020
Rain stops play but fans bowled over
Crowds have returned to domestic cricket for the first time this season, albeit with strict Covid-19 rules in place. Before rain stopped play, the BBC spoke to fans watching Northamptonshire v Lancashire to find out how it felt to be back.
‘I watched online but it’s not like being here’
James and Liz Simpson enjoyed the occasional day out at the County Ground before Covid-19.
Like fans around England this week, they are among the first paying spectators to watch live cricket since September 2019.
Liz, clutching a large umbrella, says she is impressed with the new systems in place.
“It’s really good – hand sanitisers everywhere, designated areas, people wearing masks,” she says.
“And you don’t have to wear masks once you’re in your seat, unlike at football,” James points out.
He adds: “It’s exciting to back, it’s good to be out watching live sport, professional sport – hopefully we’ll get some play in and it’ll be an exciting start to the day.
“I missed it quite a lot and watched the online feeds, but it’s not like being here.”
‘Spectators can’t move around the ground now’
Safety officer Nick Price has had his work cut out since Monday, when he found out what needed to put in place ahead of three days of County Championship cricket.
He says the “massive” difference for spectators is not being able to change seats.
“They have to stay in their allocated zone and their allocated block – normally people would move around the ground as the sun moved, and they can’t do that now,” he says.
“But if you want a cup of tea and a bacon and sausage bap, you can get it on either side of the ground.”
Spectators are met by a safety steward, shown to their zone, and then shown to their seat by a second steward.
They can then stay all day, and bring their own ‘cricket tea’ if they wish, but they cannot make for the few covered stands if there’s a downpour.
The iffy weather means the turnout of 470 was lower than expected, says Mr Price, but he is hopeful the ground will welcome more people later in the summer.
“Our capacity has been cut dramatically – we have had to redo our seating plan which puts our capacity at under 25%, but we have done that because we know people want to see cricket and will come back,” he says.
‘We can put up with a few things being different’
Bill Horsley would usually man a supporters’ club book stall and keep an eye on the game, but as that’s been shelved he’s got a seat in the stand instead.
“It has it’s good sides – I’ll see some of the game,” he says.
“It’s wonderful to be back and see people I haven’t seen in all that time.”
He says he is happy to deal with the few changes for the benefit of seeing live cricket.
“Unless you have been in a cave somewhere for the last 14 months you know there are going to be restrictions, hopefully it won’t be for too long,” he says.
“Just to see some cricket, we can put up with a few things being different. I think we can all manage that.”
‘Only in England would you get this’
Maureen and Raymond Coles – and not forgetting Biscuit the dog – have kept across cricket from home where, it has to be said, the weather conditions were more reliable.
“We’ve been able to watch online, so we’ve been quite lucky, it’s not been the same – but on a day like today it could be,” laughs Maureen Coles, shivering in the freezing cold under the leaden sky.
“Only in England do we get this sort of thing,” adds husband Raymond.
“We watched it under sufferance on TV and listened on radio, occasionally, but you just have to bear it.
“We’re just glad to be back.”
And does Biscuit agree?
“Absolutely,” smiles Raymond.
“He’s been following cricket for a number of years – he’ll keep score.”
‘There have been teething problems’
The club’s Covid-19 protocols and pre-match communications were not a hit with everyone.
“It’s really good to come back, but the email we got last night telling us to bring our umbrellas because of limited cover, and really stressing that we couldn’t move from our seats read more like it was from a dark lord prison officer than someone from this ground,” says David Johnson, who has been coming to the County Ground for 47 years.
“Just looking how full this ground is and to expect you not to not try to get cover, it is so unfriendly.”
Nevertheless, he says it is great to be back.
“It does more good for people to be out than to be sitting at home, doing nothing,” he says.