I have been mulling over writing this one pretty much since @legsidelizzy first tweeted this blog before Christmas and even now, I am not sure I am up to the task of doing this one justice. Where do you start with such a icon of the cricketing world? This is not a player for whom you can wax lyrical about his cover drive, or ability to swing it both ways [ooerrr missus] or even quote stats & records, though Lords has seen plenty of those in it’s lifetime. It is not a pretty village pavilion nor inner city rough but ready pitch, the starting point of so many illustrious careers held in deep affection only by those that have lived in the locale. No, Lords is often the pinnacle of those careers, it is the symbolism of having ‘made it’, the absolute peak of cricketing greatness on so many levels. So, if this mighty edifice in the heart of St John’s Wood is so great, why does a diminutive [metaphorically and literally] soul like myself always feel so at home the moment I walk through the gates? I guess that is the point of this post, I am going to explain from a simple point of view why the self styled Home of Cricket is worthy of being one of our 500 Loves. This isn’t about history per se, or the intricacies of the MCC and its role, it is about the actual physical place that is Lords and those that work and play within its walls.
The first time I walked into Lords, via the tradesmans entrance otherwise known as the North Gate [which despite the glamour of other gates, is still my preferred way in, there is something about the build up, walking past the Nursery, players out there in training kit, often having a knock around with a football] it was all rather surreal. I had of course seen this cathedral of cricket worship on the TV, but that first view of the lovely old groundsmen sheds alongside the Nursery ground, the back of the spaceship Media Centre dominating the skyline, it was all a bit, well, weird. The sharp contrast between the traditional and contemporary bits didn’t jar in the way I would expect, it just all felt so right, so familiar and yet so new… and I hadn’t even seen the Pavilion at that point.
I spent the next 3 days at Lords, lucky enough that my first few days there included being fed and watered in the Media Centre – an odd place indeed, especially during a county match, which is the only way I have seen it on the inside, sort of fish bowl meets gentlemans club with a bit of the comedy store thrown in for good measure.
Lords is quite large, as you can imagine, but you quickly get a feel for the layout and there are always smartly dressed stewards around to point you in the right direction should it be required. It is an odd combination of the original architecture with all manner of miscellaneous new bits bolted on, like someone took the stations & platforms from an old Hornby railway set and chucked them in the box with the Meccano. Walk round the back of the Mound stand and the brick archways are more reminiscent of an Abbey cloisters than anything else – possibly quite appropriate. Popping out at the Tavern stand and 70’s/80’s kitsch is all encompassing, but it almost goes unnoticed because there is the sign to the Clocktower, the clapperboard style tower that contains the scorers box and the clock. Sitting proudly atop this tower, Father Time himself [not, as many think ‘old Father Time’, have a read of THIS straight from the horses mouth], reliably offering advice on wind direction and a comforting presence to all, like the guardian angel of wood & willow the world over and certainly of this corner of London.
Beyond this you reach the majesty of the Grace gates and the Tavern pub [the Tav], topped by the Thomas Lord Suite – again, TLS is not the most eye pleasing part of the ground, but it is of little consequence as the eye is drawn by those gates, known the world over and together with the Pavilion itself, probably symbolise Lords more than anything else. We are now very much into ‘members’ territory, Allen & Warner stands are down this end, acting as bookends to the monolith that is the MCC Pavilion, THE home of cricket, it’s laws, it’s members, it’s history… look carefully, you can probably see the glow of the aura that surrounds this building. Pitchside, it’s facade is a symphony of symmetry, spoilt only by a sliding sight screen that for my visits is nearly always off centre, a bum note.
From the rear, this symmetry is less noticable as it spreads across into the museum via the player changing rooms and offices and ‘stuff’, and becomes a neighbour of the Middlesex shop, which in turn sits cosying up to the Harris Gardens, where the ‘posh’ people drink champagne on warm days. Walking under here, you pass the main entrance to the Pavilion, always watched over by a pair of stewards in smart blazers [like all the Lords stewards in fairness] You glance down at your trainers and jeans and feel just ever so slightly under dressed and out of place, so scurry past before you lower the tone too much.
Popping out the other side you come across what is probably the most peaceful place at Lords, the Coronation Gardens. Gently manicured lawns surrounded by benches. A place to sit and appreciate the passing world, enjoy your packed lunch, watch a couple of kids knock a tennis ball around with little cricket bats. There is something very serene about this little corner.
From here it is the long run under the main grandstand, a modern concoction of concrete and steel that is as close to ‘football ground’ as Lords can possibly get, although the friendly welcome at the bar under the stand has any resemblence quickly banished.
Finally you are back behind the Compton stand, which together with Edrich, flank the media centre. A pair of two tiered stands, that require their occupants to have a love of the English weather – the lower tiers have a venturi quality, pulling the wind in off the Nursery pitch and sending it howling down your neck even on a relatively balmy day. The upper tiers are completely open to the elements, rain or shine, you never forget your rain coat and your sunblock if you plan on sitting up there. They are popular though, especially in toward the Media pod, behind the bowlers arm y’see.
All sounds quite grand, not your average county ground at all. I have visited other grounds, like Kent and Essex and they are relatively small and intimate, Lords isn’t…and yet, it is. Since that first visit in 2009 I have been back many times, for both Middlesex and England matches, as a ticket paying great unwashed, as a Middlesex CCC member and even in a working capacity as a photographer for non-playing third party events and you know what, Lords is an amazing place.
It may be big in the overall scheme of English cricket grounds [probably quite ‘big’ in the world of cricket grounds], but it is still friendly & welcoming. This lass, born in a council house in the north of England, has drunk champagne in the Harris garden and not felt out of place. I have smiled at those doormen at the Pavilion doors as I walked in as well as been smiled at as I walked past them dressed down for sitting in the public stands. Staff have always been friendly and happy to chat, especially the older stewards who love to tell you their anecdotes. You walk into Lords and it wraps you in it’s familiarity, you can leave life’s worries at the gates and relax into it’s atmosphere. Some say Lords is full of ghosts of cricket past and maybe it is, but if so, they are friendly ghosts, very happy to have you share their home.
I remember the first time I went to a test match, 2012 against the West Indies and the ground was of course packed with people, with additional food and drink stalls and it was all very merry. I was initially quite taken aback at all these people at ‘my’ special place, forcing me to stay in the same seat all day and queue for a drink – but in truth, it matters not, because each time that happens, I know that my next visit will be peaceful. It will be back to county cricket with the die hards, the Middlesex supporters [and opposition] wandering around making the place feel occupied but not overly crowded. The Coronation gardens will be quiet, the bar staff will have time to not just smile a welcome, but ask me how I am enjoying play [or not, depending on how things are going for ‘the Middle’] and best of all, I can pick and choose where to sit for each session, whatever the weather. So I can relax and enjoy international cricket at Lords too, because ultimately it is still Lords, it still the place I love to be and I hope every other cricket fan that has been there feels even just a little bit the same.
Reading back, I am not sure I have done it justice, it requires more than my best effort in truth, but hopefully, you get the idea.