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It's Just Not Football
By: Nathan Baxter
MY quest to sample summer sporting life continued last night with a trip to see the London derby Surrey v Middlesex (the county that doesn't exist) in the 20/20 match at The Oval. The match somehow avoided the recent rain and went ahead as scheduled.
Although I like cricket I have never seen a 20/20 game even on television before as I do not have Sky so am restricted to watching highlights programmes on terrestrial TV. My "team" in cricket is Nottinghamshire nominally (I've only seen them once in about 1987 at Hull), but today I decided to support the home side Surrey as that's the side of London on which I now live in exile from the fair county of NE Lincs. The only player I recognised in the Surrey line-up I read in a free paper on the tube was Mark Ramprakash as he used to play for England.
With the match kicking off (sorry bowling off?) at 17:30 I had to leave work early but got there a few minutes late. As the vast majority of the crowd seemed to still be queuing up for food or drinks in the stands I assumed the match hadn't started on time.
I took my seat in the arena in front on what I assumed was the equivalent of a pre-match warm up. To my horror and amazement I gradually realised the game had started even though three quarters of the crowd were missing. I was too embarrassed to ask anyone which team was which, but eventually figured out Surrey (who are also known as the Browncaps apparently) from the advertisers logo on the shirts matching those predominantly displayed around the ground.
A passive observer to the game would have thought the main function of the evening was to consume as many pints of beer as possible while conversing with your companions and occasionally watching and commenting on what was going on in front of you. Nobody seemed to care particularly what was going on, although Middlesex were amassing an impressive total. On the other hand almost everyone around me missed huge chunks of the game queuing up for the regulation four pints of beer stacked in a long cardboard tray, which took 30 minutes or so to purchase.
The crowd too was interesting with no segregation. It became apparent that certain individuals favoured Middlesex from their general comments, but it was a million miles away from the intense rivalry of football even though this was the equivalent of Arsenal v Chelsea or something similar. I know in London and the Home Counties people move around so much that the regional rivalries you get up North just do not exist (people just do not identify with an area in the same way), but a friendlier more convivial atmosphere could not have existed. What happened to "you're going home in a f*****g ambulance"? If we had no segregation and served alcohol at football matches would it be like this? I doubt it.
It was also pleasant to note that the entire ground was no smoking including behind the concourses. I guess this is how it is going to be next season everywhere. Thank God I gave cigarettes up a few years ago, I could never have handled not being able to smoke hardly anywhere. Despite the fact that nearly 20,000 people were there I never saw a police officer. How the authorities must hate our beloved game of football, that sees Grimsby v Torquay with just 50 away fans have a heavier police presence than the cream of county cricket.
The first innings rapidly ended with Middlesex amassing what to me seemed a very large total and those around me seemed to be saying the same thing, so it looked like Surrey would have their work cut out.
At half time (if that is the correct term, the length of which was never announced) I purchased a burger for six quid and met a fellow Grimsby exile last spotted at Macclesfield under similar circumstances by pure chance in the Gents. When I took my seat 80% of the crowd had yet to appear even though we were in the second over. The beer queues never diminished throughout the entire game! Presumably the length of time it takes to get served (which amazingly nobody complained about) is why hardly anyone seemed to be particularly drunk despite solid drinking for several hours?
Surrey rapidly lost three wickets and Batty and my man Ramprakash both found themselves at the crease needing 10 an over with both of them on ducks if I recall. Amazingly though they managed to put on over 100 runs and get them at more or less the required rate.
I remembered from one day cricket before that all the excitement is generally in the latter part of the second innings and so it proved. Both myself and the crowd suddenly came to life and I found myself standing up and applauding fours and sixes for the team I only started supporting two hours ago.
When Batty was out just before his 50, it looked like Surrey had too much to do towards the end of the penultimate over, which had been a very economical one. I think they needed 16 from 8 balls. Ramprakash hit what should have been a single towards Nick Compton fielding just in front of me at long off (I think). However Compton missed the ball completely, it nutmegged him and went over the ropes. Amazingly the previous moribund crowd even started chanting some football songs. Brief refrains of "You're s**t and you know you are" and "You're so s**t it's unbelievable" were distinctly heard.
Suddenly the tide had turned and Surrey only needed 12 from 7 balls. Middlesex heads dropped and Ramprakash skied the next ball straight down the ground for 6.
Two more fours in the final over saw Surrey win with three balls to spare and Ramprakash had almost single handedly beaten Middlesex, who apparently he used to play for too. Surrey had won and most of the crowd including me with my new found allegiance went home happy.
Verdict: the structure of the game means the first half of the match at least is not particularly exciting. The game therefore lacks the intense excitement of many football games, and the supporters are nowhere near as fanatical or obsessive. At just 15 quid for around 3 hours entertainment it's not bad value either, and I might even consider going back! 7/10
Next week I have been fortunate enough to have been given tickets to Wimbledon in the public draw and am also off to see Harlequins play Hull KR in the Super League (no problem with who to support there!). Both will be new experiences for me, as have been the flat racing and dog racing I have so far sampled in the close season. It's not a bad lark this summer business after all!
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