The challenges will come to a close at the end of the year – and my only (and therefore final) fundraising event will be a skydive in July, which I will undertake on behalf of the Shaw Mind Foundation, the charity which is the parent company of my publisher Trigger. The proceeds from book sales all go back to the charity, which is doing so much to support those suffering from mental health issues.
I’ve never jumped out of a plane that is safely on terra firma, let alone one that is flying at 10,000 feet; the prospect is really scary, but I’ll be strapped to someone who’s done this kind of thing loads of times before - and he apparently brings a parachute with him too … which is reassuring.
Anyway, this most recent “challenge” was to visit six County Cricket grounds (nominally Durham, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire) in as short a time as possible. I’d be planning the “road trip” since December and, with a week to go, five of the six counties were fully supportive of the event … the sixth (am I allowed to say it was Yorkshire?) had said it would simply not be possible to come into the ground and take a photo on a match day– although a space on the pavement outside the ground would be available.
It was a situation I accepted (I was delighted to have received five positive responses), but a friend from work - a long-time member of the county in question - was far from impressed; and a couple of phone calls and e-mails later, the decision was, shall we say, “reconsidered”.
Notwithstanding parking at, and gaining entry into, the grounds on the day, the two biggest worries were the vagaries of the British weather and traffic. The forecast was reasonably encouraging, but it was still quite chilly as Elaine and I headed north to ground no.1 – The Riverside in Chester le Street.
I had played at the ground 20 years earlier, for Chester le Street against Durham’s Academy side. I remember we lost the game, I took one for plenty, but enjoyed a very relaxing bath afterwards. There weren’t many grounds that had baths as well as showers, but this one was individual rather than communal, and all the better for it.
The arena has changed considerably over the intervening two decades; and it is as much a great stage for a test cricketer now, as it was for a humble club player back then.
Only 15 minutes had been allocated for each stop; time for a couple of photos, a comfort break, then straight back on the road. The next stop was Headingley, the second of the three test arenas on the journey. I had played there too, sometime around 1980, but much as The Riverside has developed, Headingley is now unrecognisable from the ground that had witnessed that incredible Ashes test back in ’81.
Durham’s four-day championship game had lasted less than two; and Yorkshire were only two wickets away from defeating Notts when we arrived. That meant that entry was free for anyone wanting to watch the Yorkshire bowling attack deliver the final coups de grace … a fact that rendered the previous e-mail and phone various exchanges essentially meaningless. We strolled into the ground, and a couple of clicks later strolled back out, and set off for Derby.
Ground number three was quite exposed, but had a nice feel about it; the stewards were particularly helpful, and halfway through the trip, things were going better than expected. There had been no problems on the roads, and we were almost an hour ahead of schedule as we trundled along Brian Clough Way towards Nottingham.
Trent Bridge was the highlight of the day. Nottinghamshire had succumbed to Ben Coad up in Leeds, so there was no game on at Trent Bridge; but it is undeniably a superb setting. The outfield looked immaculate, and for the first time in many years, I almost missed the weekly ritual of taking to the cricket field, occasionally taking a wicket or two, but far more frequently being dispatched to all parts…
Matt Halfpenny, the club’s Media and Communications manager, was kind enough to show us into the Long Room and take us out into the ground for a couple of photos and a brief, recorded chat, which he later turned into a really positive article on the county’s website.
We made it to Leicester Forest East services before doing a short interview with Dean Jackson of BBC Radio Nottingham. The scheduled ten minutes was cut to four courtesy of the far more newsworthy arrival of the Royal baby, but I was so grateful to Dean and his producer Hansa, as well as Matt at Trent Bridge for making the Nottinghamshire leg of the journey so memorable.
The fifth port of call was Grace Road, home of Leicestershire, the county that my father had captained back in 1962. Perhaps naively, I was hoping to get some sense of what it would have been like to watch Dad lead out his side onto the field all those years ago, but sadly it didn’t happen. I didn’t even see the tractor whose engine would be started as soon as perennial no.11 Brian Boshier strolled out to the crease…
Five down, one to go; and Northamptonshire’s game had also concluded earlier in the day meaning the pleasant, modern-looking ground was almost deserted by the time we arrived. A few final clicks of the shutter and the challenge was complete.
Six grounds, 300 miles, eight and three-quarter hours … all designed to raise mental health awareness and show that it is fine (in whatever circumstances) to ask for help. I’m extremely grateful to everyone from the various counties who was willing to support the trip, and particularly to my beloved navigator Elaine, who did a sterling job in getting us from A to B … C, D, E and F.
And that’s just about it really; next on the list … to meet a current or former soap actor, which is planned for 9 May … blog and photo (as always) to follow.