Champagne and heartbreak at the Home of Cricket

by Sam Blackledge

They talk about it like a place of worship.

The pilgrimage up St John’s Wood Road; the Grace gates; the hallowed turf. The Home of Cricket (their capitals) emblazoned across every tie, every programme, every souvenir fridge magnet.

Lord’s is special, no doubt. But for me it was never about the tradition, the history, or what blogger Alex Bowden pithily calls the “great swathes of flowery sentimental guff about a load of grass surrounded by plastic seats.”

For me it was always about the cricket.

My team, Warwickshire, have appeared in 11 Lord’s finals since my first visit in 1993, when they beat Sussex in a famously thrilling last-ball finish.

I was eight years old and it was my dad’s 34th birthday – three years older than I am now. This fact has just hit me for the first time and I feel a bit dizzy. Trust a pocket calculator to spark an existential crisis.

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Many of our cricketing memories are, of course, bound up in Edgbaston. We lived a few miles away from the ground and were season ticket members throughout the Bears’ glory years.

Edgbaston was our second family home, the place where – like cleaning the toilet and changing the bedsheets – we got on with the everyday work of winning championships and Sunday League titles.

But the big stuff – the champagne and heartbreak – always took place 100 miles south.

We attended eight finals in 12 years: four wins and four defeats. I’ve just made a list on my notepad, and I barely had to employ the services of Google.

I’m not sure I could point to any particularly memorable home match during that period, except for Lara’s 501. Something about Lord’s just made it all a bit more special.

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In 2004 we saw Wigan play St Helens in Rugby League’s Challenge Cup final, a showpiece event traditionally held at Wembley. But the twin towers had come down and the new arch was still under construction, so the final found a temporary home at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

I don’t remember feeling much different. The burgers were just as overpriced, the action on the pitch just as brutal and pulsating.

I have been to Lord’s for other games. A couple of Test matches; a Twenty20 group match; a one-day final between Surrey and Somerset. All were pleasant experiences, but nowhere near the same as seeing my boyhood team fighting for silverware.

On Saturday my dad and I will take our seats in the Edrich stand for yet another final.  We will gaze approvingly at the pavilion and pay our respects to Old Father Time, but at 10.30am our attention will be fixed well and truly on the men in the middle.

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