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Cheltenham Cricket Club reach a special milestone

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Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Monday, 11th July 2022, 16:30

Cheltenham are celebrating 125 years of playing cricket at the Victoria Ground Cheltenham are celebrating 125 years of playing cricket at the Victoria Ground

Take a trip to the Victoria Ground, the home of Cheltenham Cricket Club, and you can’t help but see a sign that sits proudly on an outside wall when you enter the car park.

It’s a simple message but one that says so much about the club. It reads, ‘Cheltenham Cricket Club 1897-2022 Celebrating 125 Years of Cricket at the Victoria Ground’.

Historians will tell you that 1897 was pretty significant for many reasons – it was the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – but it’s certainly pretty special for Cheltenham Cricket Club as it was the year they found a place that they could finally call ‘home’.

“It was the year when the first pavilion was opened on the ground,” said club president Peter Simmons, who has been going to the ground since the mid-1950s. “The original wooden structure has been replaced by the new existing pavilion which was built in the 1960s.

“Cheltenham had been playing cricket for many years before 1897 but that was the year we settled at the Victoria Ground.”

A green plaque on the front of the pavilion, which was unveiled by the great Tom Graveney in 2004, records that the Victoria Ground was opened by Dr WG Grace on 21st June 1897 and it’s fair to say there have been a lot of changes since the late 19th century.

“The ground used to extend all the way down to Hewlett Road,” said Simmons. “There used to be tennis courts but that land was sold to pay for the existing pavilion and is now covered by Westdown Gardens.”

Nevertheless, the Victoria Ground is still a mighty impressive green space off Princes Street close to the centre of town.

“It’s a very wide playing strip,” said Simmons. “When the 1sts are at home we have just the one match but when they are away the 2nds and 3rds both play at the same time. Some people say we’ve got more side-by-side strips than The Oval, although I can’t say for sure that’s right!”

The ground gets plenty of use in the summer with the club boasting three senior men’s teams, a women’s team and a thriving junior section that caters for boys and girls.

“Like most cricket clubs we’ve benefited from women’s and girls’ interest in the game,” said Simmons, “and our junior section is very strong with all age groups up to under-19.”

It all means plenty of work for head groundsman Paul Staddon and his assistant David Waterston, and Simmons, who has been president of the club for the past three years after serving as chairman for 12 years, is certainly appreciative of their work. “They work well together and do a brilliant job,” he said.

Simmons was first taken to the ground by his dad John in around 1955.

“He introduced me to Peter Bence who was the club wicketkeeper and it was the only club I ever played for,” Simmons explained. “I used to play for Eric Baker’s XI on Wednesday afternoons in the days when Wednesday was a half day.”

Simmons, whose son Will captained the club for many years, modestly describes himself as a “moderate cricketer”, adding, “I was never the first name on the teamsheet.”

He’s still at the ground most weekends, though, a ground that saw Gloucestershire host India in a tour match as recently as 1986.

The likes of Ravi Shastri, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohinder Amarnath played for the tourists in that three-day game and over the years Cheltenham have had some very decent players of their own such as Charlie Barnett, Gilbert Jessop, Ron Nicholls, David Brown, Don Perry and father and son Phil and Billy Woof.

These days Cheltenham’s flagship team are playing in Premier Two Glos/Wilts of the West of England Premier League and while Simmons is very happy with the overall health of the club he admits: “We’d like to get back into Premier One.”

And if and when they do, they’ve certainly got a ground that belongs at the top level. As Simmons says: “It’s a beautiful ground, the backdrop of Cleeve Hill is magnificent. It’s a hidden jewel.”

Other Images

The Victoria Ground is described by Cheltenham president Peter Simmons as “a hidden jewel”
The sign that greets visitors to Cheltenham Cricket Club

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