|Ground:||Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale|
Eugene Cross Park, Ebbw Vale, like many of Glamorgan`s grounds, is the joint home of the town`s rugby and cricket clubs. Howver, cricket in the Gwent steel-making town predates rugby, and the first record of a cricket match taking place was in 1852 when a fixture was held with Blaenau. The influx of migrants from surrounding counties of England looking for work in the mines and ironworks during the middle of the 19th century gave cricket a boost and by the 1870`s there were several teams in the Ebbw Valley. One of these was a team of schoolmasters, and the introduction of organised games into the school curriculum, meant that more of the local youngsters learnt the rudiments of the game. Support also came from the various religious leaders who as disciples of Muscular Christianity believed that the playing of games helped to give order and moral structure to life within the tightly knit and drink-ridden industrial communities. By the end of the 19th century, there was enough support for cricket within the town of Ebbw Vale for a formal club to be created. They secured the use of a field alongside the Ebbw River, close to the Bridgend Hotel, and by the Great War, the "Bridgend Field" had become the town`s major area for recreation, being used for association football and rugby, as well as cricket. The Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company realised that it was important for their employees to have the chance to partake in healthy recreation, so in November 1919 they formed the Ebbw Vale Welfare Association and bought the "Bridgend Field". The 6 acres of land became known as the Welfare Ground, and in 1973 its name was changed to its present title in honour of Sir Eugene Cross, the influential and longstanding Chairman of the Welfare Trustees.
By 1920 a cricket pavilion had been erected to the north of the cricket field, plus a rugby grandstand in the southern part of the ground, alongside the Bridgend Hotel. The ground was used by Monmouthshire for their Minor County fixtures, and in June 1920 Glamorgan were the visitors for a two day friendly with Monmouthshire. By the 1930`s Glamorgan were the hosts at the Welfare Ground, following their affiliation with Monmouthshire in 1935, and they staged a series of two day Minor County games at Ebbw Vale, beginning with a match with Dorset in August 1935. The games were well attended, so when Glamorgan regrouped after the Second World War, and thought about tapping support at new venues, it didn`t take long for the Welfare Ground to be added to their Championship calendar.
The inaugural first-class match at the ground took place in June 1946 against Worcestershire, and a first day crowd of 5,000 vindicated the committee`s decision to take county cricket to Ebbw Vale. It also led to a second game later in the summer after there were difficulties preparing a wicket at Stradey Park, and the Nottinghamshire game was switched from Llanelli to the Welfare Ground. In the years up until 1968, the ground staged an annual championship fixture, together with regular second eleven and colts games.
Over the years, a number of famous professionals have been hired by the Ebbw Vale club, due to its close links with the Welfare Association. Percy Holmes, Harold Gimblett, and Bill Andrews have been three of the famous English cricketers too be attached to the club, who have also produced a number of Glamorgan cricketers as well, including Wilf Hughes, Jack Cope, and G.B.Shaw. The latter was one of the first products from the Indoor School, which was opened during the 1950`s alongside the pavilion, and has been a popular base for the county`s winter coaching programme in the Gwent Valleys.
The ground is not one of the largest on the county circuit, and three`s are something of a rarity! However, its compact size makes it ideal as a venue for one day games and in 1969 the Welfare Ground staged its first Sunday League contest. During the 1970`s, the Welfare Ground continued to stage one day rather than three day games, and the crowds have been treated to some swashbuckling innings, with balls regularly being deposited high onto the grassed embankment on the eastern side of the ground, or over the trees lining the western boundary alongside the Ebbw.
Championship cricket returned to Ebbw Vale in 1983 after some local sponsorship, but in 1984 the pattern reverted back to Sunday League games. In 1990 it staged the three day friendly with the Sri Lankans, but with Glamorgan developing their headquarters at Sophia Gardens, it seems likely that Ebbw Vale will act as the Sunday venue for the championship match being staged at nearby Abergavenny.
(Article: Copyright © 2003 Dr.A.K.Hignell)
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