|Ground:||Hoover's Sports Ground, Merthyr Tydfil|
In the early 19th century, Merthyr Tydfil was the largest industrial settlement in South Wales, and the bustling town boasted four large ironworks - Dowlais, Cyfarthfa, Plymouth and Penydarren. By 1823 these were producing 43% of Britain's iron and the works attracted hundreds of migrants. By 1831 a formal club was in existence, but given the influx of migrants, it could have been surprising that only one cricket club was formed. However, many of the steelworkers had long hours of work, and many were of quite humble means and could not afford the subscriptions fees. At the same time, Merthyr had many Nonconformists who took a dim view of recreation and gambling.
By the 1850's these barriers were broken down through the benevolent attitude of the wealthy ironmasters, who were concerned about the quality of life that many of their employees 'enjoyed', and tried to provide recreational facilities. In 1852 the Guest family gave access to a field so that the staff at the Dowlais could play cricket, and in 1857 the Crawshay family who owned the Cyfarthfa Works followed suit. A further stimulus to cricket in Merthyr Tydfil came with the spread of Muscular Christianity, and as Nonconformism disappeared, many of the town's workingmens suburbs had their own cricket team. But this was the heyday of cricket in Merthyr as steel making in the South Wales valleys started to decline in the 20th century, and as the steelworks closed and people drifted away, so the cricket teams declined.
By the inter-war period football, rugby and boxing had gained in popularity, but cricket in Merthyr underwent a resurgence with the arrival of light industry. Indeed, it was the arrival of one particular company that saw the creation of the Hoovers Sports Ground, as on March 1st, 1948 the Hoover Electrical Company opened a new factory to the south of Merthyr at Pentrebach, making washine machines and tumble dryers. Over 2,000 jobs were created, and like the earlier ironmasters, Hoovers decided to create a recreational complex for their many employees, several of whom had moved from England, and enjoyed playing cricket. Alongside the factory was an area of railway sidings, which following the closure of the mines and steel foundries were now in a semi-derelict state. The Company decided to buy the land and then reclaimed and levelled it, thereby creating a sports ground, including a cricket square and dressing room complex.
By 1953 the new wicket was ready for competitive matches, and in June 1953, Wilf Wooller led a Glamorgan Club and Ground XI against a combined Hoover and Merthyr XI. Over the next few years, regular Benefit matches were staged at the ground, together with a fixture involving the 1957 Pakistan Eaglets. However, it had alsways been the dream of the Hoover's management that their sports ground would stage county matches, and in the 1980's their dreams came true, as together with the local council and other businesses, they put together a sponsorship deal that led to Glamorgan playing Sunday Cricket at Merthyr.
The first of these games took place quite fittingly in Glamorgan's Centenary Year as the club took their 1988 fixtures around both South and North Wales. However, it was Kent who were left celebrating the first game at Merthyr as the vistors won a low scoring game by 5 wickets. The following year Middlsex were the visitors, and a fine allround performance by Ravi Shastri saw Glamorgan defeat Middlsex by 37 runs. The Indian Test star scoed 92 and then took 3-33 with his left arm spin, but this proved to be Glamorgan's sole success at the ground. Even so, it has still staged 2nd XI matches, whilst some of Wales Minor Counties fixtures have been held at the Hoover's ground.
(Article: Copyright © 2003 Dr.A.K.Hignell)
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