|Ground:||Stradey Park, Llanelli|
Stradey Park is known all over the sporting world as the home of "The Scarlets" - Llanelli R.F.C. and the legendary "Sospan Fach". But the town's sporting complex also staged 23 championship matches between the 1930's and 1960's, and in more recent years has also been the venue for some of Glamorgan's one-day games.
Cricket in Llanelli dates back to 1837 when a club started to play in a field in the centre of the town. By the mid 1850's they were also using the grounds of Llanelli House, before moving in the 1870's to Stradey Park. It followed a decision in 1872 by the Mansel Lewis family to provide a permanent home for the town's rugby and cricket club in the grounds of his home. The Mansel Lewis family helped to oversee the construction of a pavilion for the use of the cricket club in the northern part of the Park, and a small grandstand for the rugby ground to the south.
By the 1880's the cricket club had become one of the top sides in West Wales and were able to afford the services of decent professionals. As well as helping to coach the locals, their job was to tend the square. The wicket quickly gained a fine reputation, and all despite having a rugby international played on it. Indeed, the Wales-England match of January 1887 was switched from the rugby pitch to the cricket ground when it was discovered shortly before kick-off that the turf on the rugby ground was frozen. The cricket ground was quickly roped off and the 8,000 crowd gathered around.
Quite what the cricketers thought of this, as the 30 burly rugby players ran and kicked their way over the cricket square is not on record, but not too much damage was caused as the cricket club continued to go from strength to strength, hiring players of the calibre of Hampshire's E.E.Light and the South African A.E.E.Vogler. The Stradey wicket was also the best in Carmarthenshire, and the Llanelli ground played host to Carmarthenshire's games as they played for a short while in the Minor County Championship before the Great War.
After the War, several of the club's players started to make a name for themselves in county cricket with Glamorgan. The efforts of Dai Davies, Emrys Davies, Helm Spencer and Trevor Every took place at a time when the county were looking to strengthen their membership and boost their finances, and with several Carmarthenshire players in the side, Glamorgan approached the Stradey club about staging county cricket at the Llanelli ground. At the same time, Tom Jeffreys, a butcher in the town, drummed up financial support from the town's business community, and in 1933 the match with Worcestershire was allocated to the ground.
This inaugural first-class fixture was very well attended and as a result, Stradey Park was awarded an annual county match. A local brewery gave financial support after the War, allowing extra seating to be provided and the county games of the 1950's were almost like festival matches, with a record 7,500 people watching the second day of the match with Surrey in 1952. Indeed, one newspaper correspondent wrote how "the annual county match is something more than a cricket match. It reminds me of a fair, for the whole town seems to pour in to watch the cricket and enjoy themselves. One might compare it to the music hall, where folk used to eat and drink as they watched the entertainment."
By this time, the ownership of the ground had changed, as during the early 1950's the Stradey Estate had sold the whole of the recreational complex to "The Llanelli Athletic Association" for £ 4,000 with the purpose of preserving the area for recreation. As rows of houses were built around the ground, the future of the ground became secure, but it in the mid-1960's it was dealt a blow as Glamorgan opted to concentrate their Western fixtures on Swansea and Neath, and the final Championship match took place at Stradey Park in 1965. However, county cricket returned to the ground a few years ago, as between 1987 and 1994 it hosted limited overs contests and special Benefit matches.
(Article: Copyright © 2003 Dr.A.K.Hignell)
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