THE Stanley Park cricket ground, which will host Lancashire’s County Championship clash with Worcester starting tomorrow, is closing in on a remarkable milestone.
This will be the 99th first-class match played at the historic venue, stretching right back to August 1905, and in many ways the history of Blackpool cricket is as rich and varied as its soccer heritage.
The current match total excludes contests that were washed out without a ball being bowled as was the case when Lancashire were last due to play at the ground, against Surrey in 2008.
The opening first-class game at the venue was between the North and the South almost exactly 106 years ago, when the North prevailed by eight wickets.
Players who have graced Stanley Park since that initial fixture reads like Who’s Who? of cricket.
Among those who have had the crowds flocking in are Douglas Jardine, Sir Learie Constantine, Bill Edrich, George Gunn, Sir Frank Worrell, Stan McCabe, Lindsay Hassett, Trevor Bailey, Everton Weekes, Wes Hall, Andrew Sandham, Bill Woodfull, Clarrie Grimmet, Polly Umbrigar, Rohan Kanhai and Wally Hammond, as well as Lord Tennyson, who was famously well versed in the game and whose team played J Sharpe’s XI here in September, 1923.
Blackpool dignitary Sir Lindsay Parkinson fielded a team to play the West Indian tourists in 1933.
And the story of Lancashire cricket through the 20th century can be read by looking at all the famous names from the Red Rose county who have done duty at Stanley Park over the years – Brian Statham, Cyril Washbrook and Jimmy Anderson to name but three.
Women’s cricket has also featured there, with Test matches being staged at the venue.
Lancashire have won their share of matches in Blackpool but it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
Kent slayed the Lancashire attack for 602-6 on a Stanley Park featherbed in 2003, while Warwickshire’s Jim Stewart also took a liking to the ground – and the Red Rose bowlers – in 1959, when he hit 17 sixes in an innings.
It wasn’t just Wembley that saw stirring deeds in 1953 – Bob Berry created a Lancashire record that could never be beaten in that year.
At Stanley Park he took all ten Worcester wickets in one innings, finishing with figures of 10-02 as Lancashire prevailed by an innings.
You could argue that that this week’s match is one of the most important in the post-war history of Lancashire cricket.
Lancashire have a chance of winning the title for the first time since 1950, when they shared the crown with Surrey.
They will settle for the kind of result that the 1950 team achieved here, defeating Glamorgan – Wilf Wooller, Don Shepherd and all – by an innings and 70 runs.
Lancashire fans will be hoping another significant page of cricket history will be written in Blackpool in 2011.
And then it will be roll on the Stanley Park century! And what an apt time to show off the County Championship pennant billowing from the top of the Blackpool pavilion.