Joe Vine, who scored a century in Sussex’s last match before cricket stopped 100 years ago following the outbreak of War
The Last Match
Next Tuesday, 2 September, marks the anniversary of a significant moment in cricket history when, in 1914, what was to be the last county match for five years finished at Hove.
The First World War was already a month old and while Sussex and Yorkshire played on, with Valence Jupp and Joe Vine both scoring big hundreds for the county, evidence of a country preoccupied with far more important affairs could be seen at the northern end of the ground as army recruits were put through their paces by drill sergeants. During the match, a group of territorials from the Royal Sussex Regiment also undertook a recruiting drive.
It seems staggering, 100 years later, that cricket did not stop the moment War had been declared a month earlier, but the MCC insisted “no good purpose can be saved at the moment by cancelling matches,” not even after the first big skirmish of the conflict – the Battle of Mons – had led to the deaths of 2,000 British soldiers.
MCC secretary Francis Lacey later admitted the committee felt “an outward show of ‘carrying on” should be permitted. After all, he added, most people thought the War would be over that Christmas. The Oval was closed, after the War Office requisitioned it but otherwise, as men rallied to the cause all over the country, cricket carried on.
The authorities finally came to their senses at tea on the third day. Roy Kilner, the Yorkshire batsman, made a half-century, although he confessed afterwards that it meant little to him. It was the last fifty scored in county cricket for five years.
It had taken the intervention of WG Grace to bring the authorities to their senses. Writing in The Sportsman, he said: “I think the time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed, for it is not fitting that able-bodied men should play day-after-day and pleasure-seekers look on.”
That was on 27 August 1914. All county games were cancelled that day, Sussex v Yorkshire at Hove the last of them. The title was awarded to Surrey.
Over the next six years, Wisden ran the obituaries of 1,800 cricketers who died during the War. Kilner himself was hit by shrapnel during the Battle of the Somme.
Jim Parks with the Gillette Trophy
which Sussex won in 1963
The vagaries of this season’s lop-sided county fixture list are such that Sussex’s game against Glamorgan on Wednesday night is their last for 19 days.
At the height of the summer, and with the schools on holiday and a Bank Holiday this weekend, it’s a ridiculous situation that the ECB will hopefully address in 2015. Remember too that in June, Sussex played on 21 days out of 27!
Not so long ago Sussex’s regular Bank Holiday opponents tended to be Middlesex. The sides would meet at Lord’s over the May holiday with the return fixture at Hove three months later, often attracting big crowds.
The capacity at Hove these days is just under 7,000 and when it’s full to the brim on warm summer evenings for a Twenty20 it creates a fantastic atmosphere.
Mind you, there isn’t a lot of spare room which makes it remarkable to learn that twice as many people have been inside TheBrightonandHoveJobs.com County Ground on occasions in the past.
These days, cricket clubs can work out attendances based on tickets sold in advance and people who pay on the gate, rather like football.
That wasn’t the case in the years either side of the War, when cricket was extremely popular, or in the early 1960s when the advent of one-day cricket drew huge audiences to watch 65-over matches, which would often go on until after 8pm.
In the first year of the Gillette Cup in 1963, Sussex faced Yorkshire in the quarter-finals at Hove. No official crowd figure was given, but those who were there reckon around 15,000 shoe-horned themselves into the County Ground. They paid 5 /- (25p) for the privilege.
Jim Parks, who played in that match which Sussex won by 22 runs, remembers it well.
“I don’t think I played in any better one-day game than the quarter-final against Yorkshire. The ground was packed. There were 15,000 inside and when you consider how relatively small the County Ground is, you can get an idea how busy it was.
“(Sussex skipper) Ted Dexter and I toured with England and were used to big crowds, particularly in places like India, but to a lot of the lads it was a bit of a shock. They just got on with it though.”