Paul Edwards recalls his first day in the Old Trafford press box - and looks forward to his new 'home' at the Statham End
"You're a first-timer! Excellent!" David Green's voice boomed out and his eyes widened in anticipation of seven hours' entertainment. I managed a slight smile and sipped my coffee nervously.
It was August 24th 2004, the first day of Lancashire's home match against Kent. David and I were standing by the lockers in the old press box at Old Trafford. Over two months previously I had become free to write about cricket on something more than a local level and, by a mixture of luck and kindness, here I was, reporting on a first-class match for the Guardian if you please.
Green's colleagues that day were Colin Evans and Andrew McGlashan (Manchester Evening News), Paul Fitzpatrick (The Times) and Mark Pennell (Kent Mercury). Michael Henderson popped by on the fourth afternoon but he was not working at the game. Fiona Ossaway from Lancashire called in and wished me all the best, the sort of small gesture you don't forget.
In the great canvas of the season, the cricket itself was unremarkable. Only 25 minutes' play was possible on the first day and none at all on the second. Lancashire had not installed its new drainage and one paper described Old Trafford as "a scale model of the Lake District".
The rain barely mattered to me. It was love at a moment's glance with this world of deadlines and wordages. I rang the desk when play had been abandoned on the first day and enquired whether they would like me write anything. They suggested that I contribute a hundred words, which I duly phoned through to a copy-taker (These were pre-WiFi days and by no means everyone had a laptop. As I recall, I did not even own a mobile phone.)
Early next morning, sitting on Ainsdale station in the milky light of a late August dawn, I gazed at the name underneath the cricket round-up and realised it was my own.
David Green was beyond such naive self-indulgence. He had been one of his paper's regular county correspondents for many years and he often saw it as his job to keep the desk up to the mark. On one morning the sub-editors had managed to scramble his clear, accurate prose until it was not only wrong, but quite unintelligible.
"It says 'writes David Green' underneath this copy," Green barked down the phone to some unfortunate, "but to judge from the content you've printed, your readers will think it should be 'writes David Green, flat on his back in the Four Ale bar after 15 pints of Stella.' "
This was all for our benefit too, of course, and we duly chortled away. Green viewed the press box as a place of entertainment as well as work and he would regale us with tales of Geoff Pullar and Tommy Greenhough, while all the time managing to watch most of the play in the middle.
Late on the third morning I had already taken far more notes than I could use in my copy. "Look here!" Green said delightedly, as he made one of his tours of the box, "Edwards has written 5,000 words already."
Lancashire drew the game and were relegated at the end of that season. The match will be remembered, though, for a brilliant running catch by Dinesh Mongia to dismiss Alex Loudon off Gary Keedy. The Indian sprinted from long-off and dived full length, finally grabbing hold of the ball inches from the ground.
We all wrote our copy on the last two days and I blush to remember my own. No matter now, I suppose, for I had been inducted into a world filled with craftsmanship, cricket and words.
And this September we have a plush new box, filled with TV monitors and all mod cons. I hope I shall come to feel as much at home in it as I did in the battered old room above the Red Rose Suite. That place is named after Neville Cardus and was opened by John Arlott. I like to think it reminds journalists of at least some of the standards they should strive to reach.
I doubt, however, that I shall ever love any media facility as I do the old press box at Old Trafford. For, as David Green can probably testify, you always remember your first time.
A few days ago I asked the excellent Simon Pendrigh to take a photograph of that old room. He duly did so and rang me to say that the job was done. "There's not much happening, you know," he said. "It's just a picture of an empty press box."
"Don't worry Simon," I replied. "I can supply the people."
I was the last to leave the press box after the final day of that game against Kent in 2004. I looked round the room one last time before finally accepting that it was time to go home.
It was only then that I realised I was home already.
Photo of new Press Gallery at Old Trafford (c) Simon Pendrigh
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd