Paul Edwards savours a favourite ground before redevelopment changes it forever
Canterbury: how do I love thee? Let me count the stands.
Well, there are five of them I suppose: the Leslie Ames, the Colin Cowdrey, the Frank Woolley, the Chiesman Pavilion and the Annexe. In all, they occupy less than half the circumference of this bewitching ground. There is green seating around the boundary too, but much of the perimeter is left open, although that area is occupied by marquees during the Canterbury Festival in August.
During normal county matches, such as the one being played at the moment, cars line the boundary, their windscreens covered by thick tartan rugs. A public address announcement reminds spectators to do this every morning but it is hardly needed. At Canterbury, courtesy and consideration come as standard.
Where the stands do not obtrude - and sometimes even where they do - there are trees, deep, thick rows of them stretching back into this affluent Kentish suburb and giving the impression that the ground is part of parkland.
Somehow, the five stands blend together well, even though there is very little architectural unity to them at all. Even to my untutored eye, they were built at different times. In fact, the Leslie Ames dates back to the mid-Victorian period and was known as "the iron stand", the pavilion is late 19th century, the Annexe is early 20th, the Frank Woolley is a piece of art deco and the Colin Cowdrey dates from 1986.
The truth is, Canterbury is a mishmash, a gloriously happy accident. It is pleasing without being consciously designed, a triumph of unplanning except insofar as the stands are not actually behind each other on the boundary. Otherwise, the styles of most of the pavilions are so diverse that it is hard to believe any architect considered the existing buildings on the ground before they floated their plans. Nobody went back to the drawing board.
Things are changing though. The current redevelopment plan - and there have been many over the past few years - is for houses on both the site of the Bat and Ball car park and the outdoor nets, and new Kent offices next to the Annexe. That's actually not too bad; it would leave the grassy mounds intact on the Old Dover Road side of the ground. However, they will go too when a new hotel is built. The rugs will be have to be left in the car-boots.
But however flashy and coordinated the architect's conception will be, it is unlikely that it will beat what Kent have at the moment: one of the most serene and beautiful county cricket grounds in England. It is little wonder that Lancastrians flock here every time their side is playing a Championship match or that the bed and breakfast places at the Bat and Ball were all taken last December.
Lancashire supporters coming to Canterbury are given another privilege too: they are allowed on the outfield during the lunch and tea intervals of four-day games. They play cricket, they stroll about, they look at the pitch. They do no damage at all, and when the announcer asks them to go back to their seats, they do so with perfect grace.
I'm sure that there are both security and health and safety considerations which make it impossible for spectators to be allowed the same privilege on a regular basis at Old Trafford, but it would perhaps be pleasant if, as at the Lord's Test in May, the public were very occasionally permitted to walk on the outfield where their heroes perform.
Photo: PA Images