Paul Edwards thinks about Lord's...
Lord's is more than the home of cricket, even though that weighty title is itself enough to render the game's followers misty-eyed and reverential as they pass through the Grace Gate. Stephen Green's 2003 book about the place was entitled Lord's: Cathedral of Cricket and it's never difficult to find people who are only too willing to spout the lexis of religion when visiting NW8.
There is far more, though. These acres of prime North London real estate encompass a large suite of ECB offices, a superbly well-equipped indoor cricket school and a sort of village which still has urban attributes. A panoramic photograph of the ground is polysemous: it evokes worship, love and longing, melancholy, suspicion and even outright dislike. In many visitors those emotions commingle confusingly. I've covered four Test matches here since 2009 and I'm barely beginning to understand the place. I'm aware there are many areas of the ground I barely know at all and I guess there are rooms which I shall never be permitted to enter. Every Establishment worth its salt has its secrets and there are places where "mum's the word" might almost be a motto.
Lord's hardly ever sleeps. I arrive on a Test match day at around eight o'clock and already there are catering staff, security guards and blue-jacketed stewards swarming all over the ground. The famous white-or green-blazered pavilion stewards - the cricket establishment's Praetorian Guard if you will - aren't in evidence for an hour or so. Even MCC members have to wait until nine o'clock before they are permitted to enter.
On the final day of the South Africa Test match I wandered to the back of the south-western edge of the grandstand. All over London there were other communities preparing to face the day or, since our capital is a world city, ending their occupation of the night. Lord's seems curiously set apart from them all. Emboldened by nearly two centuries' occupation of this site, MCC projects a wondrous self-confidence
Many houses abut Lord's and if you have a few million quid to spare or the right conections, you can live in one of them. That quintessential cricket establishment figure Gubby Allen was one of the fortunate ones to do so. Allen, a former England player and MCC President, had his own gate which led from his garden into the ground, and he was given his own key to the pavilion. On the brink of death he asked that he be taken home from hospital so that he could pass away within sight of the Lord's pavilion and the stand that still carries his name. The history of Lord's is filled with similar figures.
And yet, here's the thing. This place with its outrageous wealth, long history and entrenched privilege has also become far more open to the general public in recent years. Tours of the ground include the pavilion and the Media Centre. Harold Pinter, no Establshment toady he, once described the Long Room as "the best room in the world" and on the night of the Wisden Dinner in April it's difficult to argue.
Lord's understands that it is a tourist attraction and it does its best to flufil that role. Others will get the opportunity to enter this many-layered place and perhaps, like me, they will try to comprehend its mystery. The propagandists for the place are right, you know: it is the best cricket ground in the world.