Paul Edwards at Taunton
Although the attendance at the first day of Lancashire's match at Taunton was not large it was still necessary for journalists to arrive early if they wanted a good seat in the press box. By the middle of the morning the room was almost full and more writers will be arriving on Tuesday, when arrangements for an overflow have been made.
If Lancashire look like winning the game and Warwickshire are struggling at the Rose Bowl there may be a mighty influx of Red Rose supporters too, all of them keen to say: "I was there". This is a big match and even if Glen Chapple's players don't prevail, it will be important to salute their achievement in getting so close. That may not be a consolation, either to the cricketers or their supporters, but not to do so will be to do fine men a disservice. It would be nice if some of those who were cheering at Aigburth last Saturday evening were also applauding at Taunton later this week.
Whatever happens will not detract from the atmosphere at this small, intimate place with its churches, pubs, shops and even the public baths close at hand. More than any other county headquarters in England, I think, the cricket ground is wrapped within the town, so that one can pop to the bank, have a coffee, watch the game and then go for lunch, all without walking half a mile. It must be easy for residents to identify with the county and the players who represent it.
They take their food seriously too. The carvery in the new pavilion - Taunton seems to have about five pavilions of one sort or another - serves lunches in mighty, shallow dishes rather than plates. The old pavilion also offers cooked meals and there are number of other food outlets around the ground, all of them a cut above the standard you might find at the vast majority of sporting venues. Chicken Nuggets, it isn't.
Then, of course, there is Somerset's museum, which is housed in the Priory Barn. One theory about this building is that it was a gate-house for the monastery which lay about two hundred yards to the south. It would be pleasant if this hypothesis could be substantiated, for Somerset’s Museum still serves as an entrance to another world, one in which Horace Hazell is preparing to bowl and Lionel Palairet is delighting spectators with the quintessence of stylish batsmanship.
So, even if one did not have the view over the Quantocks, about which I wrote last year, Taunton would still be another of the great staging posts on the county circuit. It boasts friendly, welcoming people who understand very well that Lancashire are attempting to do something rather marvellous this week. Last year it was the turn of Marcus Trescothick's team to try and win the first championship in the county's history. Set beside that, 77 years doesn't seem so long at all. (It's fine, by the way, I didn't think you'd agree with that bit.)
What else is clear is that Taunton is the least urban of places. Even to call it an adminstrative headquarters, while true, is also far too pompous a label for a town which is at the heart of a shire. Indeed "Somersetshire" is an archaic name for the county and ten of the 18 first-class counties - even some located in enclaves of brick, steel and cement - still have "shire" in their names. It also still seems appropriate to me that one can see parts of the surrounding countryside from many English county headquarters: Old Trafford, Trent Bridge, Canterbury, Worcester, the Rose Bowl, the Riverside, Derby. This perhaps serves as a reminder, if any were needed, that the English game is not a business dominated by cheapjack franchises, but an enterprise rooted in ancient local identities far older than first-class cricket itself.
Photo (c) PA Images
Article (c) Lancashire CCC
On the evening when, for the best of reasons, Championship has been played under floodlights with a pink ball for the first time, it's perhaps a good idea to remind ourselves what it is important to preserve.