By PAUL HISCOCK
During the winter of 2007, Essex CCC exchanged contracts with development partners MCD Developments and Chelmsford Borough Council respectively for the redevelopment of The Ford County Ground site and its stadium. However the global economic downturn of the last few years has arrested the progress of the new look venue with little site change noticeable at present.
Chief Executive Derek Bowden refuses to put the Club under any financial concerns although it is hoped that work could start later in 2016 or early 2017 dependent on various partners involved being in a position to proceed.
The initial plans allowed development of the major part of the stadium with the ground capacity increasing by around 2,000 to 8,000 spectators. New residential, retail, hospitality and banqueting facilities, together with an exciting and vibrant entrance piazza and river bridge to Central Park will provide a much-needed regeneration of the ground. There will be a new multi-storey car park to replace the existing surface car parking at New Writtle Street which is now very restricted and the new Essex Auto Group Graham Gooch Cricket Centre will provide state of the art practice and coaching facilities.
The County are understood to be closely considering an option to stage one or two Twenty20 matches at the Olympic Stadium in 2018 and, if the discussions come to fruition, it would see the county playing at a venue just a stone’s throw from the Leyton Ground which was their home when they entered the County Championship in 1895. That ground with its listed pavilion still remains and is now the home of the Leyton County Cricket Club.
Chelmsford now stages all but one of Essex first team matches. The cramped Press box, which houses 8 journalists comfortably and any more uncomfortably, is still the summer home of the two old pen-pushers Messrs Fuller and Hiscock for whom the delights of modern technology remain a continual challenge.
However the location of the ground is excellent with its immediate close links to Chelmsford City centre and the railway station.
After years of being a nomadic county, only Colchester now remains as an outground. Those who love the individualistic character of festival cricket grounds will lament the passing of so many of the Essex venues e.g Brentwood, Ilford, Romford, Westcliff, Clacton and Southchurch Park although there are very few, if any, who shed tears when the Club decided to “ditch” Garon Park.
While Southchurch Park brought complaints from players and officials about poor facilities, spectators loved the famous old ground (Australia’s 721 in day in 1948 and all that) which was just a short walk from the seafront. The county upped and moved inland to the exposed and bleak location that is Garon Park where the soulless and windswept surrounds did nothing to advertise the merits of a bracing day at Southend. More akin to a suitable backcloth for the Survival series of programmes.
In a short time, the Essex faithful decided that Garon Park (a.k.a. Barren Park) was not a place where they wished to spend summer days. Although one-day matches on a Sunday were well-supported, the interest shown in Championship matches was minimal and Garon Park was consigned to the ever-growing list of former first-class grounds.
DIRECTIONS (Chelmsford): (Satnav - CM2 7RZ) Leave M25 at Brentwood exit (Junction 27), onto A12 and follow signs to Chelmsford, then eventually pick up A414 into Chelmsford (Ongar Road, London Road) take B1007 (Moulsham Street then New London Road, turn left into New Writtle Street and entry to ground car park is clearly marked and on right-hand side. Public transport from station - Only 0.5 miles from Chelmsford Station 35-40 minutes from London Liverpool Street.
CAR PARKING: Contact ECCC Press Officer Alastair Cliffe on 01245 254002 for any media enquiries and car parking allocation.
FACILITIES: The press box is rather small but boasts excellent viewing, Local CWC contact is Paul Hiscock (07957 223114). Name of scorer is Tony Choat. Wi-fi generally reliable although it does have its moments of unreliability (usually at filing time) so a dongle may always be a useful standby. There are plenty of power points. The club kindly provide a meal voucher to the value of £6.50 that can be used in the Pavilion or Spinners Bar. Tea, coffee and water are available throughout the day.
Local boozers are within a short walking distance of the ground whilst local sandwich bars/delis/supermarkets and a wide choice of eating establishments including Marks & Spencers and Wetherspoons are also close to the ground.
ACCOMMODATION: Premier Inn 0871 527 9534; Miami Hotel 01245 264848; County Hotel 01245 455700 or Beechcroft Hotel 01245 352462.
LEISURE: Pubs - wide choice in City centre. Restaurants - ditto, plenty to choose from in City Centre. Cinemas/theatres/concert halls/live music/nightclubs, etc. - available in Town Centre and Brentwood Centre, 12 miles drive away, also stages concerts with star names. Nearby golf courses - Five Lakes. Swimming pools/gyms, etc. - Esporta Gym adjacent to ground.
The last survivor of the once lengthy list of Essex outgrounds, Castle Park provides an attractive setting and usually excellent attendances when the sun shines particularly for one-day matches. Worryingly in 2016, the Club have only allocated four days cricket to this idyllic location and it is perceived that the future survival on Castle Park on the first-class grounds list may be in some doubt.
DIRECTIONS: From A12, stay on A12 (London Road) (east) at Tollgate Roundabout take exit fro Colchester town centre (A1124) continue on this road to junction with A133, take A133 (Colne Ban Avenue, then Cowdray Avenue) turn right into Catchpool Road. Public transport from station - From either Colchester Town or Colchester North Railway Stations (both from London Liverpool Street) the distance to the ground is less than one mile.
CAR PARKING: Available on the ground by showing your accreditation.
FACILITIES: Tent with no wi-fi and limited power source facilties Bring a dongle! Food/drink arrangements via a meal voucher, whilst tea and coffee are provided throughout the day.
LEISURE: Pubs - in town. Restaurants - ditto, Le Talbooth, The Lemon Tree. Cinemas/theatres/concert halls/live music/nightclubs, etc - in town centre. Local sights worth seeing on a rainy day/summers night? - Contact Colchester Tourist Information Centre 01206 282920. Nearby golf courses - Five Lakes.