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The Secret Fan | England v West Indies, Nottingham

  • Game between England and West Indies was rained off after just two overs
  • Travel and transport information was excellent, while stadium and event branding was noticeably strong
  • Poor weather at Trent Bridge offered an insight into how experienced venue teams enact their contingencies 

As well as providing the words to 'Jerusalem', William Blake was also responsible for a series of lengthy mythological and biographical poems called ‘The Prophetic Works’. I haven’t read them, but I bet there’s one about waiting all summer for a one day cricket international and then having it rained off after 2.2 overs.

Such was our lot at Trent Bridge on September 21 and yet, as the focus of my Secret Fan series of reports is on what happens OFF the field of play, this was perhaps the best test yet.

With clement weather, we could have expected at least eight hours of play and a feast of attacking cricket, but once the ‘dark, satanic’ clouds rumbled in from the west, Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club would have to step forward.

And step forward it did. Notts has a reputation for doing things right. Having received awards in the past for the quality of visitor experience provided and for being a natural choice for a Midlands-based international cricket match, they would have been well drilled in the ‘rain delay’ stakes.

When our tickets arrived, there was a useful little fold out card entitled We Can’t Wait to Welcome You in the envelope too. As well as a very useful stadium lay out and directions guide, there was guidance on their refund scheme: 15 overs or less and you receive a full refund.

We set off on the day in a disconsolate frame of mind. An improving, pleasantly warm late September week was promised by the weather ‘experts’. That is, apart from the period on the Thursday between 1pm and 8pm, where heavy rain was forecast. To give the BBC’s meteorological team their due, the first drops of rain began to fall just a few minutes after the clock struck one and everyone was into contingency mode.

West Bridgford is known for its parking difficulties and Notts CCC’s travel plans were excellent, with a number of options available.

Having a friend living close by meant that ours was even better than that: a short walk down the hill and around the corner into the stadium, guided by giant white floodlights that rose out of the gloom.

Consistency of brand

Ahead of the first entrance area, we encountered a map adorned with an attractive font, that reminded us as much of those vintage Penguin paperbacks as it did of those ‘Keep Calm and …’ posters.

This ‘welcome’ theme re-occurred across all internal signage and provided some consistency of brand against the the mix of elegant old and striking new stands that give so much character to cricket venues like Trent Bridge.

The first person we met representing the hosts was a young volunteer wearing a blue hoodie with the message ‘happy to help’ on the back. While not actively walking up to people and welcoming them (I’ve come to learn that this is an English thing), he did at least accurately direct us to the best entrance for the Fox Road stand.  

Once through the entrance (swift, as no bag check required) we then met another volunteer, this time with the addition of a blue baseball cap. This time, I got a welcome. I don’t recall seeing more volunteers on the day, but I like the balance they promise.

You expect (especially in these days of heightened security) the reassurance of a proper bag search, so the addition of volunteers with the objective of welcoming and helping people is a welcome. 

And yet, we felt they could have done more. By walking up to people, perhaps giving kids a little freebie pin badge or offering to take photos of you or striking up a conversation about the prospects of play, they could have better emphasised their purer purpose.

This is by no means only relevant to Trent Bridge, but it’s a continuous theme at the vast majority of UK sporting events that I attend and perhaps reflective of a deeper cultural unease with more ‘American’ notions of engagement.

From there, taking note of the advice that we could circle the interior of the ground without having to leave, we set off to explore the pre-game entertainment. The range of refreshments offered was excellent, from Indian street food to wine stalls, from the prosecco and gin stand to the wood-fired pizza service, there was something for everyone.

We later ate cheeseburgers and they were excellent, complete with salad leaves, onions and a tasty tomato relish. You could pay by card at most outlets too.

After purchasing a programme for £6 (€6.8/$8.0) but declining radio ear phones at £10, our first stop was at a coffee truck, quite near to the Fox Road Stand, where we paid £12 for two coffees and two croissants. It felt a lot, but the coffee itself was actually rather good: much better than I’m used to at sporting events.

Towards one corner of the stadium we encountered an activation zone with a number of tents, gazebos and other attractions: the violet and white Royal London brand visible throughout. There was a photo booth, a Toyota under a gazebo, some inflatable giant ECB lions and an England Cricket tent with an LCD screen inside it.

Each of these was hosted by a couple of track-suited volunteers, but the mixture of the gloomy backdrop, a lack of people around and an apparent unwillingness from the hosts to walk up to people, connect with them and explain what they were offering, did detract slightly from the initially positive impressions.

Game presentation

We were now armed with a programme, our ‘4’ card, a plastic covered ‘clapper’ (we think), two cups of coffee and two croissants and were heading up the steps to the steward at the foot of the stand.

There wasn’t any easy way to produce our tickets, so would he step forward to help us or would we have to perform a feat of contortion to present our credentials? I decided to help him out.  I walked straight up and asked him to help. He held our coffees while we produced our tickets and we were soon in our seats.

We were at the point in the Fox Road Stand where the unsheltered rows met the dry ones but, as everyone knows, rain rarely falls horizontally in England, so we were eventually beset from all angles. Having said that, the game presentation was such, that we hardly noticed.

The giant screen (just to our left) offered past highlights, punditry, competitions and several social media opportunities for participation, while well-known sports presenter Mark Chapman was a reliable, engaging pitchside presence.

He introduced the ECB’s All Stars Cricket kids’ initiative (www.allstarscricket.co.uk): a programme aimed at increasing participation in this beautiful game, presented the team line-ups and filled every available gap with useful info.

Shortly before the cricket began, Blake’s words appeared on the screen as a rousing chorus of Jerusalem heralded in the players and a day of white ball cricket began. 

10 minutes later it ended and, in spite of the hope of play re-starting at 1.15, it never did, so most of the people around us implemented Plan B instead. 

For some (like us) it was spent examining the activities of the covers team, their little tractor and the interesting way they use a long hose-like device to take the water off the outfield.

For others, it ranged from enjoying a picnic (in the sheltered rows) to opting for a few beers down in the relative comfort of the concourse. Down there, we counted a line of up to 100 spectators waiting patiently to fill (or return) their refill cups. 

It would be a stretch to say we really enjoyed our day, as the weather put paid to that, but we did get an insight into how experienced venue teams enact their contingencies. 

Here at Trent Bridge, they prepare you for your day well, they manage info provision to an excellent standard and they manage the down times with a mix of content that reflects and engages the different spectators in the ground. The only significant opportunity we identified was one not uncommon at UK sports venues: the passivity of key staff.

On balance, however, our report upon arriving home was largely a happy one.

We may have missed out on the mountains green or any pleasant pastures seen, but we witnessed a textbook example of how to mitigate that and a typically stoic English crowd that made the best of it.

William Blake probably has another poem entitled ‘but it was brilliant at Bristol three days later when a new record for the largest number of sixes ever hit in one day international in England was set.’ Cheers, Bill.

Extract from Refreshments Menu

  • Pint of Beer (Greene King IPA) £3.90
  • Pint of Guinness £4.10
  • Gin & Tonic £5
  • Glass of Prosecco £5
  • Bottle of wine (from) £18 – £30
  • Glass of wine (from) £5 – £7.50
  • Beef Burger £5.00
  • Cheese Burger £5.50
  • Wood-Fired Pizza (Margherita) £6.50
  • Salad Boxes (from) £5
  • Coffee £2.00
  • Croissant £3.00
  • Fresh filled baguettes (from) £4.50
  • Bacon Baguette £4.50
  • Soft Drinks £2.00
  • Crisps £1.00

Mark’s ratings:

Ease 7/10

The day was ‘hassle free’, largely because of the efforts Notts CCC had taken to pre-empt our worries, help us to plan our day and ‘signpost’ us.  A higher score was only missed due to the lack of pro-activity and engagement from some key staff on the day.

Value 7/10

If you’re going to play cricket in late September in England, the weather will always be a threat, but the off-field engagement, the quality of the broadcast sound and the big screen videos provided enough distraction. Although, as my son commented, where would we be without David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd?

Recommendation 7/10

I love cricket, so any recommendation is going to be slightly biased, but I do feel that the hosts coped reasonably well in the circumstances. True, they would have known days in advance that the chances of a full day’s play – or even a reduced overs game – were slender, but we don’t think they could have done a lot more to compensate for this or to prevent us from calling it a day mid-afternoon, as we did.

Brief Overview

  • England v West Indies: Second Royal London One Day International
  • 12.30pm, Thursday 21 September
  • Location: Trent Bridge, Nottingham
  • Cost of ticket (Fox Road Stand, part-covered): £38
  • Match shown live on Sky Sports (but ultimately abandoned due to rain after only 2.2 overs bowled)

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