Comment: ‘Build as many 60m indoor tracks as you like at FB Fields, but don’t touch the pavilion’

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JERSEY certainly got lucky with Florence Boot.

After all, without the good lady there would never have been those flat, green sports fields in St Clement and the second-most iconic sports pavilion in Channel Islands sport after the College Field in Guernsey, although ‘FB’ pushes it close.

It was with horror, followed by relief, when this regular visitor to the old FB picked up on last month’s news that the ground’s old proud ‘pivvy’ was going to be pulled down as part of a facility refit.

It turned out to be a rumour as wide as some of the loose deliveries Guernsey attacks delivered when the ground hosted the annual inter-island cricket matches. Relief all-round as pulling it down would be architectural heresy.

The FB news got me thinking of my regular and frequent visits this way over five decades, firstly as a young footballer and cricketer, then as a sports journalist watching the big cricket matches, playing in the odd one, and then following athletics matches when there was such thing between the islands.

Some of the memories have been joyous, others painful.

On that latter score it was probably 1971 when a 5ft not-a-lot 14-year-old given his chance in the Cobo first team for the annual Nussbaumer Trophy against St Ouen trudged out to bat in pads up to my nose.

Richard Hird was the bowler, 6ft of hard-nosed Yorkshire brute and, if my memory does not deceive me, a third of that wide.

It was a no contest.

First ball, delivered downhill from the beach end, clattered into my box. No ‘alright son’ from Hird or anyone.

Next ball, splat. Stumps everywhere.

Cobo v St Ouen games were tough affairs, not least in the bar afterwards when the likes of O’Connor, Reynolds, Le Lievre and Le Main would go drinking arm to drinking arm with Le Poidevin, Mechem, Batiste and Shepherd.

And when that generation hung up their tankards, it was Coward, Breuilly and Co. who took up the mantle with another generation of Le Poidevins and Batistes and, Guernsey’s ace in this department, David Nussbaumer.

Those early visits for cricket were also memorable for the wonderful salad lunches put on by a pleasant elderly Jersey couple, Harry Rose and his wife. Turn right out of the main pavilion and walk the short distance to the refreshment bungalow.

I can still shut my eyes and see those gorgeous Jersey Royals, which made a plain ham salad so eager to devour.

The salads were still being laid out when I led the Guernsey team in the very first U23s inter-insular in 1979.

Peter Keylock was my opposite number and that day he avenged the beating my Grammar School U16 side side dished out to his and Bobby Gasston’s Victoria College football team in the first Pepsi CI U16 Schools football final.

I got two that memorable day, but while there were many in that ‘Vic’ team I could not wait to turn over, Peter and Bobby were not among them. They were great opponents then and remained that way.

Back to that U23s game, when I believe I made a bit of history for being the first inter-insular batsman to wear a batting helmet and the first to do so on this ground.

It drew plenty of attention, not least as bowlers seemed very keen to test its robustness.

After a half-century opening stand by myself and Ian Damarell, who scored the bulk of the runs, a rather harmless left-arm seamer by the name of Johnson ran through our batting and Jersey won comfortably.

The first inter-insular matches had come to this gorgeous ground with its flawless, albeit sloped outfield, in 1964 when Ray Pearce – now there was a man who gave brilliant service to the game – and Mervyn Keites proved too hostile for the Guernsey batsman to handle.

But exactly a decade later Guernsey exacted complete and devastating revenge.

Jersey were spun a web of confusion Warren Barrett style and, chasing a paltry 103, Tony Taylor and Alan Lewis flayed the bowling to all parts.

Late summer afternoons on the first floor of a pavilion of endless small rooms, could burn through the most potent sun creams.

You could be frazzled alive up there where the action, slightly to the left of centre, was as wonderful as those Jersey Royals.

But, in terms of these big games, there was always a problem with FB.

On Mrs Boot’s instruction sport could never start on the ground before the clock struck midday on a Sunday, which made it more than a squeeze to fit in a game of circa 100 overs, whether it be in the old-style ‘draw’ fixtures or limited overs,

Inter-insular cricket soon moved to Grainville, a shame but understandable given the new facilities and flat wicket created there.

I have to hand it to Jersey, your grounds were always so immaculate, the wickets flat and fast. And, at the FB, I never stopped being impressed by the troughs and buckets of colourful flora which lined the central part of this massive expanse.

So, with all this in mind, why did athletics get such a pokey space to develop track and field?

It did, of course, do the job but as you Jersey folk are finding out, it left scant room to cater for spectators.

Which brings me to Jersey track and field. What has happened to it? The Spartans have been left so far behind its traditional adversary from this side of the water, that they are in danger of being lapped.

Unable or unwilling to raise inter-insular teams it makes me wonder why they need a 60m indoor track.

But, for me, it is largely about that pavilion. It should be listed, its exterior untouchable.

Some might consider it outdated, cumbersome by modern demands, but it will always have a place in Guernsey cricket hearts of a certain generation, even though the salads have long given way to a plain car park.

Jersey have always done well out of Mrs Boot’s big field and I sincerely hope they continue to do so for many years yet.

Build as many 60m sprint halls as you like, but don’t touch the big pavilion.

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