One man’s vision to create a dream cricket ground

Speculation was rife when people driving along the Blackwater Road on the outskirts of Newport spotted the huge mounds of soil in a field. Rumour had it that hundreds of houses were going to be built on the site of the old agricultural show ground. Instead the Island is going to have a new cricket ground with a capacity of up to 2,000 people, which has been designed so that the superb pavilion and the surrounding banks will give it the feel of a modern amphitheatre.

Businessman Brian Gardner is the inspiration behind the Newclose County Cricket Ground. He realised the Island had needed a Gold Standard ground for a long time to help the sport move forward on several fronts. For example, Ventnor Cricket Club (of which Brian is president) has won the silver division of the Southern Electric League for the past four seasons, but their Steephill ground was deemed unsuitable for promotion to the gold division.

Should the club enjoy similar success in the next couple of seasons, they will achieve promotion and play their league matches at Newclose – bringing to the Island the highest standard of cricket ever seen here.

Ventnor chairman, John Hilsum, and former Cricket Development Manager on the Island, David Kilpack, were among those who helped Brian Gardner from the start. A management committee was formed and received a setback when the first site for the proposed ground at Whitecroft was considered unsuitable by the planners.

Undaunted, Brian purchased the old IW show ground at Blackwater. The team then worked closely with planners and permission was eventually achieved. Brian said, “There was bound to be a lot of negotiation because this is a major sports development on the Island, but I’m delighted that we were able to agree on a way forward.”

Thousands of tons of earth had to be moved so that archaeologists could examine the site and the main road outside the ground had to be widened. Brian, who is one of the trustees, donated the field and provided part of the funding. More came from the National Sports Foundation and the England and Wales Cricket Board also provided guidelines on planning the ground and pavilion.

Members of the public will be invited to join the Friends of Newclose County Cricket Ground – which is a registered charity – and it is hoped to attract corporate sponsors. Brian emphasises that people are welcome to come to the ground to see cricket and to use the restaurant and the bar in the pavilion which will have a main lounge and dining area, a kitchen, umpires’ room, scorers’ room, committee room, offices and stores.

Games will be held several times a week during the season with games in the evenings for adults and juniors.

The Isle of Wight Cricket Board achieved minor county status last year and when Newclose is finished it will become the only minor county in Britain to have its own county ground. The intention is to stage minor county matches at the ground within a few years.

Organising the work is a full-time job and there’s still a lot to be done on the site before the ground opens for the 2009 season – but Brian Gardner’s dream will soon be realised.

He’s been coming to the Island all his life and has owned property here since the early 1990s. Brian has been fascinated by cricket since he was eleven-years-old and he was already a good organiser when, with a few friends, he formed the Wimpeyonian Cricket Club (named after the Wimpey estate where he lived) in Isleworth in the early 1950s.

“In those days there were no facilities for playing cricket,” Brian says, “and you were lucky if you owned a cricket bat.” He made a cart of an old box from his grandmother’s florist shop with wheels from an old pram and used it to carry their gear to the local park. The cart fitted with shelves was their ‘pavilion’ with score cards made from florist funeral cards and his sister helped to sell jam sandwiches and lemonade to raise funds for bats and composition balls made of cork.

They played two innings test matches with the adjoining council estate boys and their Dads acted as umpires.  Brian picked up the rules of the game from ‘Play the game’ books’ and television but says cricket has always been in his blood.

Asked if he wished he had played cricket professionally Brian said “It would be a fanciful idea but I do wish I had played more cricket at club standard.” But the boy who played cricket in the park with his friends in the ‘50s can say that he has realised another dream. It’s taken four years to achieve but Island cricketers can now look forward to playing on a Gold Standard cricket ground.