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130 years and out - the end of cricket at Swan Green
Swan Green CC has been conspicuous by its absence on Hampshire League scorecards this summer, after folding in its 130th year.
Situated in the heart of the New Forest, on the fringes of Emery Down, Swan Green’s unique setting needs no introduction to most club cricketers, walkers and indeed anyone who has been stuck in traffic alongside it, on the A35 just outside Lyndhurst.
Flanked by thatched cottages and woodland, its rustic features have graced chocolate box covers and a plethora of postcards.
Its arboreal splendour extends to its undulating outfield, where three enormous oak trees and a couple of beeches add to its charm.
Then there is the manhole cover where mid-on once stood and the wooden pavilion, which nearly 20 feet above the roadside ditch at deep mid-wicket.
The Forestry Commission-owned land, which was once a major timber yard, was first used for cricket in 1883, when Lord Londesborough, a Tory MP and cricketing friend of W G Grace, started a club for his family and their school friends.
Ever since then, muck-raking has been part of the pre-match routine at Swan Green. Until now.
What was once an idyllic English scene is now a sad sight.
The fence keeping ponies off the square, which remained one of the New Forest’s best in its final season but is now a nondescript patch of grass, has been taken down following confirmation that cricket will no longer be played there.
Having already had to scrap its Second XI, Swan Green CC was forced to disband altogether, due to a lack of interest.
The club had been on the decline since 2005, when the Hampshire League blocked its promotion from Regional Division Two after the ground’s quirks were deemed too dangerous for a higher level of cricket.
Alan Mullally, formerly of Hampshire and England, enjoyed playing three games for Swan Green last season in a bid to generate some interest.
But it soon became clear that Swan Green CC’s day were numbered with no youth set-up to help replace players who left, either to compete at a higher level or because of increasing work and family commitments.
Club stalwart Dan Murray, from Lyndhurst, first played for Swan Green with his dad as a nine year-old back in 1983.
He said: “It was emotionally devastating when the decision was made to close the club. I hoped my son Tom would get the chance to play for the club as well, but it was not to be.
“We’d been struggling to get a side out for a number of years, there wasn’t much local interest and being denied promotion stopped us from attracting better players, who wanted to be able to progress.
“That was the first nail in the coffin.”
Hampshire League vice-chairman Tony Brown said: “It’s always a great shame when a cricket club packs up but there was no way the game could be played at a higher level at Swan Green.
“The square was absolutely fantastic but we have rules and regulations and the rest of the ground was far too dangerous.”
The big question is whether Swan Green’s demise is symptomatic of a wider malaise.
Is village cricket in danger of going the same way as the bare-knuckle boxing bouts staged at Swan Green in the 18th century?
“A lot of clubs are struggling, Midhurst CC has also packed up for similar reasons, but the Hampshire League still has more teams than any other cricket league in the country and probably the world,” added Brown.
The resurrection of Lyndhurst & Ashurst CC also provides hope. Hampshire League cricket has returned to nearby Boltons Bench for the first time in several years, with a thriving colts section to boot.
Meanwhile, at least the many motorists who drive past Swan Green on a Saturday afternoon in mid-summer can do so without fearing the thud of an errant cricket ball.