England: Lording it

By Simon Wood

The Black Caps play England at Lord’s this week. Simon Wood has the inside edge on the home of cricket

Canalside cafe at Little Venice, London. Photo / Simon Wood
Canalside cafe at Little Venice, London. Photo / Simon Wood

Lord's, HQ, The MCC, The Home of Cricket - the most legendary cricket ground is conveniently set right in the middle of North West London, but its run to the crease of greatness was more convoluted than you might imagine.

We have Thomas Lord to thank for Lord's Cricket Ground. A property developer, publican and bowler, he was tasked, in 1787, with finding a suitable place for the rich and famous of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) to play their newfangled game away from the masses. He succeeded, eventually. The current Lord's is the third venue of the same name, the other two having been spectacular failures.

The first Lord's was Dorset Fields in Marylebone, the site of the modern Dorset Square, until the rent became too high and a new Lord's was opened at Eyre Estate in St John's Wood in 1809. But it lacked atmosphere and was unpopular, so after plans were made to run Regent's Canal straight through the ground, Lord happily took a payout in 1813 and moved the ground further up the road to the site of a former duck pond, where it remains to this day.

The first game at the current ground was played in 1814; bicentenary celebrations next year will be stupendous.

Lord cunningly arranged for the only entry to the ground to be via his tavern and while it is no longer there but is represented by the Tavern Stand (which doesn't have a tavern in it) there is, however, a tavern at the Grace Gate, called, imaginatively, the Lord's Tavern. I spent a fair amount of time there, and it does what it says on the tin.

It's reasonably priced for the location, the food is good and the beer fresh - I wouldn't make a special trip to go there, but if you happen to be watching cricket, there are worse places you could stop.

How to get into Lord's

It's an enduring myth that the only way you can watch a match at Lord's is to either have a fabulously wealthy daddy who drives a Bentley and works in the City, or be Brian Lara. Neither is true. County Cricket rarely attracts more than 2000 people, and tickets can be purchased on arrival for around £15. The great and the good of cricket play County Cricket, so there's a good chance you will see some pretty big names.

If you're on an even tighter budget, the Marylebone Cricket Club (or MCC), which owns the ground, plays matches from time to time, and these are usually free to watch - just don't expect big names or even particularly good cricket.

At the other extreme, a ticket to day one of the Ashes could cost you £100 and will be virtually impossible to get. However, there are ways and means to experience a test match. Ring the ticket office two or three weeks before any major match to ask if they have any return tickets; they often do. Alternatively, ask for "restricted view" seats, they're not as bad as they sound. These can be had for as little as £25. "Lesser" test matches (like this week's England v New Zealand test) are still hugely popular, but you may be able to pick up some tickets right up to a week or so before the match. Day five tickets are never sold in advance for ANY match, which explains the 4km queue the last time India played.

Another option is, of course, to become an MCC member. Just find three full members of the club who know you well, and ask them to propose you for membership; then find a friendly committee member or similar and get them to endorse your application, hand over a couple of hundred pounds to join the waiting list and, bang, just 23 years later you'll be offered membership. Unless, as previously mentioned, you happen to be Brian Lara, in which case the wait may be slightly shorter.

Unfortunately, public tickets won't get you into the Pavilion or Long Room, but a guided tour will, just make sure you book your tour on a non-match day, as they will be out-of-bounds when there is a match on. Tour guides can range from spectacularly brilliant to ponderous and pompous, but the setting and history of the place more than makes up for any small negatives (top tip, when you ring to book, ask when "Little Michael" will be taking tours, he's fabulous).

If you know any cricket fans that live in London, they may either be members of Middlesex County (the "home" team at Lord's) or know somebody who is, which means they may be able to sign you into the Pavilion during a county match. The dress code is strictly enforced by the elderly, slightly grumpy stewards; jacket and tie, proper shoes, etc, but it's worth it. If you don't have a suit jacket or blazer, find a charity shop and buy one. I suggest you telephone the membership office to double check the requirements; they're very helpful, and terribly British.

Where to eat and drink

Rather excitingly, Lord's is one of the very few sporting venues anywhere in the world where you can bring your own beer or wine, even to a test match. Many people pack marvellous picnics and make themselves comfortable wherever they can. Check with the ticket office for restrictions.

St John's Wood is a pretty salubrious area. Paul McCartney regularly goes to the Lord's gym to stand on his head and the place is surrounded by multimillion-pound houses, which means the shopping and dining can be high-end, both in price and quality. On St John's Wood High Street, try Harry Morgan for decent New York deli food and great cheesecake, Sofra for modern swanky Turkish, or Carluccio's, a very good Italian chain. The bread shop does good coffee.

For a pint, go where the locals go and find The Star. It's a good, old-fashioned boozer. Mary the publican is a proper Irishwoman and pours a mean pint of Guinness, and the food is good standard pub fare. Alternatively, the Duke of York thinks it is a bit more upmarket, but can get horribly crowded. Another option is to find The Ordnance, just off the main drag. It's a Samuel Smith's brewery pub, which means they don't sell normal brands. Their beer is good, the manager is a slightly terrifying woman from the Hawkes Bay, and it's dirt cheap, so cheap in fact that even Michael Vaughan, legendary tight Northerner, was overheard commenting on what good value it is. Aside from The Star and the Uxbridge Arms in Notting Hill, it's probably my favourite pub in London, and I've tried several.

Slightly further afield (but still only a short walk) is chaotic Edgware Rd, home to an array of cheap and cheerful Middle Eastern restaurants and cafes. It's a long road, starting at Marble Arch and continuing past Little Venice, but well worth a wander. Also worth looking out for if you're a reformed punk is the Joe Strummer underpass, right by Paddington Green police station. Pubs are scarce on Edgware Rd; the only one I can think of is the Green Man, right next to Edgware Rd Station, which I would avoid.

Just off the posher end of Edgware Rd is Clifton Rd, which harbours a fantastic wine shop (the Winery), a very good but pricey cafe (Raoul's), a great pub with Kiwi leanings (the Windsor Castle), and a pretty ordinary pub called something different almost every week.

Where to stay

The closest hotel is The Danubius (aka the Dubious), which charges according to its proximity to Lord's. There are cheaper options in Swiss Cottage, Finchley Rd or Edgware Rd.

Getting there

On arrival in London, buy a pre-paid Oyster card for cheaper bus and tube rides.

When travelling to St John's Wood, avoid the Tube station of the same name (Jubilee Line) during a major match, it's the closest to the ground, which means 95 per cent of the 25,000 people attending will be in the same carriage as you, meaning 50,000 armpits to try to avoid. Either catch a number 13, 82, 113 or 274 bus (frequent and cheap, and a great way of seeing the city), and get off at the appropriately named "Lord's Cricket Ground" stop, or walk from Marylebone, Edgware Rd, Warwick Avenue, Baker St or even Swiss Cottage Tube stations, each no more than 15 minutes away.

Another lovely option is a gentle stroll down the canal towpath from Camden Town or Paddington, or through Regent's Park.

New Zealand play England at Lord's in a test match from May 16-20, and in a One-Day International on May 31.

Contacts

Lord's Cricket Ground: St John's Wood Rd, London NW8 8QN

Tickets: tickets.lords.org
Phone: +44 207 432 1000,

Membership office: lords.org/membership
Phone: +44 207 616 8660,

Tours office: lords.org/tours
Phone: +44 207 616 8595,

Bus, Tube and train tickets: tfl.gov.uk

The Star Tavern: St. John's Wood Tce, London NW8 6LS.

The Ordnance Arms: 29 Ordnance Hill, London, NW8 6PS.

The Windsor Castle: 3 Lanark Pl, London W9 1BT

Raoul's Gourmet: raoulsgourmet.com

Carluccio's: carluccios.com

Harry Morgan: harryms.co.uk

Sofra: sofra.co.uk

- Herald on Sunday

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