CRICKET: Sandringham’s annual flower show is always a smash hit – but in some cases more than others according to the estate cricketers’ neighbours.
The team play in the neighbouring field and a challenge match between the club and the Royal Warrant Holders provided a contrasting view from the tea tent.
That was until a few stray sixes threatened to shatter the crockery and the tents had to be repositioned.
Not many cricket teams can boast such regal neighbours but the West Norfolk League team are grateful to the support shown by the royal estate.
And that is despite hitting their own wicket before the ground had barely been used.
The first recorded match at the picturesque ground came in July 1866 with the Gentlemen of Norfolk taking on an I Zingari team including the Prince of Wales, King Edward VII to be. HRH opened the visiting team’s innings but was out for a duck, bowled by Mr C Wright.
Thankfully for the future of cricket at the ground, his team went on to score 277, beating the hosts by an innings and 98 runs. Things have developed since those early days and the club is now looking to progress further.
Royal visitors are not as common, although Prince Phillip used to be frequently seen driving his carriage past the far boundary, while in 2012 the Queen planted an oak tree outside the pavilion, which itself had been opened by her father King George VI in 1950.
Long-serving club member Howard Bithray said: “We are supported very well by the estate. We play on the ground for free and they give us a donation towards its upkeep as well as the loan of any machinery we might need.
“In return we make sure the ground is always in top condition with James Banham and club vice-chairman Ady Nicol doing the groundwork.”
The club have their own nets, artificial matting wicket, bowling machine, covers and sightscreens but their equipment is not all new.
Taking pride of place is a 1946 Auto-roller, recovered from the beach at Snettisham and lovingly restored.
Similar ones sell for £3,000 and one is used in Barbados for the Test wicket there.
Showers have been installed in the home dressing rooms and are planned for the away one, as well as a refurbished ladies toilet.
An electronic scoreboard is also on the wish list as the club gears up for a place in the Norfolk Alliance.
The ground is used by the estate gamekeepers for an annual match and the ladies mark out a rounders pitch on the outfield.
Norfolk u16s played Suffolk at Sandringham recently and were impressed with the facilities on offer and are keen to play another county match there.
The ground has its own special quirk, being one of few with a tree inside the boundary. It means special rules apply, with the trunk having its own boundary marking and any ball touching even a leaf counting as a four, even if it goes on to cross the boundary.
The club are keen to attract more players to sample the regal sporting lifestyle on offer.
Players come from a wide area and Mr Bithray said: “Sandringham is not a village as such but we have players from the estate, neighbouring villages and as far afield as King’s Lynn.
Mr Nicol added: “We’ve run two teams since we merged with Hayley East Anglia and are keen to recruit players of all ages, especially youngsters with a view to restarting a youth team.
“Anyone is welcome, just turn up for Tuesday evening nets at the ground (behind Park House) from 5.30pm.”
The club are also working towards training more coaches and umpires but already have a strong pedigree. Carl Amos started at Sandringham as a youngster before moving to North Runcton and becoming a Norfolk county team stalwart.
Of the present players, Andy Walder, Richard Hurst, James Banham and Aaron Nicol have all hit West Norfolk League centuries and the first team regularly finish in the top three of the league.
Mr Nicol said: “We rely on donations, sponsors and fundraising by players and their families. We’ve also developed an app to promote the club.
“We thank our sponsors for their help. The Black Horse pub at Castle Rising let us hold events there and put on food for both teams after home games. JD Cooling Systems and West & East Anglia Asbestos Removal have also been good to us.”