Genuine fans make 'People's Monday' a day to remember

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The Independent Online

It was a marvellous Test match, and the carnival atmosphere that enveloped Old Trafford yesterday was powerfully reminiscent of the famous People's Sunday at Wimbledon a few years ago: nothing to do with corporate entertainment; everything to do with sport.

Lancashire County Cricket Club had thrown open its gates to adults for a tenner and children for a fiver, and nothing infects a crowd with enthusiasm quite like the knowledge that it is seeing world-class sportsmen, performing at the peak of their powers, for peanuts.

My 10-year-old son Joe and I left home in Herefordshire at 4.40am, an unearthly hour rendered downright heavenly by the prospect of watching England winning a second successive Ashes Test.

It was Joe's first time in a Test match crowd, which had a pleasing symmetry: the first Test match I attended was also at the age of 10, and also between England and Australia, at The Oval in 1972.

Spectating was an altogether different business in those days. On the plus side, we got to play cricket on the outfield during the lunch break, unthinkable now. But those were far more sedate times. The Mexican Wave, for instance, had yet to be invented and some would assert that there is plenty to be said for a Mexican Wave-less era. Still, Joe was thrilled to be part of what appeared to be a world-record attempt at the Wave, which at one point rippled round the ground for fully half an hour, at the behest of the increasingly exuberant Barmy Army. Perhaps the cricket wasn't entertaining enough for them.

I don't recall chanting "Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio,'' at departing Aussie batsmen in 1972, either. A disconsolate Damien Martyn, who plainly did not think there was any substance in Steve Harmison's lbw shout, will remember his cacophony of farewells for a very long time, having had the misfortune to fall just after a beer-fuelled lunch. Adam Gilchrist was waved back to the pavilion even more effusively but the level of boorishness was tolerable and there was no outright animosity towards either the Aussies on the pitch or those in the crowd. There was even a smattering of applause for a rousing trumpet solo of "Advance, Australia Fair". Respect between nations - it made you proud to be a cricket fan.

Indeed, the euphoria sprang from the feeling that the crowd was full of genuine fans - by no means a matter of course at big sporting events these days and, as at Wimbledon's People's Sunday, we'd all queued for the privilege of being there. But heavens, what a queue. When Joe and I joined it at 7.25am it already stretched most of the way to Altrincham. Some English gallows humour at least relieved the tedium. "The main reason I want to get into the ground is to have a slash,'' one man said to nobody in particular, and after the gallon of coffee I'd had to keep me alert as the sun rose over the M6, I was beginning to sympathise.

The queuing was more than worthwhile, though, not least for the unforgettable experience of sitting in a Lancashire crowd, warmed by the Manchester sun, roaring on Freddie Flintoff as he steamed in from the Stretford End.

Flintoff bowled superbly before lunch and even better after, but it was a true team effort, from the crowd as much as from Vaughan's men. The Mexican Wave I could have done without, to say nothing of the early departure time, but Joe said they were the favourite bits of his day. When he is my age I fancy he will remember it for the cricket.