Riverside route to success

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The Independent Online

Riverside's first two international outings were a roaring success. On Saturday, a ground which had not begun to be built until 1991 coped admirably with a capacity crowd of 15,500 spectators, sending everyone away happy at the end which came alas much too soon.

Riverside's first two international outings were a roaring success. On Saturday, a ground which had not begun to be built until 1991 coped admirably with a capacity crowd of 15,500 spectators, sending everyone away happy at the end which came alas much too soon.

It is one thing to fill a ground which can hold this number of people. It is quite another to be able to make it all work on the day. Nestling in the trees below Chester-le-Street's medieval Lumley Castle, it made for a lovely setting which one day will surely host Test cricket.

Of course, many of the stands were temporary, but there are plans to build an hotel next to the pavilion and permanent seating there for 10,000 spectators as well, which would bring the capacity to 20,000.

Ever since its beginning nine years ago, the development of Riverside has been, in every sense, a team effort. Industry and commerce have rolled up their sleeves, the local district council has more than pulled its weight and until illness forced him to resign as chairman last year, Don Robson, a highly successful businessman, has pulled the strings with great skill and foresight. He has never lost sight of the long- term strategy while keeping a tight control on immediate developments and orchestrating a superb atmosphere.

Saturday's crowd for England's victory over the West Indies will have contained a number who came along merely to see what it was all about, or the novelty value of the occasion. There is no doubt, though, that a great many never thought they would see England playing in the north east in their lifetime.

Robson told me that the first day also gave him leads to seven new sponsors. There is a buzz for big-time sport in these parts and the north east has always been a significant nursery for English cricket, with many counties over the years having been happy to sign on players with Geordie origins.

An hour before the start on Saturday, the queues at the Chester-le-Street exit on the A1 stretched for a mile or two north and south. Police, like the drivers, were good humoured as they waved cars into the ample parking facilities.

Six thousand tickets were sold for the second day when England were not involved. The patriotism of most was not therefore at stake but Brian Lara gave them something to remember on an excellent pitch.

A couple of streakers apart - on the first day - no one abused the occasion and the police made those two miscreants stand naked behind the stands for 15 minutes before allowing them to put their clothes on again, the punishment fitting the crime.

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