This month competitive cricket has returned for the first time since the global pandemic, with the West Indies, featuring big Chelsea fan Kemar Roach, travelling to take on England. Ahead of the second test match, which starts at Old Trafford today, we have dug into the archives and found images of some all-time West Indies greats at Stamford Bridge, participating in a little-known and short-lived county cricket tournament held in 1981...
Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts are widely regarded as three of the best players to have represented the Caribbean side during a period when they dominated test and one-day cricket, but it was in the confines of Stamford Bridge, in front of fewer than 3000 people, that they took part in what was surely one of the most unusual matches of their career.
Lloyd (pictured top with the trophy), then the West Indies captain, and Holding, now a Sky Sports pundit, were in the Lancashire side that faced Leicestershire - including fast bowler Roberts and future England captain David Gower - in the final of the Lambert & Butler Cup. This was a 10-over, seven-a-side run-fest aimed at capturing the imagination of those who didn’t normally attend cricket matches. For those of you who have followed the fortunes of The Hundred in recent years, perhaps that sounds familiar…
Rewinding to the late Seventies, the success of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC), with its floodlit matches, white balls, coloured clothing and innovative marketing campaigns, had not been lost on the English Test and County Cricket board (TCCB, now the ECB). Spectators in Australia and the Caribbean had flocked to watch this showbiz style of cricket, so how could the TCCB capitalise on the sport’s rejuvenation?
Their first effort to piggyback onto the spirit of WSC was in 1980, when the touring West Indies side played Essex under the Stamford Bridge lights. You can find out more about that fixture, in which over 11,000 people saw Viv Richards and Graham Gooch on top form, here.
The following summer Lambert & Butler sponsored a two-day floodlit county competition to be played at several football grounds around the country. The qualifiers were held at The Hawthorns, Old Trafford, Ashton Gate and Selhurst Park, with the winners of each regional group heading to the Bridge for the semi-finals and final the following day.
Football pitches being rectangular, there were no shortage of boundaries. At Selhurst Park, Surrey’s Alan Butcher ran amok in his side’s qualifier against Kent, hitting a century off 28 balls in just 25 minutes. Surrey finished on 185-2, averaging 18-and-a-half in each of their 10 overs. The contest between bat and ball was certainly far from fair.
Unfortunately, the barrage of runs did not lure a big crowd to Stamford Bridge for what was, essentially, a very early ‘Finals Day’. Just 2564 people made it through the turnstiles, although one of those was Seb Coe, a huge Chelsea supporter who a year earlier had won gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
High ticket prices and dodgy September weather played its part in the small attendance, although those who did turn up saw over 700 runs in the three matches, including an unbeaten 85 from Lloyd that guided Lancashire to victory over Leicestershire in the final, Somerset and Surrey having fallen at the penultimate hurdle.
The tournament was discontinued, with a short note in The Times explaining that ‘although the sponsors remain willing, the weather tends to be against it and the cricket played has lacked conviction.’
It was to be more than a decade before the idea of competitive cricket under lights in this country was seriously raised again, but Stamford Bridge, which had hosted close-season cricket games between Chelsea and Tottenham before the First World War, can always lay claim to having played a major part in the first floodlit tournament the then-17 English first-class counties participated in – and having welcomed some West Indies stars during the time of their greatest dominance.