All had appeared lost back in March when four important cricket proposals - others were from Surrey, Durham and the MCC - were deferred indefinitely because they did not comply with the requirements of the Sports Council, who were looking for cricket to make a clearer commitment to the future with an organised national development plan.
Hampshire were nearer to the pulse of the Sports Council, who greatly approved of a large chunk of their applica- tion, which provided much-needed and more general sporting fa- cilities within the community and a wider development of cricket through junior and club levels.
The county were encouraged to pursue their dream by adjusting their application, which ensured the eligibility of funding through the assurance of public provisions rather than private gain. To an extent this had been the prob- lem with the other applications which, though well merited, were based on spectator accommodation and improvement of profes- sional facilities.
This bit is the warning. Cricket is drying up in state schools and, perhaps, more than ever, is a game ap- preciated by a privileged few. It desperately needs to incor- porate a broader base of society than its elitist reputation suggests or, at times, allows. The strength in Hampshire's application was its focus on a community 'feel' and the way in which people previously unaware of all that a well- conceived cricket ground in the area might have to offer, would be drawn to the game by other, more diverse attrac- tions.
The Hampshire story began back in 1987 when the chief executive, Tony Baker, a Winchester chartered ac- countant, asked Desmond Hayward, a committee man and a Bournemouth developer, if he thought it possible to build a second tier over the car park at the club's Southampton head quarters.
Baker, new to his office, realised the suffocating limits to any expansion at the club's aged and cramped ground. For one thing, only 200 cars could park in a part of the town jammed with residential property, for another it seated a maximum of 4,500. It had been there since 1884 and was falling apart. Hayward's verdict: Move out of town and build a new ground.
Architects were hired, planning was underway, the dream was on Northlands Road, once thought to be worth #10 million, dropped to nearer #3 million. The dream was put on the back burner.
Baker and Bill Hughes, another committee man and a chartered surveyor, scoured the land either side of the M27. Early in 1988 they wrote to the club's 6,000 members and set up a feasibility study. By June they had their site, 40 acres at West End which, they discovered, was owned by Queen's College, Oxford.
For a number of reasons - for which there is no space here but rest assured that there was mutual benefit - Queen's College gave this former farmland to Hampshire CCC on a 999-year lease. The local Eastleigh Borough Council supported the development idea, one up on the Southampton council of course.
Bingo, thought Hampshire, let's go for it now while the price of residential property is high and we can fund the project with the sale of our own site in the middle of Southampton. Architects were hired, planning was underway, the dream was on Northlands Road, once thought to be worth #10 million, dropped to nearer #3 million. The dream was put on the back burner.
The club stuttered along, winning the odd trophy, producing the odd player, signing some good and some bad. In February 1993, with David Gower and Malcolm Marshall retir- ing, the place needed a kick-start. The club applied to the Foundation for Sport and the Arts for #2 million but the ap- plication was frustratingly late and money was short. The founda- tion awarded #150,000, which kept spirits up and helped pay some of the running bills on the land at West End.
Then Hampshire got whisper of the National Lottery and, in the autumn of 1994, heard that the opening date for applications was Jan 4, 1995. Baker and the non- executive pair, Hughes and soon-to-be-chairman Brian Ford, burnt the midnight oil along with other committed friends such as Mike Turner, the former Leicestershire secretary and the TCCB grants and funding adviser, who understood Sports Council 'speak' and the complicated bureaucracy. They land- ed a 50-page proposal on the doorstep of the Lottery on the morning of Jan 4. It was the first application the Sports Council received and they liked it. Game on. By April, Hampshire were talking of an award.
Then, unsurprisingly in hindsight, came the first of the deferrals and the worry that massive investments, notably in Michael Hopkins and Partners, the architects who had built the Mound Stand at Lord's, had been expensive gam- bles. Hampshire were in it for #600,000.
The Sports Council still quietly encouraged the county. They hammered the point that they were happy to support 65 per cent of funding as long as it was the 65 per cent that benefited the community. The county needed #16 mil- lion to do the thing from top to toe, though #13 million would hack it most of the way.
The ground will be built into the hillside and be- come an amphitheatre with parking, picnic areas and a walk- way around the top of the banks which run down to the field of play.
Fingers were crossed 13 months ago when Hampshire met senior officials from the Sports Council and further deci- phered which points in the dream were eligible for grant funding. A reviewed application was carefully put together and produced in November. Again the council liked it. Again spirits soared.
The dream was alive and the dream, simply enough, was to create a state-of-the-art cricket facility with a playing area a little bigger than Lord's and a pavilion which, though including a museum and a Long Room, reflected the 21st Century. There will be a nursery ground the size of the present playing area in Southampton for Second XI, club, youth and festival matches. In addition, there will be a sports injury clinic and best of all an academy, a centre of excellence that will give opportunities to under- privileged cricketers and provide a finishing school for the best. The plans also include a gym, squash courts, bars, restaurants and parking for 3,000 cars.
The ground will be built into the hillside and be- come an amphitheatre with parking, picnic areas and a walk- way around the top of the banks which run down to the field of play. Behind the pavilion at the aesthetic core of the place will be a quadrangle, a meeting place with shops, which will lead into the academy. Initially, the ground will seat 10,000, which could increase in the future.
And that is only the half of it. Negotiations with Queen's College are close to completion for additional land which will allow for a nine-hole pay-as-you-play golf course, indoor and outdoor bowls and an all-weather outside sports area. All of which makes it clear why there was concern at the deferrals.
THE long wait came to an abrupt and thrilling end last week. Hampshire got their money and with it the opportun- ity to create a special sporting place in the south of England. Tradition and the charm which is a part of the his- tory of the club will not be forsaken for modernism, but the 21st Century will be embraced in the vision which will bring Hampshire its own cricket village.
It is difficult to estimate the value of the site by the year 2000 but it is safe to assume that over the next four years a further #5 million will have to be raised if the project is to be fulfilled.
A funding strategy is planned as I write and the search is on for private benefactors and corporate support. A title name to the ground, so successful in the example of the Foster's Oval, is up for sale, as are debentures, hospitali- ty boxes and probably even bricks.
Pride is a word reverberating around the county this week. Imagine, the country cousins achieving an isolated award like this. The main garland should be thrown upon Bill Hughes, now the club's vice-chairman, whose enthusiasm, alert mind and unselfish determination to pull off the plot is a spark plug for cricket in the county.
The other garlands should be reserved for the Sports Council and for the National Lottery, who recognised the quality of the project and rewarded its imagination. Hampshire are heading for the big time. Now the real work begins.