When Heriot’s captain Keith Morton held aloft the Citylets Scottish Cup after his side’s four-wicket victory over Edinburgh rivals Carlton in the showpiece finale of the Scottish domestic season, he had little idea of the storm which was about to break in the week that followed. The announcement by George Heriot’s School of their plans to replace the main cricket square at the team’s home ground at Goldenacre with two artificial hockey pitches unleased a torrent of protest on social media as the cricketing world reacted to the potential loss of one of Scotland’s most iconic grounds.
Of the three alternative options for the development which have been proposed, it is the third, the school’s preferred choice, which is most contentious. Whereas options one and two retain the square in its present form – option two placing the new hockey facility in close proximity to the school’s existing hockey pitches and associated pavilion – the favoured proposal would see the additional pitches built directly in front of the cricket pavilion, relegating the cricket club to the use of the school’s second square, located some distance away. One of the finest facilities – not to mention most evocative views – in the Scottish game would be lost for good.
A distinguished former captain of cricket at Heriot’s, speaking exclusively to Emerging Cricket, described how the club came to hear of the proposal.
“The rumour-mill had been turning for some time, but we only had official word very recently when we were formally told about the school’s plans at a brief meeting with [George Heriot’s School Principal Lesley Franklin],” he said. “The Principal said that she was doing so as a courtesy and that she knew that it would cause disappointment, but that this was the only site within Goldenacre where these pitches could be located. We find that quite difficult to believe, but that is what the official position was, and we could say very little in reply as the cricket club exists entirely at the behest, and therefore at the disposal, of the school.
“It is our view, however – and the Principal was advised of this – that [if the plans are passed] the cricket club will come to an end. For people that have played cricket at Heriot’s, whether at the school or in the club, the ground is utterly iconic. To think that the pitch will be lost and the view from that pavilion will no longer be over a cricket ground is anathema, and we predict with some confidence that the cricket club will very quickly come to an end. I’m not sure if that message has been particularly well-received because [it seems] that the school wants the impression to be given that this development has cricket in its considerations as well, but it is our very clear opinion and that is what the Principal was told.
“Although there had been whispers beforehand we didn’t want to speak openly about them because we didn’t want to be accused of scaremongering,” he continued. “We anticipated that the reaction would be pretty strong, not only at Heriot’s but in the wider cricketing and sporting fraternity, and, as we have seen, that has certainly been the case.”
Founded in 1889, Heriot’s is one of Scotland’s most successful clubs, with fourteen East League titles as well as four Scottish Cups to its name. Former players have included such luminaries of the Scottish game as George Goddard and Hamish More as well as more recent stars such as Asim Butt, John Blain and Steve Knox; Scotland slow left-armer Mark Watt, most prominent amongst Heriot’s current crop of internationalists, was one of a number of players who were blocked by the school Twitter account after expressing their concern over the social media platform in the hours that followed the breaking of the news.
“The whole situation is pretty baffling, especially considering that most Herioters are of the view that the Heriot’s sporting clubs – principally the cricket and rugby clubs – enhance the Heriot’s brand enormously,” continued the club insider. “The fact that the cricket club has just won the Scottish Cup again reflects very well on the school, so it just seems utterly bewildering that this decision should be taken at this time.
“There is a history of success within the cricket club which continues to the present day, and we had significant plans to present to the school as to how Goldenacre could be used for developing cricket further in the future. It seems that there hasn’t been any consideration given to cricket in how the ground should best be utilised, which I find astonishing given that cricket is growing so rapidly in Scotland.”
Despite the impression that the club was given in their initial meeting with the Principal – a feeling reinforced by the fact that option three is the only one to be detailed on the school website – the school itself insists that the plan is far from a done deal.
“We are at the first stage of the consultation process now,” Mrs. Franklin told me at an event held at Goldenacre to present the proposal to the wider public. “We will be speaking to Sport Scotland and to different parts of the council, gathering views as to how to we approach these proposals. I did speak to the cricket club, rugby club and the hockey club to tell them that we would be doing this consultation and they were all very supportive.
“The cricket club would still have a very good facility [if the plan is passed]. The second cricket square is, I would argue, still better than most. We have a brilliant groundsman who has been part and parcel of the planning process and he is very confident that he can make a very good cricket square and increase its capacity to meet future needs. That’s where Heriot’s originally started playing cricket, after all. The current square used to be used for rugby.
“The reasoning behind the development is that the school now has far more pupils playing hockey, football and tennis,” Mrs Franklin went on. “The cricket season is very short for the school, there are only four Saturdays [during term time] when we have cricket. We have five cricket teams so the school will still be very well served for cricket, but we need to cater for the needs of all the other pupils all year round.”
“There is ultimately a balance to be struck,” Mrs. Franklin’s colleague, Craig Wallace – not to be confused with the Scotland cricketer – added. “This is first and foremost a school facility and we have to look after the school’s needs, but we also want to take into account the other stakeholders. I would put the cricket club, hockey club and rugby club into that bracket as well as those from the wider community.
“In striking a proposal that meets the demands of the school there are going to have to be some compromises and this is what this [consultation] is about. It’s finding out what people’s views are on our proposal, taking them into account and then going away and reflecting on how we take it all forward thereafter.
“There is information on the school website and we are happy to provide further information [on the proposal] via email if requested,” continued Mr Wallace. “We are taking views. This is about gathering information, and we want to spread that message as far and wide as we can. This is a voluntary consultation – it is below the threshold for a statutory consultation, but we want to be open and hear people’s views and have these conversations.”
The fear within the club remains, however, and the potential implications for Scottish cricket are equally concerning.
“The Goldenacre pitch is regarded as one of the best in the country because it was fashioned in a particular way,” said the former Heriot’s captain. “When the square was constructed it was using a South of England-type loam, so it is different from the majority of Scottish pitches. It holds together much better and it is certainly of a first-class standard and might well be of a Test standard. So what message does that send out? This is one of the best international grounds in the country, and it’s potentially going to be lost altogether.”
George Heriot’s School contact details:
General Enquiries, George Heriot’s School: [email protected]
External Relations Department, George Heriot’s School: [email protected]