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A memory of Dudley Sports Centre

Dudley Sports Centre was a large football and cricket ground of the Tipton Road in Dudley. I guess these days it would be called a multi-sports complex! A 1950s map is shown below. The football ground was to the south with the main stand backing onto the cricket ground, with the cricket ground to the north, with the Pavilion and terraces in front of the back of the football stands. There were playing fields to the north and the west. It dated from the 1880 but was much expanded in the 1930s when the football ground was opened. It was used by Dudley Cricket Club and Dudley Town FC. Over 16000 spectators attended Dudley Town’s first match in 1932. Worcestershire CCC used it as an out ground from 1911 to 1977 for first class and list A fixtures.

The Sports Centre in the 1950s

As a teenager, I watched games at the ground on many occasions – football matches between Dudley Town and my team, Brierley Hill Alliance, and a variety of other games including county cup finals; and cricket games when Worcestershire were in town. It is one of the latter that sticks most in my memory. This was the game between Worcestershire and Warwickshire on 5th September 1971, when I was 17. This was a 40 over John Player league game (in the days when it was felt acceptable for manufacturers of carcinogenic products to sponsor sports competitions). Worcestershire had had a good season and in this, their last game of the season, needed to win the match to have any chance of winning the league. As ever with cricket, the situation was complicated, and not only did they need the four points from the win, they needed to ensure that their run rate (runs / over) over the season was such that it surpassed that of Essex, the team below them. Even then they could not be sure of the title, as the third placed team, Lancashire had a game in hand, and played the following week. Lancashire had to lose that game, even if Worcestershire won on September 5th. I remember sitting on the terraces to the west of the Pavilion shown on the above figure. The TV cameras were in attendance, and my mother spent the entire afternoon watching a cricket match on BBC3 to see if she could see me in the crowd. Warwickshire batted first, and their scorecard is below. The only managed to make 126 – a very low score even in those pre-T20 days. Of the bowlers, Basil D'Oliveira, Vanburn Holder, the overseas signing for the year, and Brian Brain did most of the damage.

The Warwickshire Innings

Basil D’Oliveira, Vanburn Holder and Brian Brain

In the Innings break it was announced that, in order to achieve the required overall run rate for the season, Worcestershire needed to surpass that total in 17.5 overs – so the match became a T20 match 30 years before that concept was invented. I remember little of the innings other than its frantic nature. The scorecard is again given below. Nearly all of the runs were scored by three players – Ron Headley, the son on the West Indian batsman George, Basil D’Oliveira again and Alan Ormrod. Worcestershire made the required total with two balls to spare, resulting in raucous celebrations. Lancashire obligingly lost the match the following week, and Worcester were proclaimed as champions.

The Worcestershire Innings

Ron Headley, Basil D’Oliveira and Alan Ormrod

I went off to university a year after the match, and I don’t remember seeing any more cricket there. As is well known, the Sports Centre was shut in 1985 after a large hole appeared and part of the pitch disappeared into a limestone cavern beneath the site. Worcestershire never played there again, and Dudley CC, a long-term member of the Birmingham League, folded. Dudley Town have led a peripatetic existence ever since, playing at a number of grounds within and without the borough – the Round Oak stadium, the Dell stadium, Tividale and (currently) at Willenhall. The site is now the home of the Castle Gate complex.

The Sports Centre after closure

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