The 2005 Ashes Test at Lord’s took place in a city jittery from a recent terrorist attack. Entering the ground, after the usual bag check, each spectator stood as a scarecrow to be frisked. On the first afternoon, whispers swirled around the crowd of terrorist and anti-terrorist activity taking place elsewhere in London while we watched the game. I pondered how exposed we were. I weighed up my family commitments, this opportunity to see England compete toe-to-toe with Australia and the apparent level of risk, and stayed put.
Thirty-two years earlier and Lord’s itself had been the target of a bomb alert. At around 2.45pm on the Saturday of the Test against the West Indies the MCC Secretary announced over the public address system that a warning of a bomb planted at Lord’s had been received and the ground was to be evacuated. The players headed for the Pavilion and then onto their hotel (West Indies) and the Nursery Ground (England). The larger portion of the 28,000 crowd spilled out into the streets of St John’s Wood. The smaller, but more prominent portion headed for the playing area, where they milled about while the police completed a search of the ground before giving the all-clear. In the centre of it all, showing early his talent for self-promotion, Dickie Bird sat on the covers that protected the pitch.
The bomb threat at Lord’s had been a hoax, but taken seriously because of the very real terrorism campaign of the IRA. Elsewhere, cricketers and cricket grounds have been less fortunate. Attacks have taken place in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Cricket has endured bomb threats and bombing of its stadia. The presence of a real bomb on a cricket field is, probably, even rarer. On work business this week, I was visiting some properties with a colleague. Len has worked in the business for nearly forty years acquiring a matchless store of experience of inner city housing. As we walked around the scheme, checking the condition of the property, Len told me about the renovations that had been made over the years to prevent water damage or discourage groups of teens gathering.
As we reached a row of garages below maisonettes, Len began the tale. It started with a community consultation event where a resident asked for someone to check out some problems with his garage. Len went to assess the problems. In the rear of the garage, straining to see evidence of structural weakness, he saw an intact shell. He called the police, who came quickly and provided a surprisingly precise diagnosis: an unexploded Iranian bomb. The bomb squad was summoned.
The officers suggested that the whole scheme should be evacuated. Len, unlike the MCC, demurred: the residents were upset enough by the upheaval to their homes caused by the renovation works that any more inconvenience would be very unpopular. Why this argument convinced the policeman wasn’t explained. But then things got even crazier. While one officer went to the entrance to the scheme to await the bomb squad, Len and the second officer decided that they should take the safety of the residents into their own hands. The bomb needed to be away from homes and people, somewhere in the open where it wouldn’t harm anyone if it blew. Next to the scheme was a wide, flat field that exactly met their needs.
The two men lifted the shell, carried it out of the garage, across a road, over a fence, over a boundary rope, across the outfield and onto the square of the local cricket ground, where they lay it down. For a few seconds, all they could hear was their beating hearts, and then shouting, “You, get off there. What’s that?” The groundsman bore down on them. They answered his question. “A bomb.” “A bomb,” he replied. “There’s a match here tonight. There will be hell to pay if it goes off.”
The bomb squad came, removed the ordnance, and the groundsman’s worst fears, a postponed match and a crater on his ground, were avoided.