When the Notts Outlaws head down the A52 to Grantham for a couple of Royal London Cup games, they will be travelling a link that stretches around 40 miles – and more than 160 years.
In 1862, the 20-year-old Alfred Shaw of Burton Joyce signed on as the first professional at Grantham Cricket Club, which by then was nearing its fiftieth anniversary and had already survived one ‘collapse’ and been revived.
Shaw was to join Nottinghamshire two years later and find a lasting place in the annals of the game as the man that bowled the first ball in Test Cricket (v Australia in 1877). His long and illustrious career began, then, with Grantham; for Notts alone he bowled more than 25,000 overs (with, it is claimed, never a wide!) and took almost 1,000 wickets at just 11.51, with 19 ‘ten-fers’. He passed 100 wickets in a season nine times, with an astonishing best of 201 at 10.95 in 1878.
Alfred Shaw captained Notts – with whom he won five County titles – and England; led overseas tours to Australia (four times) and North America; and became a partner in a cricket business with his friend and teammate Arthur Shrewsbury.
He eventually retired from County cricket, though made a last appearance in First-Class matches for Notts v Philadelphians in 1897. Shaw joined the First-Class umpires’ list for 1898 and remained on it until ill-health forced his retirement in 1905.
Though Alfred Shaw is the most feted of the Notts-Grantham connections, he was certainly not the first – and emphatically not the last.
Given that the first recorded match for the club was in 1817 (v Billingborough), it unsurprising that in the four decades that preceded Shaw’s appointment as professional, there had been many matches between Grantham and clubs from Nottinghamshire. As early as 1820 there was a game against Bingham (admittedly played at Belton) which ended in acrimony over a disputed catch; in that decade Grantham also met with teams from Newark and Southwell.
By the 1850s, the most regular match appears to have been with Notts Amateurs with fixtures home and away.
Many local cricketers have gone on to play First-Class cricket with Notts.
John Auger Dixon, who played for Grantham whilst still at school, captained Notts for 11 seasons with such success that the main gates at Trent Bridge are named for him.
Two of the earliest Notts players were John Gibson of Denton and Butler Parr from Morton (no relation to the great Parr family but son-in-law to another Trent Bridge legend, Richard Daft).
Richard Bates, who played more than 100 games for Notts across all formats, was born in Stamford and Chris Scott – a wicket-keeper whose unwanted claim to fame is to have dropped Brian Lara when he was en route to that 501 – came from Thorpe on the Hill.
Philip John Sherwin Pearson-Gregory was born at Harlaxton Manor and played just three First-Class matches, all for Notts, but most of his cricket was played for the Household Brigade (he was a professional soldier) or Eton Ramblers.
Coming much more up-to-date, Zak Chappell, born in Grantham, moved to Trent Bridge from Leicestershire in 2018 and from next season will complete an East Midlands ‘hat trick’ by joining Derbyshire.
Mathew Dowman, also Grantham born, hit the headlines early when in 1993 he scored a record 267 for England Under 19s v West Indies Under 19s at Hove.
Mathew represented Notts in First-Class and List-A cricket for six seasons before he, too, joined Derbyshire. He has also played for (and skippered) his home county in the Minor Counties Championship and Trophy competitions.
Although not Lincolnshire born, Mark Fell, from Newark, played for Lincolnshire after stints with Notts and Derbyshire.
He became Director of Cricket for Lincolnshire in 2005, a post he still holds. Mark also served as a Cricket Development Officer for the ECB and coached within the Notts Cricket Academy and with the England Under 17s and Under 19s.
Uzman Afzaal, an all-rounder who played for Notts and England, took on the role of head coach at Grantham CC earlier this year.
The fixture also consolidates Nottinghamshire’s close relationship with the wider ‘Imp’ county. Andy Afford, Wayne Noon and Guy Welton are among Lincolnshire-born players to have turned out for Notts. More unlikely, perhaps, is Darren Pattinson (brother of current Notts overseas star James) who, despite his Australian upbringing, was born in Grimsby – and thus qualified for his one and only Test cap for England.
Outlaw Matt Carter, his elder brother Andy and current Academy bowler Thomas Giles all have their roots in the Lincolnshire cricketing scene - and the National County continues to work in close partnership with the pathway system over the border in Notts.
For many years, matches at Grantham were a staple of Nottinghamshire players’ benefit seasons. Mike ‘Pasty’ Harris, Mike Smedley, Bruce French and Derek Randall were among the Notts stars to have matches at Grantham, as did Yorkshire’s Darren Gough. These matches meant plenty of star names appeared; three great Notts all-rounders – Garry Sobers, Clive Rice and Chris Lewis – among them.
Bill Frindall, the ‘Bearded Wonder’ of TMS stats, played two games for Grantham whilst stationed at Spittlegate in 1964.
But cricketing greats do not come much bigger than WG himself and the history of Grantham Cricket Club relates many stories of the great man’s appearances, one of the most unlikely being him turning out for Northumberland in 1868.
That match was played at Spittlegate, one of several grounds used by Grantham over their 200+ years. For most of that time, their home ground was in the town at London Road. That site was so valuable that the club were offered a relocation to the present ground at Gorse Lane so that a supermarket could take advantage of the prime town centre spot.
During WWII, London Road hosted a match, Ladies v Gentlemen, to raise funds for Grantham Hospital. The outcome of the game is not recorded in the club’s history but it is an intriguing match-up. Another oddity of the London Road era is a report from 1937 that reveals that the club committee ‘decided not to permit all-in wrestling’ but did agree that ‘if the promoter…cares to substitute accredited boxing tournaments…they would have no objection’!
The Gorse Lane ground has become a regular Nottinghamshire ‘home’ venue, staging List-A and Second XI games and some age group matches.
With the 50-over cup now being played at more out grounds to free up Trent Bridge for The Hundred, it is likely that this 160-year, 40-mile link will continue and prosper.