History of LCCC
The early years of the 18th century show that cricket arrived in Leicestershire from its birthplace in Kent, Sussex and Surrey. A reference is made in 1744 to cricket at Barrow-on-Soar.
The game became popular with framework knitters who were able to work hours to suit themselves which left afternoons free to practice or play the game. Most of these were in North Leicestershire in such places as Hathern, Long Whatton, Shepshed, Loughborough and adjoining villages, but the south around Hinckley, Lutterworth, Wigston and Fleckney were also prominent for the same reason.
Loughborough, midway between Leicester and Nottingham staged what is considered to be the first inter-county game against Nottingham. Barwell claims the oldest continuous fixture in England against Coventry and North Warwickshire, started in 1807 and has never missed its annual game to this day.
Melton Mowbray, probably influenced by its hunting visitors from the south, came to the fore in the 1780s. In Leicester, St Margaret's pasture was the first regular home of local cricket, and was the headquarters of many local clubs. Still there, although much altered, it is used for various sports.
The tiny, then independent, county of Rutland holds a unique place in the game's history for George Finch, ninth Earl of Winchelsea lived at Burley on the Hill near Oakham, a member and President of the famous Hambledon Club in Hampshire, he was the chief founder of the MCC in 1787.
Occasional games were played in Rutland and there was a purple patch for a few years in the 1880s when Rutland met MCC at Lord's and at home, famous local names included H.R. Finch, D.N. Royce, H. Drake and J. Furley.
The Oakham Town Club has been prominent for many years and is still so today at the Lime Kiln Ground. Leicestershire played first-class county games in 1935, 1936 and 1937 at the more spacious school ground. First class cricket returned to Oakham in 2000 with a first four-day match and subsequent festivals have also included one-day matches.
In 1825, the famous Wharf Street ground in Leicester was opened; this extended from the rear of the Spa Buildings on Humberstone Road as far as Wheat Street with a frontage the full length of Wharf Street. Until 1860, when it was sold for building, it was considered to be the finest in England and many representative contests were staged there. During this period, the County Club formed 1820, had many of the leading amateurs of the day. The closure was a sad loss and hindered development of cricket in Leicestershire at a crucial time in the game's development.
Only a few visits were made by the All England touring sides, but their fixtures were played on inadequate venues in the county. However, Victoria Park, then the Racecourse, was adapted for cricket and in 1872 and 1873, W.G. Grace played there for the United South of England. In 1875, the first real county match for more than 20 years was played against Lancashire. Many local clubs used the park, including Ivanhoe, Banks, Leicester Town, South End, Temperance, Lansdowne, Dan Garner's, Oxford, Roslyn and St Mary's.
In 1877, the Leicestershire Cricket Ground Co Ltd purchased 16 acres of land and laid out the Grace Road ground which was opened for cricket in 1878; the company levied a fee to the County Club for matches and practice and took 20% of gate receipts. In July 1878, the Australians played Leicestershire which was the first county to make a financial arrangement with the tourists. Some 30,000 watched during the three days - still a record for Leicestershire.
Next year, 1879, the Club was reformed on the lines we know today, but in spite of having fine players such as Pougher and Woodcock, it was not ranked as first-class until 1895, mainly due to the efforts of the captain C.E. de Trafford. The outstanding event during these 'second class' years was the defeat of the Australians in 1888.
Crowds were small as only horse trams came to the bottom of Grace Road, so fresh plans were made and the Aylestone Road ground opened in 1901; modest playing success was achieved, but there were many fine players such as C.J.B. Wood, Knight, King, Coe and Jayes.
After the First World War, the pattern continued; the side always strong in bowling, lacked enough good batsmen and it was virtually carried by Astill and Geary. In those days, counties relied on native born men and Leicestershire, with its small population, could not produce enough top-class players.
After the Second World War, the Club's lease was not renewed by the Corporation, so a new home had to be found. Fortunately, Grace Road was still there and the Education Committee allowed the club limited use. However, playing and watching conditions were atrocious. Many of the pre-war players had retired, including Astill, Geary and Armstrong.
In 1950, C.H. Palmer joined as secretary and captain, subsequently to become Chairman and President and he was also elected President of MCC. He had the services of the two great Australian all-rounders, Jackson and Walsh, as well as Tompkin, who died at an early age, but only modest success was achieved.
F.M. Turner, who had joined the professional staff in 1951, was appointed Secretary in 1960, then later Manager and Chief Executive. Always full of original ideas, he introduced the Midlands K.O. Cup in 1962 and this was the forerunner of present one-day cricket. There was another Leicestershire innovation in 1908, when it was the first county to start county matches on Saturdays.
After several depressing seasons at the bottom of the table, Tony Lock was persuaded to join the county in 1965 and his inspired leadership brought so much improvement that third position was reached. After he left, two poor years followed until Ray Illingworth came in 1969 to captain Leicestershire.
In that year, the great Australian, G.D. McKenzie joined the Club and in 1972 the County won the Benson and Hedges Cup, the first major honour of the Club.
The John Player Sunday League was won in 1974 and again in 1977, but 1975 was Leicestershire's Annus Mirabilis when the County Championship was won for the first time in the Club's history, the Benson and Hedges Cup was lifted for the second time and the Australians were defeated. The Club also won the Under-25 Competition.
This same year saw the debut of one D.I. Gower, without doubt the most talented and elegant batsman ever to represent Leicestershire and England, certainly for many decades.
Since the purchase of Grace Road in 1965, the ground has been steadily developed as a first class venue. A new pavilion with offices, changing rooms and Committee room was promptly erected and has been followed by the addition of the Fernie and Cottesmore Sponsors Suites and the Fox Bar. New entrance gates and hundreds of trees, shrubs and roses now complete the picture.
The 1990s saw Leicestershire enjoy another highly successful period under the leadership of James Whitaker, winning the County Championship twice in the space of three years, 1996 and 1998.
The Club also reached two other Lord's finals in that period, finishing as runners-up in the 1992 NatWest Trophy and the 1998 Benson and Hedges Cup, a position which was also achieved in the 1994 County Championship and the 2001 Sunday League competition.
More recently, Leicestershire have emerged as the most successful county in the exciting new form of Twenty20 Cup cricket, reaching each of the first four Finals Days and lifting the trophy twice in three years, firstly at Edgbaston in 2004 and then Trent Bridge in 2006.
The ground has continued to undergo change with the creation of the Indoor Cricket School – now known as the Mike Turner Cricket Centre - and Media Centre while the outdoor net area is considered to be one of the best in English county cricket.
Leicestershire are also continuing to produce locally-born players and are giving those youngsters a chance to flourish. In 2008, Greg Smith, James Taylor, Josh Cobb, Nathan Buck and Shiv Thakor all won international age-group call-ups with England. It was certainly a year to remember for Cobb, who became the County’s youngest ever centurion at Lord’s during August when he scored a fabulous unbeaten 148.
Taylor then had a marvellous year himself in 2009, becoming Leicestershire's youngest scorer of a double-century in first-class cricket, youngest scorer of a hundred in a List A game and he also scored his maiden first-class hundred before those two knocks. He became the youngest player to be capped since George Dawkes in the 1930s and won a host of awards and an England Performance Programme for good measure.
Development at the Bennett End of the ground during the winter of 2015 saw work undertaken to the media centre at Grace Road, with a permanent broadcasting studio built as part of redevelopment. That was the first part of the broadcasting project.
Leicestershire unveiled a highly ambitious five-year business plan during 2015 and a number of redevelopments are currently underway at the ground.
The first phase of the plan (January-May 2016) includes floodlight installation (permission granted on January 6th, 2016), replacement of the Milligan Road wall, reducing the outfield area, and IT infrastructure. The building of a Sky gantry, three new radio boxes and restoration of the Maurice Burrows Stand, together with work to the Sky gantry at the Bennett End of the ground, forms the second part of the broadcasting project.
The second phase of the plan (from October 2016) includes redevelopment to the red seated stand in front of main reception, and refurbishment of the Meet.
Building of a permanent mid-wicket Sky gantry, just along from the Meet, is the third part of the broadcasting project in 2017.