Remembering Oval Cricket Ground 1971

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sun Oct 7 07:39:53 CDT 2007

>From Cricinfo:

The Oval, drugs and rock'n'roll
Martin Williamson
October 6, 2007

In last week's Rewind we recalled how in 1971 Surrey,
on the verge of bankruptcy, looked for a variety of
ways to raise cash. The most ambitious scheme came at
the end of the season when The Oval hosted an open-air
rock festival. 

September 18, 1971 was a gloriously sunny late-summer
day, perfect for an outdoor concert, and almost 40,000
people descended on The Oval - about 9000 more than
the official capacity - and paid their £1.25 to get in
and watch a bill headlined by The Who. 

The early arrivals took over the outfield, packing the
area in front of the stage at the Vauxhall End; the
later ones had to make do with seats in the stands.
Given that the 1960s were a fresh memory, the hippies
were out in force. "There were beards, long hair and
colourful clothes," said Al Hynes. "The women dressed
in everything between jeans and t-shirts to full
length frocks and skirts." 

The police refused to come into the ground. "If you
want us," they told Geoffrey Howard, the Surrey
secretary, "we'll be outside." So the stewarding and
policing inside the ground was handled by Hell's
Angels. Despite Howard's initial reservations - "when
I saw them I thought 'this is the end'" - the Angels
kept the peace. 

Given that it was within spitting distance of the
flower-power era, drugs were prevalent. Many people
brought their own, but it was still on sale inside the
ground. Hynes recalled: "A guy was wandering through
the crowd shouting, "Spam! Spam! Spam! - yes, we
couldn't get away from Monty Python sketches, even in
those days - and, in a slightly lower voice "Aciiid!
Aciiid! Anyone want acid?" It cost 50p. Not all the
wares were bona fide. One of the audience recalled
seeing two angry Americans who had "just wasted £20 in
scoring an ounce of parsley which they thought was

Inside the ground some of the scenes were surreal. "My
main memory of the event was [the Long Room] in the
pavilion, which had large windows and commodious
seating," recalled Guy Legge. "The walls were adorned
with old team pictures and cricketing mementos but the
whole place was a mass of long-haired, outlandish
types. There was a definite air of substance intake
and I encountered one down-hearted individual who
recounted how he had just been fleeced of £60 in a
dope deal. £60 was a lot of money in 1971." 

The concert started at 11am with Jeff Dexter, the MC,
dressed up for the occasion in cricket whites, pads
and bat. The bill opened with the long-forgotten
Cochise; they were followed by Lindisfarne,
Quintessence, Mott The Hoople, America and Atomic
Rooster. Rod Stewart - clad in a tiger-skin suit which
he later auctioned for the Bangladesh charity and
raised £500 - then appeared with The Faces before the
headline act. 

As the sun went down, on they came. "Here they are,
all the way from Shepherd's Bush ... The Who" yelled
Dexter as John Entwistle, Pete Townshend, Roger
Daltrey and Keith Moon ran on stage. Moon grabbed the
bat off Dexter as he passed and proceeded to use it as
a drumstick for the first number - "I Can't Explain" -
throwing it into the audience at the end. Dexter was
unimpressed. He had borrowed the bat from Surrey to
use as a prop. 

The Who played a tight set, but any chance of an
encore disappeared as Townshend, as was the norm,
shredded his brand new Gibson guitar in a frenzy of
destruction, hurling the remnants to the baying
audience. Moon, meanwhile, opted to walk through his
drum set rather than round it, scattering it
everywhere. The gig was over. 

As the crowd filtered out, they were handed polythene
bags and asked to clear the pitch of rubbish. Many
complied, helped by a vague promise from the
organisers that they would get free tickets to the
next concert as a reward. 

"The concert went on far too late into the night,"
Howard recalled. "The cars were parked all haphazard,
and the police lifted them all and turned them round
so that, when everybody left, they all went straight
out ... it was the most magical thing." 

"The Oval itself proved an ideal natural venue for
staging a rock concert of this magnitude," observed
Melody Maker. "The unlikely partnership of the rock
business and the establishment of the cricketing world
paid off handsomely." Everyone was happy. Around
£15,000 was raised for charity - aid to war-torn
Bangladesh - and Surrey received a much-needed £3000. 

"The lavatories and a lot of the seating were
practically ruined," Howard said, "but the backers
paid for everything to be repaired." 

The following weekend The Oval staged a football game
- it was being used as the home ground by Corinthian
Casuals, managed by Micky Stewart, Surrey captain. "On
the morning the sun was out and I could see all these
little things glistening on the pitch," Stewart said.
"Crushed plastic glasses. I was scratching my hand to
see if I could cut myself ... fortunately, before
everyone arrived, the sun went in!" 

Two more concerts took place a year later in September
16, 1972 with Hawkwind and Frank Zappa headlining the
first - poor weather kept the audience numbers down -
and a fortnight later a more successful venture
featuring Genesis, Focus, Wishbone Ash and Emerson
Lake and Palmer. Surrey made good money from both
ventures. However, a death at a concert at Crystal
Palace in 1973 resulted in Lambeth Council introducing
a regulation that the number of tickets sold could not
be more than the number of seats available, and in one
stroke the staging of concerts at The Oval become

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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