When you see Garden or Park in the name of a cricket stadium you become vaguely suspicious. Expecting lush greens is the last thing on your mind. Think of the concrete sprawl of Kolkata’s Eden Gardens or Kanpur’s Green Park. Thus, upon entering Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens one was taken aback by the greenery all around the stadium. In fact, steep trees form a ring around the stadium and the only thing visible from a distance is the floodlights. The stadium also has one of the best pavilions, simply called “Really Welsh”.
Although the official name of the ground is SWALEC (Wales’ largest electricity provider) Stadium, for all practical purposes it’s known as Sophia Gardens.
Quite a history
The site of the stadium, on the tree-lined west bank of the River Taff, has quite a history. Like most things in the city the venue is linked with the Marquess of Bute, the major landowner in Cardiff in the mid nineteenth century. Sophia, the wife of the Marquess, was concerned about the limited amount of open space in the bustling industrial centre and oversaw the development of the area during the mid-1850`s, creating an attractive area for walking and the general recreation. In 1858 the Gardens were formally opened, but as fate would have it Sophia passed away the next year.
The cricket stadium is a very recent addition, and was only inaugurated in 1967. After a major redevelopment in the early 1990s it became a centre of sport and adjacent to the stadium is the national hockey centre.
Wales has always been a bit of an outsider in the British Isles. After the Anglo-Saxon invasions following the fall of the Roman empire, the original inhabitants of Britain were pushed to the southwest and came to be known as the Welsh. The English didn’t just leave it at that, their language is full of mocking references. The term welsher, which is ascribed to a swindler who doesn’t pay his debts, being a good example of that.
Welsh cricket is also an ignored child a fact that can be ascertained in the missing W in the acronym of the England and Wales Cricket Board, which is known simply as the ECB and not the ECWB.
Welsh vs English
Owing to their origins the Welsh have had a long-standing rivalry with the English and nothing brings this out better than rubgy matches involving the two nations.
Welsh pride is also seen in their renascent language, and all signboards in the city are written in two languages, English and Welsh. It’s a very phonetically-infuriating language. Cardiff is spelled Caerdydd, cricket is spelled criced. Wales in welsh is called Cymru (it’s pronounced like the Toyota car Camry, with an emphasis on u rather than a in the second letter).
Wales’ list of Test cricketers is also a rather short one. Baby-faced off-spinner Robert Croft and 2005 Ashes hero Simon Jones are among the few who made it to the England setup.
All that, of course, seems trivial compared to the quaint beauty of the stadium and the surrounding areas.