CHELTENHAM will define our season - this is the view of many of the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club squad.

They have looked at the Cheltenham Festival fixtures and realised the two county championship matches against Northants and Leicester are winnable, while a place in the T20 Bash can be cemented at the College Ground.

More than ever, they are looking forward to playing in the heart of the county.

Cricket fans should savour it too. Not only is this the oldest festival, it is the best, being much more than a collection of cricket matches. The festival offers so much.

In addition to the first-class matches, there will be a star-studded Lords Taverners game (July 13) and the festival ends with a Hamish Marshall benefit match.

The annual festival service will take place in the college chapel on July 12 at 11.30am and is open to everyone.

It will be planned and led by the Reverend P A Light of the Cirencester ministry team. She is not unknown to me.

The morning of July 9 brings the annual coffee and Danish gathering and there are very special events on July 15 and 16.

No-one embodies the musical soul of Gloucestershire more than Johnny Coppin. He is giving a concert in the college chapel on July 15.

I hope his repertoire includes the poems of Laurie Lee and Frank Mansell. If so, I am sure mine will not be the only moist eyes in the audience.

Quiz master Phil James holds pride of place on July 16. His quizzes are always entertaining and again there is a marvellous BBQ that precedes the questions.

“If you are still above ground, you have got to be here,” said Eric Vick of Hardwicke. Eric had been a regular at the festival all his life, but more than that he had, through the Gloucester region, been a staunch supporter of the county club.

Eric is no longer with us and I shall miss him. Our improving fortunes would have thrilled him.

There was always a twinkle in his eye and although he did not say much, each word weighed a ton.

It is characters like Eric that make the festival special.

In years away from the county, a visit to the festival enabled me to catch up. I may see fellow watchers only once a year, but nonetheless they are loyal and lasting friends.

No other game engenders fellowship and friendship more than cricket and no venue offers more than the College Ground. Furthermore there is the splendid ‘Golden Hart’ tent. The Nettleton Bottom pub offers the best catering in English cricket and the beer is not bad either. Now I can forsake the committee room I will be there more often. I relish the prospect.

But what of Cheltenham of the future? Gloucestershire have recently signed a five-year contract with the College, so our intentions are clear. We want to play there. However, the nature of the first-class programme will define how much and what sort of cricket we play there.

Currently the entire county programme is being discussed. There will still be a county championship and one-day cricket, but how much will there be of each? At the moment 16 matches of four days are scheduled. That means 64 days is taken up by championship games: this may be too many.

The way forward is more three-day games. This means 16 days are freed up for one-day games. Each county will still have eight home games in the championship and a meaningful programme for Cheltenham can emerge.

If the championship becomes three leagues of six teams, as some prefer, each county will play just 10 matches, five home and five away. There will then be play-offs. I worry for the festival if this option is taken up. Splitting five home games could mean Bristol four and Cheltenham one. Oh dear!

That is in the future, however. Now I can chug up the Churn Valley on the 51 bus. Conveniently it passes the ground and there is no better use for my bus pass.

The days of Bomber Wells and Sam Cook are long gone. There are other heroes now. Craig Miles from Purton, Chris Dent from Thornbury, the Taylor brothers from Great Tew and perhaps Miles Hammond from Cheltenham itself.

Whatever happens on the field, however, one thing is certain. Kipling, who was very good at conveying simple truths in his writing, was surely thinking of the Cheltenham Festival when he wrote: “The men who were boys when I was a boy shall sit and drink with me.”

We have plenty to talk about.

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