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11 December 2007
The historic cricket Oval in Southwark Park will be restored before the start of next season following a collaboration between the council and Surrey County Cricket Club.
The agreement was announced at a celebration to honour what would have been the 150th birthday of Bobby Abel, one of Surrey's all time greats and the greatest cricketer ever to come out of Southwark.
Abel - who remains Surrey's fifth highest run scorer of all time - played for the local first class team between 1881 and 1904, scoring 27,609 runs. He also played thirteen times for England, becoming the first to 'carry his bat' through an entire innings.
People attending the 'birthday party' - organised by Phil Burkett of Bermondsey Beat - included former England captain Mike Gatting, Mayor of Southwark Bob Skelly and Surrey wicket keeper batsman Jonathan Batty.
A council 'blue plaque' has been erected on the side of the Café Gallery in Southwark Park (formerly the park's cricket pavilion) to honour Abel's memory and the place he learned his trade.
In recent decades, the pitch has fallen into serious disrepair and is currently unusable for cricketing purposes.
However, in a deal which mirrors a partnership between Surrey and Lambeth Council (which led to a major regeneration of the cricketing facilities in Kennington Park), an artificial wicket will shortly be installed, allowing the pitch to be used by schools and individuals.
Following the installation of the artificial wicket, Surrey and the council intend to work together to improve the surroundings of the pitch, eventually setting up a Southwark Park Cricket Club who would take responsibility for the upkeep of the facilities.
George Foster, community officer at Surrey told the 'News': "We certainly want to get the first wheels in motion and get an artificial wicket down there for the start of next season.
“In the long term we'd like to establish a club there who can take control of the pitch and look after the square. 2008 will be the very early stages but there will some kind of provision there that hopefully schools can use or some people can just pitch up and play at."
A Southwark Council spokesperson said: "The council would like nothing better than to see cricket back at Southwark Park. We're currently seeking funding, but we're sure that by the time next summer rolls around there will be a brand new artificial ground that everyone in the community will be able to enjoy. We're particularly looking forward to seeing talented young people benefit - the next Bobby Abel could be just around the corner!"
Event organiser Phil Burkett added: "I was really pleased with how the function went, with the attendance of all the right people who can bring cricket back to Southwark Park.
"Pat Kingwell, Gary Magold and I had worked for nearly nine months on this project and bringing the right people together. What we need now is for Southwark, Surrey and the ECB to get talking and to reinstate the artificial surface, as a matter of urgency.
"Also, I would like to thank my good friend, Mr Barry Albin-Dyer for his generous donation that made this function a great success.
"It was a great day for Bermondsey and a fitting tribute to Bobby 'The Guv'nor' Abel on his 150th anniversary."
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