Ashes 2013: Durham prepares to host fourth Test

Durham's Riverside ground in 2000
Image caption The Chester-le-Street ground, pictured in 2000, has undergone huge changes
Emirates Durham ICG
Image caption About 80,000 fans are expected to visit the ground during the Test match
Redevelopment of Riverside cricket ground, Chester-le-Street
Image caption New stands have been built and the ground now holds more than 17,000
Old press box, Riverside cricket ground, Chester-le-Street
Image caption Its facilities, including those for the media, have changed dramatically
View from new press box at Riverside cricket ground, Chester-le-Street
Image caption This weekend journalists will enjoy one of the best views in the house

Twenty years ago, Durham County Cricket Club was still touring the North East to play its home games.

Planning permission for a permanent base at Chester-le-Street had only just been granted and fans travelled to grounds including Gateshead, Hartlepool and Stockton to watch games.

On Friday, English cricket's youngest first class club will complete a remarkable journey when it stages the fourth Ashes Test between England and Australia.

Durham fan Richard Jacques remembers doing GCSE coursework on the town planning debate that surrounded the decision to build the Riverside ground.

"It was mainly looking at the 'not in my back yard' idea," the 36-year-old from Lumley said.

"Some of the locals didn't want all the hassle of having major sporting events.

"When I was doing it, you would have never thought that England would play Australia in a Test match at this ground.

"I still can't get my head around it."

Mr Jacques bought tickets two years ago, then had something of a bittersweet moment when he was invited to a close friend's wedding on the first day of the test.

"We got tickets together with our dads and friends and then the wedding announcement came and we couldn't quite believe it," he said.

"We had conversations as to whether we could go down and watch the toss and the first hour but in the end we thought 'we're being stupid'. We'll be there for the second and third day."

'Like a fairytale'

Doug Raine, 50, from Sunderland, has followed the club since his teenage years.

For him, the Ashes Test is the "icing on the cake".

"I've got fond, fond memories of the minor counties days", he said. "We went nearly five years without losing.

"The way the club has developed is like a dream. It's like a fairytale."

Preparations for the match have been frantic and for several long-standing members of staff, Friday's first ball will be the culmination of years of hard work.

Image caption Ellen Johnson will be at the ground for 07:00 BST each day

Ellen Johnson has been at the club since 1997.

"I started off on reception and worked my way through every rank going," the cricket and executive secretary said.

"We were the new boys on the block. The biggest change was when we got our first international but even then getting a Test match, which was always the goal, seemed a long way away.

"I'm most looking forward to the first morning when everyone is in their seats and the players come out."

Day four of the Test will live long in the memory for Carl Macar and his teammates at Durham Visually Impaired Cricket Club.

"We'll be demonstrating the art of blind cricket at lunch," The 26-year-old from Stanley said.

"It's great to have the Ashes in the North East. We're very passionate about sport and we deserve to have the big events in the region."

The club has hosted other Tests and one day internationals (ODIs) in its short history but chief operating officer Richard Dowson said planning to host an Ashes match had been completely different.

"I joined the club in 2005 when we hosted an ODI in the Ashes summer.

"From there onwards everyone had a bit of Ashes fever."

Image caption Richard Dowson is looking forward to welcoming cricket fans to the North East

Mr Dowson and other club officials travelled to Cardiff, where Glamorgan hosted their first Ashes Test in 2009, to learn lessons from another newcomer to the biggest stage.

He said there had been difficult moments along the way.

"Making as much of the ground permanent as we can has been a challenge. We've had a couple of false starts but we've managed to deliver it.

"Looking at the ticketing profile we're going to have a lot of people coming to the ground who've never been before.

"People will come not just to the game but they will stay over and sample some of the things the North East has to offer."

Mr Dowson has long since given up relying on long-range weather forecasts but will allow himself a nervous check on Thursday evening.

He will join lifelong fan Richard Jacques in hoping for sunshine. For the cricket and the wedding.

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