South Northumberland are hoping the arrival of international cricketers in Gosforth this summer can mark another chapter in their 150-year history.
The 2,500-capacity Newcastle ground will host Sri Lanka A’s one-day game against the Unicorns on July 18.
It is another vote of confidence in what former England captain Michael Vaughan last year described as the best club facilities in the country.
The club are now hoping they can become a regular venue for the itinerant Unicorns, or even a First-Class outground for Durham.
“It’s a massive opportunity for us,” said South North director Tom Seymour, who is also a sales director with Durham. “It’s given us an opportunity to show what we can do.
“We currently host Durham second team games and we’d love to host First-Class matches.
“As for hosting the Unicorns, it all depends on the make-up of the side so it’s out of our hands, but again it’s something we’d love to do. We’d certainly put our hat into the ring for that and be confident we can put on a good show.
“We’ve hosted a Lashings All-Star game in recent years, Stephen Harmison played his testimonial game (Durham versus Vaughan’s England XI) there last year, and Durham were here in 2012 too for a Twenty20 warm-up game.
“This year is our 150th anniversary and we’ve approached Durham about doing something similar to mark that.
“We’d love to get a game here. It’s not impossible, but Durham have got their own fixtures to consider.”
The Unicorns was set up to provide a pathway into First-Class cricket (for a second time in many cases) to players without professional contracts. Former Durham youngsters Paul Hindmarch and Karl Turner could be among those hoping to be involved in the Sri Lanka A game.
The Unicorns played in county cricket’s 40-over competition from 2010-2013, but are not involved in the 50-over Royal London Cup which replaces it this year.
The South North fixture is a warm-up for a triangular one-day tournament involving the second teams of Sri Lanka, New Zealand and England. Sri Lanka A also play Durham at Chester-le-Street two days later.
Durham have not played outground cricket since the 2006 County Championship game against Kent at Stockton. Complaints about the pitches from opposition sides and the cost to the clubs of staging games saw all matches revert to Chester-le-Street.
The awarding of this fixture is acknowledgement of South North’s investment in an impressive infrastructure.
“We were lucky when we managed to sell the tennis courts to a housebuilding firm, which gave us a lot of income,” Seymour admitted. “We’ve invested in the indoor school and there’s a pitch First-Class counties would be happy with.
“We’ve got over 400 youngsters so the future of the club is in good shape. The first team have been winning national championships and Twenty20 competitions and being successful in the North East Premier League, so we see ourselves as one of the top club sides in the country.
“I think the main thing for us is to maintain those standards at national level.
“We’ve invested heavily in good coaches. We’ve got Melvyn Betts, who’s ex-Durham, Middlesex and England A, as our head coach, and we’ve had people like Neil Killeen, Mark Wood, Gordon Muchall, Nicky Phillips and Jacques du Toit involved too who’ve all played county cricket. We’ve probably got the best qualified coaching infrastructure in amateur cricket.
“And we don’t have overseas players so there’s no restriction for youngsters coming through.”
Durham batsman Mark Stoneman has agreed a new contract with the County Championship title winners that will see him stay in the North East until at least the end of the 2016 season.