England news March 20, 2017

'Only weeks left' to stave off Headingley crisis


Storm clouds loom over Headingley © Getty Images

Mark Arthur has warned that Yorkshire could lose their ability to host major matches if they are unable to finance a partial redevelopment of their Headingley home "within weeks."

Arthur, Yorkshire's chief executive, says the situation is so critical that not only could the club lose its right to host four World Cup matches in 2019, but they would be unable to apply to host any Test cricket after that date and might even risk their chances of hosting games in the new-team T20 competition which is anticipated to start in 2020.

Yorkshire's predicament comes months after the ECB announced that Durham would no longer be considered eligible to host Tests due to financial problems. That leaves the prospect that Lancashire's Old Trafford ground, in Manchester, could be the only ground north of Nottingham Test eligible to stage Test cricket from the start of the 2020 season.

It would also appear to raise the possibility, if less likely, of arch-rivals Lancashire hosting the closest team to Yorkshire in the new T20 competition.

The problem centres on the stand at Headingley shared with the rugby club. Built in the 1930s, it was partially condemned in 2015 due to corrosion with the hope it would be rebuilt in time for the 2019 season. The club were hoping to increase capacity from around 17,000 to 20,000 with the addition of the new stand. As things stand, capacity at Headingley is reduced to around 14,000.

But attempts to raise the £17m required for the latest stage in the redevelopment (it is expected to cost £38m in all) have so far been thwarted. The biggest jolt came when Leeds City Council suddenly announced that they were not prepared to provide a grant of £4m for the project as previously hoped.

"Ever since the grant was withdrawn, we've been working with Leeds City Council and Leeds Rugby, and other entities, trying to find a way of funding the new stand," Arthur said.

"At this moment in time, we haven't got a formula to put to our members. What we can't go to them with is a half-baked proposal. If the board does come to a resolution at some stage in the near future, which means that we can recommend a financial proposal to the members, then we would call an extraordinary general meeting to go through the numbers."

Yorkshire are close to £25m in debt, with around £20m of that sum owed to trusts set-up by ECB chairman Colin Graves. They had hoped that the prospect of major matches from 2020 onwards would help them repay such debts, but without a new stand their future is fraught with uncertainty.

"Gordon Hollins, the chief operating officer of the ECB, has confirmed to us in writing that Headingley does not comply with the International Facilities Policy," Arthur said. "Therefore, once the current staging agreement ends in 2019, we will not be considered for Test Matches.

"This has to be resolved in the very near future or we will have run out of time to complete the stand by the start of the 2019 season. While the Ashes Test is secure, the four World Cup matches in 2019 are not.

"The need to have a new stand has recently taken on greater importance with the introduction of a new T20 city based competition from the year 2020. The host cities will be selected on the basis of facilities and catchment. It will be akin to hosting four additional one-day internationals per year and will bring further incremental income to those host grounds and cities.

"Not only is the clock ticking from a financial point of view, the ECB will be allocating international matches from 2020 to 2023 later this year as well as the new city based T20 host contracts."

"We need to reach an agreement with all parties in the next few weeks. We will be solvent, but we will not be able to solve our long-term debt so quickly."

The allocation of major matches from 2020 until 2023 is already long overdue. That has led to concerns around the counties over their ability to plan for a future which looks set to contain fewer Tests.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ian on March 21, 2017, 21:45 GMT

    Now, will the ECB chairman threaten his own loans by relegating Yorkshire if they end up tanking financially due to this?

  • Patrick on March 21, 2017, 16:24 GMT

    When was the last time Headingley was full? If so, how often does it happen? If the ECB want huge stadiums that nobody wants to go to, let them build them and pay for them, themselves. If I were Yorkshire I'd move out of Headingley lock, stock and barrel and relocate to Scarborough and keep a presence in West Yorkshire by scheduling a few matches on suitable outgrounds. After all, thanks to the way the ECB has wrecked county cricket there are only 7 matches in the whole season anyway. What about T20 I hear someone ask. Simples. Hold them in soccer and rugby stadiums and use drop in pitches. Boundaries too short? No problem, look at the huge scores there'll be with even the most inept edges and mis-hits sailing into the stands. Those there would have a bal, pun not necessarily intended,l and hyped up commentators could foam at the mouth describing how wonderful it all is. Let Graves finish this vandalism of our summer sport off with his clutch of Thames Valley Royals imitations.

  • Alex on March 21, 2017, 9:53 GMT

    It seems to me cricket has the model the wrong way round. It seems crazy to expect counties to develop huge grounds which will be full for a few days a year and carry all the costs and risks, while the ECB pockets all the profits. I can't think of another sport that works this way. For instance, all the home nations rugby and football national stadia are funded and run by the respective Rugby Unions or FA's. Open golf courses are paid to host the Open. Only cricket penalises venue owners in this crazy way. Of course cricket is different in that it needs at least 5 Test venues but there has to be a way in which the ECB covers much more of the costs and risks or else Durham and, potentially, Yorkshire, will be followed by other counties going deep (deeper?) into the red.

  • ian on March 21, 2017, 7:58 GMT

    All is not lost! The UK (well, if not UK then the England &Wales) government secures a massive deal with an Indian conglomerate - and with our booming economy (post Brexit- obviously) we have an Indian-owned, Indian built (a sort of subcontinental Auf Wiedershen, Pet work-force) Headingley. The BCCI has been sticking up stadiums all over India - so they know how to do it - and in quick time too. There will be a reduction in building regulations (another advantage to taking back control from Brussels) so that won't slow things up and -again with a regulation-free working environment, they should be working pretty much round the clock. Headingley can be fixed: where there's a will, we can (arrange to) get it done. No immigrant regulations apply to working non EU Nationals. What do East Europeans know about cricket anyway?

  • GeoffreysMother on March 21, 2017, 7:55 GMT

    Whichever way it turns out it is going to be a bit of a mess in Yorkshire isn't it. If Headingley get a city based T20 team then Leeds is likely to get a surfeit of T20 cricket by being the base of the city team and also the base of the much reduced Yorkshire side shorn of its T20 'stars'. If Headingley doesn't get the go ahead then virtually a full side of Yorkshire players (Lees, Lyth, Leaning, Bairstow, Root, Bresnan, Plunkett, Rashid , Willey) will play elsewhere. If the aim of this new league is to inspire a new younger audience to cricket then neither option seems to effectively tap into the largest potential market in the country. Still office goers in London looking for an after work beer should be well catered for.

  • michae7471641 on March 21, 2017, 7:50 GMT

    Perhaps Graves ought to return to Leeds to sort things out there on a full-time basis. At the very least, he'd be doing the other seventeen counties a big favour. So much for letting successful businessmen run the game of cricket in this country - I wouldn't mind so much if one of them actually came from a club that didn't have a recent history of financial ineptitude.

  •   cricfan69564930 on March 21, 2017, 7:14 GMT

    i think it best to reduce the capacity and debt burden at Headingleeds...new zealand cricket is shining a beacon on smaller "boutique grounds" where stands have been replaced with lovely trees and grandstand and embankment seating priced the same...families are preferring the grass banks to spread out the picnic on over grandstand seats...i agree with cricfan 64665002 about high capacity ground costs...put a match to the condemned stand,or sell for demolition...i hate the ICC's International Facilities Policy which dangles the carrot of big matches and makes counties outbid each other to host games....often with demands on increased capacity...if nz hosts 50% of internationals at "boutique grounds" with low-capacity why can't england??counties need to meet secretly and make a pact to not buy into the ECB bidding war...

  • andrew1260617 on March 20, 2017, 23:04 GMT

    We have too many large grounds we cannot fill more than two or three days out of 365. The new T20 is supposedly about terrestrial television (no explanation why it could not cover the existing T20); games that end after the last bus might be watched on TV but they would look better in small well filled grounds than in empty stadia.

  • frank on March 20, 2017, 22:51 GMT

    We'll all wake up one day to find that all the FC counties are gone (along with FC and Test cricket) in England,and just have T20 franchise matches to watch so as to "attract a new audience" As earlier posters have mentioned,time for Graves to be got rid of,along with Strauss,and this mad destruction of the game in England halted.

  • Mark on March 20, 2017, 21:56 GMT

    There seems to be something of a repeating trend here of counties going deeply into debt to keep international cricket (Durham, Yorkshire, Glamorgan, Gloucestershire, ...) Then think of the grounds that were regulars on the international circuit 30 years ago, hosting ODIs and were dropped because they couldn't afford to keep up standards (Taunton, Grace Road, ...) One suspects that there is something wrong with the financial model. Do we want a future where only a handful of grounds can afford to host Tests?

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