“Only weeks left” to stave off Headingley crisis

20 Mar

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“Ever since the grant was withdrawn, we’ve been working with Leeds City Council and Leeds Rugby, and other entities, trying to find a way of funding the new stand,” Arthur said.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

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