Headingley needs ‘leap of faith’ to secure its future

Yorkshire's Headingley stadium.

Yorkshire's Headingley stadium.

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THE SIGHT of Old Trafford staging all the blue riband international cricketing occasions in the north of England from the summer of 2019 is a scenario of nightmarish proportions for anyone from the Broad Acres.

If that is not enough, then the Manchester venue could also be the sole marquee venue north of the Midlands to stage matches in the eagerly-awaited eight-team city-franchise domestic Twenty20 competition – which ECB bosses are confident will rival the hugely-popular Indian Premier League and Australia’s Big Bash League.

According to Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur, there is a strong likelihood of that happening if ongoing delays regarding the £38m development of Headingley are not resolved.

Arthur has painted a bleak picture for the future of international and high-profile T20 cricket at Headingley from 2019 onwards – with time clearly of the essence.

Unless a solution to the revamp of Headingley is found by the end of this month, then the consequences will be even more far-reaching than Yorkshire losing four international fixtures at the 2019 Cricket World Cup, which was dependent on major stadium redevelopment.

Even more fundamental than missing out on one of the T20 city franchises too, with Headingley’s status as a major international cricket venue, once the current staging agreement ends in two years, in grave threat.

Those across the Pennines in Lancashire are also likely to have a vested interest in the situation. The White Rose loss is potentially the Red Rose’s gain, more especially given the demise of Durham.

Anxious for definitive action from Leeds City Council this month to help end the imbroglio regarding the development of Headingley, Arthur – who says that the county will provide members with a full update on the deeply worrying situation at the club’s annual meeting on March 18 – said: “Without building the stand, there will be no more international cricket. As we sit here now, we don’t know whether that is going to be achievable. We have been working with our partners for the last three years and we are now at crunch time.

“Our partners, Leeds Rugby, have written to Leeds City Council to make them aware of the very real deadline.

“Otherwise, we won’t get the World Cup (games) in 2019 and we won’t have international cricket here after 2019, simple as that. It seems to be falling on deaf ears. But this is very real. We are so far behind other grounds. We need to get our act together.

“As an organisation, we have stabilised Yorkshire County Cricket Club. In order to retain international cricket in the future and go to the next level, we need help and support from all those who have an interest in retaining the profile and existence of the top-level cricket in this county.

“We as a city (Leeds) are bidding to be the City of Culture in 2023 and after the next time the Ashes come to this country, you might not have international cricket here, which we have had for 120 years.

“The new Twenty20 competition will also probably be voted on by the end of April. The ECB will then be looking to work with eight partners. Without the new stand, I do not believe we will be one of those partners because we will only have three quarters of a ground, effectively.

“It would be a great shame if Leeds was to miss out being one of the new T20 franchises. Unless we complete our ground, then there will be Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, London, Southampton and somewhere probably in the west of the country. Leeds will miss out (on future international cricket) unless it takes a leap of faith. Once again, everything would go to Manchester.”

Despite the uncertainty mapped out by Arthur regarding the stadium development at Headingley, there is some encouraging news for Yorkshire, with their latest set of accounts for the 2016 financial year revealing a small pre-tax profit of £3,000 in the first full year of trading without the support of former chairman Colin Graves or the benefit of a refinancing package.

Turnover showed a year-on-year increase of 5.1 per cent to £8.8m, while capital expenditure stood at £257,000 with the provision of WiFi in the stadium accounting for the main expense.

Arthur said: “This effectively was the first year where we were on our own without a crutch to support us.

“Therefore to have, over a three-year period, increased income by £2m (from 2013) while controlling our costs and produce any sort of surplus at all is a terrific achievement on behalf of everybody involved with the club.

“We have got a positive future and already this year, it is looking very good for us.

“We did a lot of sales in advance and already after two months, we know 2017 is going to be a better year than 2016,” he added.

“It is progress. Every single one of our sponsors and partners have renewed and we have got some new ones recently unveiled.”

But with funds expected to still be tight for the foreseeable future and all monies accounted for, Yorkshire will continue to run a disciplined and prudent financial ship.

Director of finance Paul Hudson commented: “There remain many financial sensitivities within the club’s financial results. In the light of these, it remains important that finances continue to be managed in a very careful manner.”