Sunday, 18 February 2018

View from the top - county cricket's finances

I recently interviewed Norman Gascoigne, the Chairman of Warwickshire County Cricket Club.

We talked primarily about the proposed changes to the Club constitution - see my article on Deep Extra Cover:
Then he went on to talk about a recent analysis of Warwickshire's finances by Reabank, a poster on the Bearsfans on-line forum - see

This is what Norman had to say:

“I read the analysis by Reabank on Bearfans and thought it was very good.

However, all counties are operating in a complex environment and it’s not easy to get underneath the numbers. What it maybe misses is the interaction that we have to have with our stakeholders, such as the ECB and the City Council.

In 2008/9, when the global financial crisis hit, Birmingham City Council were incredibly supportive in helping to preserve Edgbaston as a Members Club, primarily as a facility for the city.
In the circumstances at the time, it would have been tempting either:
  • to sell out and get private investors to re-build the ground
  • to sell Edgbaston and find a place somewhere else (Covenrty, maybe) to build a new little stadium
We chose instead to build a partnership with the City Council and the (then) Regional Development Authority. The Council have been very supportive in enabling us to negotiate loan repayment terrms to fit in with our own cash-flow.

Many other counties are in similar situations, except that some of them have taken out short-term funding, which exposes them to what in banking terms are known as re-financing risks, which we don’t have.

So whilst the Reabank analysis is right, over the last eight years, we have had to manage our business through our cash. We can’t afford to run out of cash, which is where Durham and Northants failed. We have succeeded through strong management and cost control whilst still investing in our prime function of playing cricket.

Overall, there are questions about how the ECB are going to spend the revenue from the 2020-2024 broadcasting deal. Is it one of their aims to address the £220 million of debt that sits within the 18 first-class counties – and predominantly within the major match venue counties?
In that context, it really doesn’t matter whether we are first or 18th in the financial league table. But we’ve never had to go knocking on the door of the ECB. They have been very pleased with how we have managed the business.

Do we know what we are doing? I think we do. Are we in a worse situation than we anticipated when we agrees to re-develop? Probably we are, a little bit, because we didn’t get any Test Matches in 2013/14. That took £5 million out of our cash flow. We’ve had to live with that.

So we can’t afford to sit back and think that we are OK but we are in a much better situation than a number of our colleague counties. There would certainbly be more than four below us who are in a worse situation. We don’t have the advantages of a Middlesex playing at Lord’s or the Surrey situation but, those counties apart, we are pretty well in there in relatively good shape.”

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Politicians' Tales (and Tails)

First it was the little town of Talkeetna in Alaska and Mayor Stubbs, the cat regarded as the unofficial mayor - see:
Now Barsik the cat looks set to emulate Stubbs by being unofficially elected as Mayor of the Siberian city of Barnaul:
It must be something to do with the cold weather in both Alaska and Siberia that makes the inhabitants want to elect someone who wears a warm fur coat.  Or maybe the citizens of those two chilly outposts are on to something.  Those in the world of healthcare are (or should be) familiar with the Latin phrase Primum non nocere. 
This roughly translates as "first do no harm" and suggests that it may be better not to do something or maybe to do nothing at all than to do something and cause more harm than good.  Google had a go at introducing a similar maxim into the commercial world with their "don't be evil" motto.  What they discovered was that if you say and write the words, you have to act accordingly.  They seem now to have watered it down with the slightly more equivocal "You can make money without doing evil." They failed to add "Don't forget to pay tax on it."
Back to the world of politics and those two mayoral cats.  Of course, it's all a whimsical fantasy. Mayor Stubbs isn't actually in charge in Talkeetna and the poll in Barnaul is just an informal social media exercise.  In the real world, we do need leaders capable, for better or worse, of making decisions.  It would just be nice to think that they would make those decisions honestly, without thought of personal gain and for the benefit of those they serve.
Maybe the attention received by Mayor Stubbs and the overwhelming support given to Barsik will at least act as a reminder to those in power, in Alaska, Siberia and elsewhere, that primum non nocere is not a bad motto.  That would be (sorry, I can't resist it) just purrfect!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Introducing Josh Poysden

Here's my interview with Warwickshire's Josh Poysden:

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Arthur Ashe forty years on

The highlight of television coverage of Wimbledon this year was for me not the many excellent matches. It was the BBC programme ArthurAshe, More Than A Champion. It was a fitting tribute to someone who was, as the programme said, a fine tennis player and a finer human being.

For those who don't remember or are too young, Arthur Ashe was the first black American tennis player to win a Grand Slam title. Born in the Deep South of America, he lived with prejudice most of his life but conducted himself on and off the tennis court in such a manner that he achieved the status of a national and international hero in his brief lifetime. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Arthur Ashe was one of the first people he expressed a wish to meet.

Arthur died in 1993 at the age of 49 from the AIDS virus he had received via a blood transfusion. Before his funeral, his body lay in state in the governor's mansion in Richmond, Virginia, as 5,000 people filed past to pay their respects. The previous person to lie in state in that building had been Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson. This was Ashe's home town where, as a boy, he had been forbidden to enter the ByrdPark tennis courts or to play against white boys. In life, he broke down barriers and since his death he has continued to do so, as Serena Williams has recently acknowledged.
And so to my own memory of Arthur Ashe. Forty years ago, he reached the Wimbledon final and was due to play Jimmy Connors. It's difficult to imagine the extent to which, for a few years, Connors total dominated the men's tennis game. Certainly, fine player that Arthur Ashe was, few gave him a chance against Connors who was in the middle of a record run of 160 weeks at the top of the world rankings and was also the reigning Wimbledon champion.

Back in 1975, the Wimbledon women's final was played on the Friday and the men's final on the Saturday – no Sunday play! And so, on that Friday evening before the final, I was in a pub in Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, having a drink with a work colleague. The talk in the pub got round to the next day's final and everyone was unanimous that it was a foregone conclusion that Connors would win easily.

I have never, before or since, come close to experiencing anything that you might call a premonition. Logic tells me that such phenomena probably don't exist. But in that pub, I felt an overwhelming certainty that everyone was wrong and that Arthur Ashe would win. When I expressed this opinion, the pub regulars openly mocked me. Had I been a betting man, I could have gone round the pub making bets at odds of my choice, Instead, I finished my drink and went home nursing my certainty.

The next day, the feeling remained and I felt a strange detachment from the pre-final hype on radio and television. It was as if I was watching a film but had little interest because I knew the ending. In fact, I went to a cricket match in Worcester that afternoon and sat in the sunshine watching the cricket and picking up occasional snippets about the tennis as other watchers tuned in to their transistor radios. I didn't need to hear the detail, because the result was what I knew it would be – Arthur Ashe beat Jimmy Connors6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.

So that's my one and only premonition. Maybe it was just a matter of coincidence that the feeling of certainty was fulfilled. Or maybe not. Years later, I read Arthur Ashe's autobiography. In it, he wrote at length about that 1975 final and the tactics he adopted that confused and baffled Connors. And he also explained how, the evening before the final, he experienced a powerful premonition that he would win, a feeling of such certainty that it was a major factor in propelling him to his victory the next day. It was something unique that he couldn't explain rationally.

Forty years on, I am happy to remember a great man, his finest moment on the tennis court and the feeling of overwhelming certainty that we both experienced.  

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Reflection on Jonathan Trott

The retirement of Jonathan Trott from international cricket has come as no surprise. His performances for England in the three Test Matches against West Indies would have left the selectors with little alternative but to drop him from the team. He could be said, therefore, to have jumped before he was pushed; and at age 34, there is little likelihood of another comeback. For sure, Wilfred Rhodes was recalled against Australia at the age of 49 and spun England to a famous Ashes triumph. But that was in 1926 and the cricketing world, for better or worse, has moved on since then.

It was Joni Mitchell who famously observed: “Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?” Trotty was so often criticised during even his most successful years. He was just another South African import. He supposedly scored too slowly. His mannerisms at the crease including digging his guard as a trench were, according to some of his critics, irritating and unnecessary. And when he suffered problems that caused him to leave an Ashes tour early, those critics descended on him with comments that, even if they had been true, were unkind. The expression “hitting a man when he's down” sprang to mind.

But now he is gone and, wonder of wonders, his passing from the England scene is being mourned by everyone, from the Barmy Army who gave him a standing ovation as he left the crease for the last time to Alastair Cook who paid tribute to a teammate:
“I speak on behalf of this current team and all those who have shared a dressing room with him over the years when I say it was a privilege to play alongside him. He’ll be sorely missed by all in England cricket and our supporters will thank him for some incredible memories.”

Many are asking what England would give now for someone capable of scoring almost 4000 Test Match runs at an average of 44 and at a rate of just under three runs an over plus 2800 ODI runs at an average of over 51 and at a more than decent rate of 77 runs per hundred balls. We didn't, indeed, know what we'd got till it was gone.

There is one other reason why I and a few others in the know will miss Trotty on the international stage. In the days when it was fashionable to knock Trotty at every opportunity, his greatest defender was Kim Jones, the editor of Spin cricket magazine. Whatever the negative comment might be, Kim could be relied on to counter it with a carefully researched statistic and a line of argument that nullified the criticism. As someone qualified as both a lawyer and an accountant, Kim was well equipped to deliver his telling ripostes.

Sadly, those of us who knew Kim as a good friend were devastated to learn at the beginning of 2014 that he was terminally ill. Before his death, we were at least able to send him messages of sympathy and support. Jonathan Trott at this time was going through his own private hell, having recently returned prematurely from the Ashes tour. But, in the midst of his own troubles, he wrote a most moving letter to Kim. In it, amongst other supportive comments, he promised to dedicate his tenth Test match century to Kim. Sadly, that will now never happen. But his compassion and humanity in writing that letter said more of the man than any achievements on the field of play.

I'm not sure what Joni Mitchell would have made of the new Edgbaston. They didn't exactly pave paradise but they did knock down the quaint old pavilion and build a stand that looks more like a multi-storey car park than a traditional pavilion. It does, however, provide a fantastic view of the cricket; and it's mainly from there that I plan to watch what I hope will be the prolific autumn of the career of a very special player. I look forward to several years of Trotty taking his toll of county attacks. There will be the rituals around the crease, the peppering of the mid-wicket boundary, the cannily placed singles and the occasional sweetly timed drives. And my guess is that, at Edgbaston and elsewhere, his entrance onto the field will be greeted with warm applause. For we all love someone who has fought the good fight and battled to overcome obstacles that might have caused us lesser mortals to give up.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Politician Overload and How to Solve it

If, like me, you are suffering from an overload of politicians and their promises, it may be worth embarking on a visit, in your mind at least, to the Alaskan town of Talkeetna. It's really only a large village, with a population of around 900 and there is very little to distinguish it from other similar remote places in Alaska. Its main claim to fame ended in 2009 when the annual Moose Dropping Festival erupted into chaos and violence.
The festival comprised a two-day celebration held each July. The highlight was a lottery where participants would place bets on numbered, varnished pieces of moose droppings that were tipped from a helicopter onto a target. Sadly, according to the Anchorage Daily News, the 2009 festival turned into a "weekend of mayhem" with "a lot of drunken, high, stupid people doing stupid things." Worst of all, the manager of Nagley's General Store had his bike stolen. Mayhem, indeed. Unsurprisingly, the festival has not been repeated since. The Daily News is silent on whether the inhabitants are still polishing their moose turds and what they do with them now that they can't do the obvious and drop them from a helicopter.
So, since 2009, there has been little more to say about life in Talkeetna. Where, then, are the links to our Politician overload?
That is where Mayor Stubbs comes in.
As politicians go, Mayor Stubbs of Talkeetna takes some beating. He’s celebrating over 15 years in office, has an almost 100% approval rating and has never raised taxes at any time. Not once has he broken any promises and he is totally untainted by scandal. There are no suggestions of financial impropriety, no sexual indiscretions and no accusations of lucrative contracts being awarded to close friends and associates. He is a clean, decent citizen who goes about his daily tasks with a quiet dignity almost unknown in the sometimes grubby world of politics where pride and inflated egos often flourish.
Of course, there's always a snag with such stories and in this case there are a couple of extra things you need to know. The first is that Mayor Stubbs is actually a cat. The story is that he was initially put forward as a joke candidate for mayor but easily beat the two human candidates.
The second is that, sadly, the story isn’t true.
The false feline tale was launched by an Alaskan TV station a couple of years ago and rapidly spread around the world. Headline writers couldn’t resist references to the cat’s pyjamas; and the non-word “purrfect” appeared many times. What everyone had missed in the original piece were the words “as the story goes”.
Apparently, Talkeetna doesn’t actually have a mayor and the district mayor who covers Talkeetna is a man.
All is not lost, however. The feline Mayor Stubbs does actually exist, resides at the aforesaid Nagley’s General Store and is unofficially regarded as the honorary mayor of the town, though he has never been elected. All that has happened is that, by accident or design, Mayor Stubbs has been turned into an international attraction and has generated significant tourism revenues for the town.
So the story isn’t such a catastrophe (sorry!) after all. Having someone in office who doesn’t actually do any harm but attracts tourists and revenue doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
What the whole episode maybe demonstrates is how open we are to the idea that no political leadership is better than the bad leadership of cynical, self-interested politicians, whatever their political complexion. It seems that we might prefer our politicians to be not red, blue, yellow or even green but tabby.
After all, a couple of years ago, Belgium managed to go 541 days with no government at all without too many negative consequences. If only the unimaginative Belgians had thought of appointing a handsome Belgian Shepherd dog as prime minister, they might have lived off the tourist influx for years. And if they had launched a lottery based on collecting his turds, polishing them and dropping them from a helicopter, the whole Euro crisis might have been averted.
So there you have it, Mr. Cameron and Mr Miliband. Forget the promises that we all know that you won't keep. Find a suitably cuddly and appealing pet, create a Turd Collection and Airdrop Quango and just watch the deficit disappear. Just remember, however, that you read it here first – and give due credit to Mayor Stubbs and the good citizens of Talkeetna.