Musings From The Padded Cell

Bradford Park Avenue: Visionary Foresight Or White Elephant?

In late 2014 plans were announced to spend over £5m on the dilapidated Bradford Park Avenue cricket ground, not used by Yorkshire (YCCC) since 1996.

Dismayed by what I and many others fighting to keep the grassroots game of cricket alive viewed as a project largely driven by political correctness, I wrote The English Cricket Board’s Big Dumb Idea.

To my surprise, it was published in full by the local Telegraph & Argus not known for it’s balanced view on all things Bradford.

Bradford Park Avenue 1895

A Phoenix or Dodo Bird?

In 2014, Mark Arthur, YCCC CEO said: “This is about giving the Bradford community more cricket facilities, both practice and playing…at a time when there is a shortage of cricket-playing facilities for them to enjoy.”

“In 2019…we’re going to have an Ashes Test at Headingley…so there could be an opportunity to take a first-class…match back to Bradford.”

Mark Arthur – CEO YCCC

To underpin this Bradford Council made the ludicrous claim that there is a shortage of 18 cricket grounds in Bradford to support over £5m to add not one extra given Park Avenue was already being used.

The Council do have form here; where are Manningham Mills CC now, a co-beneficiary of over £1.3m over a decade ago, part-funded by the Council?

Add in several new cricket grounds developed in Bradford in recent years also based on demographic and it is clear the Council has political expediency some way ahead of cricket.

A Sport In Decline

In the real world at grassroots level there are simply too many clubs chasing too few players – often with silly money – and even fewer volunteers. Losing an opening batter is bad enough but God forbid a groundsman or tea-lady retires.

With the project now pushed back at least two years I sought answers to the revised timetable and costs. To his credit, Mark Arthur invited me to meet him and five of his team at Headingley.

Arthur joined YCCC in 2013 having previously worked for Nottinghamshire CCC and Nottingham Forest FC. At that time Yorkshire’s finances were in a mess which had made it ever harder to compete with up and coming grounds bidding to stage lucrative England internationals.

No matter if counties like Durham and Yorkshire produced a conveyor belt of England players, others had spent millions on bidding to stage international games, some with disastrous consequences.

YCCC are fully behind this project despite having their own financial woes being some £25m in debt albeit – see below – the financial stability of the club has been restored since Arthur’s appointment.

However, for some time the threat of Headingley being removed from the international circuit was ominous as the stadium had a tired look.

This could have been financially crippling as international games account for almost 30% of the county’s income – see here.

Although most of the debt is underwritten by the Graves family – ex-Chairman Colin Graves is now Chairman of the ECB – YCCC’s ability to contribute financially to this project is limited.

Sport England

Undeniably cricket has been in steep decline at grassroots level. Youngsters struggle to get access to the game as schools, excluding the private sector, mostly no longer play. Club coaches simply have too little to work with.

Since 2008 the number of cricket players has thus been decreasing from 428,000 players. This makes a decrease of about 35 percent over seven years.see here.

The game is in crisis as it searches for new generations of players and the invisible volunteers that prop up clubs. In recent years the burden on these has increased markedly.

Faced with this evidence, the governing body – the English Cricket Board (ECB) – came up with a plan ostensibly designed to prevent losing out on millions of Sport England funding where participation levels are paramount.

Following a national player survey in 2014, the ECB deduced* that a saviour of grassroots cricket was to be the quaintly named South Asian population. Throw in a bit of disability and women’s cricket and wait for the cash.

*”Working Together To Improve The Performance And Health Of The Recreational Game” – February 2015

Five cities, clearly based on ethnicity, were chosen to launch the ECB’s new strategy including Bradford.

Bradford Park Avenue

One of the core promises behind this plan was that a First Class cricket match could return to Bradford but hardly anybody watches four day cricket anymore.

This format of the game has been pushed to the fringes of the summer by the obsession with T20 cricket. Nevertheless, this seemed an emotional hook for supporters of this. So what of the costs involved?

I obtained a feasibility study conducted by a firm of architects that put the total project costs at £5.55m.

Excluded are VAT, professional/building regulation/planning/legal fees, pavilion restaurant furniture, furniture and fittings, IT, rent/lease charges, annual ground and building maintenance costs and staff.

As to the running costs see this extract from the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation website.

According to the feasibility study, annual running costs for the changing pavilion and nets are estimated at £53,450, with developers looking to recoup £46,800 through customer use.

Once it is constructed, the Community Pavilion is expected to cost £321,650 a year to run and upkeep, but it is “hoped” it will make a profit by generating £420,000 per year through a mixture of cricket, community, and commercial use.

Community based sponsors have been sought re the nets.

To date this is what has been spent courtesy of a Freedom of Information Request.

The full project costs are England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) £593,751, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council £362,000, Total: £955,751. Bradford Council

Rupert The Saviour?

A game changer for cricket’s finances could be the recent £1.1bn television deal for the period 2020-24 which more than doubles the previous £73m a year. Suddenly, cricket finds itself rolling in it like a delirious pools winner.

YCCC too appear to have landed on their feet.

An innovative multi-million pound redevelopment of Headingley funded by Legal & General and brokered by Leeds City Council – see here – has enabled them to keep their seat at the top table.

For the period 2020-24 the traditional six test match venues share the spoils again too. Recent newcomers are left with the scraps of one day cricket – see here.

And in this excellent piece by Mike Atherton, he reveals that the new money brings with it an almost inevitable two-tier system which any cricket lover must find hard to countenance. The game is about to shed the remnants of it’s soul to it’s Sky paymasters.

Glamorgan, bailed out by the local authority, have now been paid-off and Durham left on the naughty step, both crippled chasing the big stage with limited finances.

London gets to stage half the test matches in this period. The economic reality is that the London test venues have always generated far more revenue for the ECB.

Headingley is one of the eight venues for the ECB’s big roll of the dice, a city based T20 competition starting in 2020. There are reputations and lots more riding on this.

All of a sudden, the finances of YCCC appear in a different light, notwithstanding the small matter of that debt mountain.

Then And Now

Bradford Park Avenue in its heyday with cricket and football twinned.

The Spirit of Cricket was born out of a shared passion for all this beautiful game provides but my personal belief is that this project, ethnically driven as it is, would never happen in reverse.

YCCC have worked hard to improve integration in the local cricket leagues but schemes like this do nothing to connect communities, rather they widen divisions. People simply look inward.

We have had years of politically correct policies and initiatives that have done nothing to prevent the clear decline of the game.

As Spring finally arrives we return to our own grounds to coax life out of ageing machines, patching up what we can as many clubs stupidly pay small fortunes to entice ordinary players to simply turn out two teams. Soon we will be having our tea ladies poached.

The gulf between the elite and the grassroots has never been wider and the top table appear oblivious. As a mass participation sport we have to find a product for future generations as what we have now is clearly unattractive. Focusing on a narrow section of the cricket community will not solve this.

Most likely, funding permitted, it will be the mid-2020s before this is ever completed. If I am still on my hands and knees on a freezing April night trying to get Young Joe to hit at least one straight please shoot me.

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