Headingley goes pop to help secure international status

Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur has big plans for Headingley.
Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur has big plans for Headingley.
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The famous old ground is in the throes of a major transformation, which extends to those performing on its hallowed turf. Grant Woodward reports.

“PERSONALLY, my dream booking would be someone like U2,” smiles Yorkshire County Cricket Club chief executive Mark Arthur, who confirms himself to be something of a fan of the Irish rockers.

“But I think we have to prove our worth as a concert venue before we start looking at bands like that. I am sure this is too small an arena for them, but that would be nice one day.”

The “this” in question is Headingley cricket ground. Steeped in history, it is a venue that has played host to some of the most memorable and dramatic moments in cricket.

It is where Don Bradman announced himself with an imperious, unbeaten 334 back in 1930. Half a century later, Ian Botham was putting the Australians to the sword with a remarkable assault that changed the course of the Test and the destiny of the 1981 Ashes series.

But this Friday evening the big hits on show at the Leeds ground will be of an altogether different kind. Veteran ska pop band Madness will be in town as part of their Grandslam tour of sporting venues ranging from Silverstone racetrack to Doncaster racecourse. And now, Headingley.

It will be the first time the grand old ground has staged a music concert in its near 125-year history. Arthur hopes it will the first of many.

“Old Trafford has been doing it for years,” he says. “There have been a few issues here to do with the geography of the ground in terms of the residents who live near the ground and accessibility. We have to make sure that whatever we do is done with understanding and with the residents in mind.

“We have floodlights now – not that they will be used for the concert, but slowly but surely Headingley is rebuilding its reputation as an international venue.

“We feel we have now got the technology with regard the protection of the playing surface to put on such a large event. Cricket is only played here so many days of the year, so we are always looking at opportunities to improve our revenue streams and every pound we make goes into the running of Yorkshire County Cricket Club.”

Yorkshire’s stock is high following the clinching of the club’s second successive County Championship under coach Jason Gillespie and playing director Martyn Moxon.

Away from the pitch, the club is just as ambitious. Its Headingley Masterplan, announced last summer, will see the ground transformed over the next two decades.

The makeover began with the Will Alsop-designed Carnegie Pavilion (“a Marmite building” Arthur acknowledges, “but at least you know you’re at Headingley”) and will continue next year with the redevelopment of the Football Ground End, the stand it shares with rugby neighbours Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire Carnegie.

An impressive-looking image of the finished product, which will cost £28m, to be shared between the cricket and rugby clubs, is on show inside Headingley’s corporate boxes.

The work means that this Friday’s inaugural pop concert could be the last for some time. “It could be that this is the first and then we wait until construction work has finished in 2019 before doing another one,” says Arthur. “We could then host a bigger concert having proved our worth with Madness.”

The concert is on course to be a sell-out, although some tickets are still available via the website www.grandslammadness.co.uk.

Headingley, after years seemingly spent in a time warp, is evolving. But then it had to.

“The England and Wales Cricket Board told us that it was essential that we developed the Football Stand End in order to guarantee international games after 2019. Having hosted international cricket since 1899 it would be a sorry state of affairs if Leeds was to lose it.”