‘Hallelujah’ over Headingley’s brighter future

Headingley Cricket Ground, Leeds

THE PROSPECT is unthinkable – a bit like discovering that Dickie Bird, in fact, was born in Lancashire.

Headingley without international cricket, a ground that has staged England matches since 1899? It is a safe bet that Bird, the famously lachrymose former umpire, would hardly be alone in shedding tears were that allowed to happen.

Thankfully, for all who hold Headingley dear, not least dear old Dickie himself, that does not look likely to happen now.

Pending final approval from Leeds City Council’s executive board on April 12, a £40m redevelopment of the stadium will proceed as planned, saving international cricket in Leeds and also keeping the city at 
the forefront of international rugby.

For Yorkshire CCC, it is particularly significant. The club has been told by the England and Wales Cricket Board that Headingley no longer meets International Facilities Policy and would lose international games post-2019, when the club’s staging agreement expires.

Now, thanks to a proposed £35m investment from a London private financial services firm, a move brokered by the council, a new Main Stand can be built, along with a new South Stand on the rugby ground. Small wonder that the buzzword at Yorkshire right now is not so much ‘howzat’ as ‘hallelujah’.

“Provided that everything is rubber-stamped, it’s fantastic news and it would secure our international future at Headingley for many years to come,” said Yorkshire’s chief executive Mark Arthur. “It’s very difficult to borrow money when you’ve got a turnover of just under £9m and debts of £24m – it’s very difficult to knock on somebody’s door and say: ‘I’d like to borrow £17m because I want to put up another stand.’

“But it’s in the interests of Leeds City Council to broker a deal because they want to retain international cricket in Leeds, and all the parties involved have been working together for a long time to try to find a formula to make that happen.

“Now, working with the council and Leeds Rugby, we have found a way to enter into a £40m development agreement that would take Headingley into the 21st century.”

Arthur believes the deal is key from a cricketing perspective: “It would preserve Headingley’s World Cup games in 2019 (predicated on the new Main Stand being built), guarantee international cricket going forward and mean that Leeds would, in my opinion, be one of the host venues for the new T20 competition being proposed.

“It would mean a very positive future at Headingley. Of course, it would obviously benefit the Leeds City Region in general because of all the inward investment that you get when you’re staging international cricket, and with the new T20 format. It’s in everybody’s interests to retain international cricket and to gain international rugby in Leeds as well.”

If the council gives the go-ahead, Yorkshire will call an extraordinary general meeting to gain members’ backing.

The club would pay £17m in rent over a period of years and Leeds Rugby £18m, with the rugby operation providing a further £5m.

Twenty20 tournament plan: Page 26.

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