COLIN GRAVES bowed out of Yorkshire County Cricket Club after 13 years in which he rescued it from financial ruin and declared: I’ve done my bit – now it’s over to you, the members and supporters.
Graves used his farewell address at Saturday’s annual meeting to challenge Yorkshire’s followers to build on his legacy by flocking to Headingley in their droves, saying that would “resolve all problems” going forward.
Yorkshire’s membership stands at less than 4,000, echoing a stark nationwide trend which outgoing chairman Graves will seek to address when he takes up his new role as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board on May 15.
It is a thankless task – the average age of the Yorkshire membership, for example, is 69, with four-day cricket failing to attract the working masses, while Yorkshire urgently need more people to watch international cricket at Leeds to retain England games in the face of increasing competition.
Graves, who has ploughed around £11m of his personal fortune into the club, and who negotiated the purchase of Headingley cricket ground in 2005 which guarantees internationals there until at least 2019, believes it is beholden on all who hold Yorkshire cricket dear to keep the club on a firm financial footing.
“What I want to say to the Yorkshire public, and to you as members, is: Get more people into this ground,” said Graves.
“That will resolve all problems.
“There are lots of positives going forward, but the one thing you’ve got to do is fill the ground.
“You’ve got to get those bums on seats.
“The membership of all county cricket clubs is going down. That is a fact.
“The thing we’ve got to do is stop that trend.
“It’s not just Yorkshire; it’s prevalent throughout cricket.
“We have to look at ways and means of changing that – different ideas, different strategies going forward.”
Graves, who has been replaced as Yorkshire chairman by existing board member Steve Denison, described the club’s “hardcore debt” as roughly £20m, but stressed that the balance sheet was “not a true reflection” as the asset of the Headingley land is worth over £15m.
However, Graves warned that he can no longer prop up the club financially in his new role as ECB chairman, having already acted to ensure there is no conflict of interest.
“My personal loan of £5.5m to the club is being put back in via my family trust,” he said, “so Colin Graves’s personal money is coming from the trust in future.
“I have no conflict of interest whatsoever.
“I have resigned as a trustee of my family trust, and the trustees are looking at in from a pure investment point of view, so people don’t have to worry (about Yorkshire).
“The bank of Colin Graves has gone.
“Going forward, the business has got to stand on its own two feet and generate cash.
“The new chairman and the board are fully aware of their responsibilities that this business has got to be cash positive, and they are talking to our bankers, to my family trust and everybody else, the council, etcetera, to look at ways and means of restructuring what we have got.
“Yes, we have got to bring the interest payments down. That is a fact.
“We are looking at doing that.
“We are looking at restructuring our loans over a longer period.
“All of that is going on in the background.”
Graves, who confirmed the re-election of Dickie Bird as president for another year and the appointment to the club’s board of director of cricket Martyn Moxon in place of Michael Vaughan, said he was sad to be severing ties with Yorkshire.
However, he added that he would look back with pride on all he had achieved since answering the club’s SOS in 2002.
“It is a bit emotional and I am a bit sad,” he said.
“But I’ve had a fantastic 13 years and it’s been a privilege, a pleasure and an honour to take Yorkshire to where it is today.
“Thirteen years ago, if somebody had told me what was going to happen with my life going forward, I wouldn’t have believed them. It’s been fantastic.
“People tend to forget that, in 2002, we were on the verge of foreclosure by the bank.
“We owed them £5m. We had no assets. We didn’t own a blade of grass. We owned nothing.
“In real terms, we were homeless. We were on the street.
“I could not let that happen.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I don’t regret any of it.
“We’ve come a hell of a long way in 13 years.”
Graves, who received a standing ovation lasting several minutes at the meeting, was visibly touched when he was presented with a silver county cap on behalf of the club by Dickie Bird.
Graves signed off with these parting words: “You can’t take the Yorkie out of Yorkshire.
“Yorkshire is the greatest cricket club in the world.
“Make sure it stays that way – and keep winning.”