How Yorkshire CCC has made great strides under Lord Patel - John Grogan
At 61 years old he was also a good bit younger than much of his overwhelmingly male audience.
That Yorkshire needed to reform and reform quickly was pretty self-evident on that Saturday morning. No longer was it acceptable that the club should just be for ‘people like us’.
It was time to invite the rest of God’s Own Country in. It is to their credit that the great majority of those same members have subsequently backed reform proposals to do just that.
Lord Patel was appointed chair on bonfire night 2021 in the wake of Azeem Rafiq’s revelations about racism (acknowledged as such by the outgoing chair in front of a parliamentary committee).
It is important to note that significant, similar evidence soon emerged and for a long time the issue has been much wider than the brave testimony of one man.
For example, Yorkshireman and now executive editor of the British Medical Journal, Kamran Abassi, described in painful detail in the Radio 4 documentary ‘Yorkshire’s Cricket Test’ the discrimination that has held back several generations of British Asian cricketers from breaking through in the county.
Despite all the point scoring and tittle tattle that has followed, it is surely worth celebrating the progress that has been made in just nine months.
Not least, international cricket has been restored, sponsors attracted, and partnerships developed overseas.
If the forthcoming EGM of members approves the final two board members who have been proposed by the Nominations Committee the County will have its strongest ever governing body.
As a registered co-operative society, the majority will still be members themselves, but there will also be world class expertise available on stadium management, governance and marketing.
One of Lord Patel’s initial appointments was Yorkshire and England legend Darren Gough as Managing Director of Cricket.
During the aforementioned members meeting, he recalled that his dad was a rat catcher who brought him to training in a van emblazoned with advertising for his business. He noted that exclusion by social class was every bit as wrong and painful as exclusion by race or religion.
Yorkshire has subsequently become the first county to abolish charges for kit and professional coaching for talented youngsters on the ‘pathways’ programme; these previously amounted to up to £500 a year.
The fact that the leadership of the club has so clearly stated that it is welcoming to all has surely been a factor in a more ethnically diverse and representative mix of youngsters becoming involved in the pathways.
Like the reforming Pope Paul VI in the 1960s famously throwing open the windows of the Vatican to let the fresh air in, Lord Patel has opened up Headingley to all comers seeking out particularly those who were hard to reach.
Even the inner sanctum, the Lord Hawke suite, previously the preserve of the great and the good on match days has played host to many who had never been inside the stadium before.
Halal meat is on sale for the first time amidst the wider range of food outlets and wheelchairs available. Stronger efforts are being made to stamp out anti-social behaviour with fans able to text in any complaints to the control room. In many ways Yorkshire cricket is where some of the county’s football clubs were a decade or more ago in terms of attracting a more diverse fan base. During that time teams like Bradford City have won the vocal support of many British Asian fans some of whom style themselves as the ‘Bangla Bantams’.
Looking around Headingley during some big matches this season there were the first signs that something similar might slowly be happening. To widen membership at a stroke the Board should consider giving full voting rights to T20 season ticket holders and young adult members. The Autumn will not be easy with the England and Wales Cricket Board holding disciplinary hearings concerning the club itself and a number of individuals. Cases for unfair dismissal will also be determined regarding seven former staff members. Whilst the merits of these cases are being considered, speculative comment has little purpose.
Yorkshire will not be winning any trophies this season but the signings of Shan Masood and Ben Mike give encouragement for the future.
Supporters simply want success and the best players to be attracted to play for the county. They want them to feel comfortable and to be treated right whatever their background. Lord Patel and his team have set us on the path to achieve this and to provide a lead for the rest of English cricket.
John Grogan, Yorkshire County Cricket Club Member for 30 years and former MP for Keighley.