Chris Waters: Departure of Denison is loss to Yorkshire and wider game

GONE: Former chairman of Yorkshire CCC, Steve Denison (centre), at the club's AGM in March 2015.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
GONE: Former chairman of Yorkshire CCC, Steve Denison (centre), at the club's AGM in March 2015.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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LIKE MOST of you, I suspect, I have little idea about the ins-and-outs of the BHS audit that led to Steve Denison resigning his position as chairman of Yorkshire County Cricket Club last week.

Denison was the senior auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers that signed off BHS’s accounts days before the retail giant’s sale by Sir Philip Green in 2015, one year before that company collapsed.

Denison removed himself from the register of statutory auditors for 15 years and recently accepted a £325,000 fine from the industry watchdog after a highly critical report by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).

It left his position at Yorkshire untenable, with the England and Wales Cricket Board’s fit and proper persons test stating that an individual cannot serve on a board or general committee if they have been suspended by a professional body.

As I say, I have little idea about the ins-and-outs, with most financial stories going way over my head.

I find it hard enough trying to wade through Yorkshire CCC’s annual accounts (have they made a profit or a loss, and what is it exactly?), so there is little chance of my grasping the intricacies of a complex audit.

OVER TO YOU: Steve Denison (left), pictured with his predecessor as Yorkshire chairman, Colin Graves.' Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe.

OVER TO YOU: Steve Denison (left), pictured with his predecessor as Yorkshire chairman, Colin Graves.' Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe.

But I have some idea about cricket and the competence and character of those involved in it, and I can vouch for Denison’s passion and commitment.

I did not always agree with him by any stretch – he is a firm advocate of the planned 100-ball competition, for example, which has been widely derided by players and spectators and is enough to make a cat laugh.

But it would be a strange world if everyone agreed on everything, not to mention one that would put most newspaper columnists out of business.

The sadness here is that Denison has paid the price for something that has got nothing to do with Yorkshire cricket or cricket per se.

He recognised that alternative opinion was simply that – alternative opinion – and whether you agreed with him or not, no one could deny that cricket has lost a man of action and passionate views.

Chris Waters on Steve Denison

In his resignation statement, he described himself as “heartbroken” and is upset that “the world we live in”, as he puts it, cannot allow him to continue his work at the club and for the wider game.

Denison is a “fierce moderniser”, as he also made clear in his statement, but he also loves history, tradition and the County Championship.

He is, first and foremost, a cricket fan, but one whose business/administrative skills led to no less an esteemed colleague than Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire CCC chief executive, to lament “a really sad day not only for Yorkshire cricket, but for the game as a whole”, which only makes this – from the outside looking in – such a strange and curious state of affairs, one that perhaps hints at a fuller story that may never be told.

From various conversations I have had with Arthur, I am in no doubt how much he personally rated Denison and how greatly now he is saddened at his departure.

Steve Denison, after facing an over of fast bowling from Yorkshire's Liam Plunkett in 2016. Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

Steve Denison, after facing an over of fast bowling from Yorkshire's Liam Plunkett in 2016. Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com

Andrew Gale, the Yorkshire first team coach, was another firm admirer, describing Denison on Twitter as “a good man lost” and “a huge support to the team and me in his role as chairman”.

Of course, Denison had his enemies – who doesn’t in the passionate battleground of Yorkshire cricket?

There was no love lost between himself and the Geoffrey Boycott camp, for example, seeing as Denison played a key role in blocking Boycott’s attempted return to the Yorkshire board a couple of years ago.

As soon as the Financial Reporting Council delivered their verdict, there were those only too eager to point out that ECB rules prevented Denison from staying as chairman.

I have seen correspondence sent from one prominent Yorkshire member to a Yorkshire board official that referenced Denison’s “incompetence and gross misconduct over the BHS audit” and the writer’s “serious concerns over how he can possibly remain as chairman of our great club”.

The writer went on to say that “I have nothing personal at all against Steve, but his professional integrity is now nonexistent” and he is “no longer fit for purpose”.

In other words, there were vehement feelings on both sides.

On reflection, that is perhaps nothing if not appropriate given that one of Denison’s strengths was his ability to see both sides of a story/debate.

He took a fair bit of stick on Twitter for his support of the 100-ball tournament, for example (and he was nothing if not always willing to engage with Yorkshire’s supporters on that platform and many others too), but he recognised that alternative opinion was simply that – alternative opinion.

It was nothing personal, just a different view.

Many sports administrators – some even within the ECB that apparently no longer considers him fit and proper – could learn much from his willingness to engage with spectators and also the media, to whom he was always readily accessible.

Whether Denison one day returns to the game, as he fervently desires, remains to be seen.

He has no wish to follow Dylan Thomas’s advice by going gently into that good night, as it were, and has “every intention of continuing to meddle”.

Whether you agreed with him or not, no one could deny that cricket has lost a man of action and passionate views.

Denison loves Yorkshire CCC and says he is “immensely proud of the tiny part I’ve played in its history as well as the wider game”.