Yorkshire CCC: Former Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley linked to purchase of Yorkshire County Cricket ground as ex-chair Robin Smith enters the fray

SUGGESTIONS that Headingley may have to be sold in an effort to secure Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s future are not - unlike the reports of Mark Twain’s death - greatly exaggerated.

The Yorkshire Post understands that there is a very real prospect of a deal being struck, with the club thought to be considering a blend of offers that include both the sale of the stadium (valued at around £23m) and others connected purely with refinancing.

As ever, the situation is complex and commercially sensitive as Yorkshire look to raise the circa £15m needed to pay back the family trust of Colin Graves, their former chairman, and to generate several million pounds of working capital.

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Parties publicly linked with the club include Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group (which could be attracted by the branding and retail rights), Indian Premier League franchises and even a Saudi Arabian prince, who, if he could bat in the top-order and chip in with a few overs, so much the better.

Headingley cricket ground, the iconic home of Yorkshire CCC. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.comHeadingley cricket ground, the iconic home of Yorkshire CCC. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
Headingley cricket ground, the iconic home of Yorkshire CCC. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

Levity aside, talk of a sale that gave Yorkshire a 10-year lease and buyback option, as reported last week, would not, claim insiders, imperil the club or the ground going forward. They say that the board would only enter into a lease arrangement that effectively guaranteed cricket in perpetuity - in effect with the rolling ability to keep doing so if needed. Talk of short-termism, they add, is not on the table.

However, others, such as Robin Smith, who was heavily involved in Yorkshire’s purchase of Headingley in 2005, is worried that any sale would put the club at risk. The former chair has contacted The Yorkshire Post to voice his strong opposition to a move which he believes would make Yorkshire “a hostage to fortune”.

Smith said that any sale of Headingley, even with a buyback clause, would be “irresponsible, indeed shameful” and that the purchase of the ground for £12m from landlords Leeds Cricket, Football & Athletic Company was “intended to secure Headingley's future as a Test venue, and it would have done so had the club been prudently managed”.

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He added that it was “the profligacy of (former chair) Lord Patel and the current board which has brought the club to this crisis”.

Smith continued: “Professional cricket is a long-term business. Selling the freehold to overcome a cash crisis entirely of their own making is putting first board members' immediate need for a solution to a problem they alone have created.”

Patel, now out of the picture, was heavily criticised for his handling of the racism crisis - specifically, the decision to remove multiple staff members without investigation which led to a raft of unfair dismissal payouts/legal costs.

Yorkshire have spent £3.5m on the saga in the last two years and still face an outstanding £500,000-plus High Court claim from Wayne Morton, their former head of sports science and medicine on behalf of himself and other sacked staff.

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When contacted by The Yorkshire Post, the club reiterated its stance from last week regarding any ground sale.

"We are making strong progress on securing the long-term future of Yorkshire County Cricket Club and look forward to announcing positive developments shortly,” it said.