Yorkshire CCC give guarantees over the future of cricket at Headingley
That was the promise made by Harry Chathli, the Yorkshire chair-elect, following a warning from Sir Geoffrey Boycott that “there will be trouble” should Yorkshire attempt to sell their Leeds headquarters.
Yorkshire are trying to raise circa £15m to pay back the family trust of Colin Graves, their former chair, and to generate several million pounds of working capital.
One option being discussed is a sale and lease-back model - one successfully used by football clubs such as Aston Villa - to generate a figure believed to be in the region of £23m.
Yorkshire are said to be in advanced talks with Frasers Group around such an option – the company of Mike Ashley, the former owner of Newcastle United Football Club.
But at a heated members’ forum at Headingley on Thursday, Boycott said that “everybody in Newcastle hates him (Ashley)” as he warned of the consequences of selling the ground.
“I don’t know him (Ashley),” said the former Yorkshire and England opening batsman, “but that doesn’t sound good for Yorkshire cricket.”
However, at a forum that directly followed an extraordinary general meeting in which members approved the necessary rule changes that will shortly confirm his appointment as chair, Chathli gave an unequivocal assurance that any such move would not imperil Headingley’s future.
“I want to ensure that cricket is always being played in Headingley,” he said. “That’s my priority, first and foremost.
“One assurance I can give everybody is that any deal that we do, cricket will be played at Headingley forever.
"That assurance I can give you and a cast-iron guarantee.”
Boycott’s intervention in a packed Long Room effectively called on the board for greater transparency over the refinancing process.
“I came here this morning to find out something about the club, and Stephen’s (chief executive Stephen Vaughan’s) report told me nothing,” fumed Boycott. “Yet, for months now, it’s been in the papers about selling Headingley, and I think we ought to know a bit about what’s going on.
“Are you going to sell Headingley and lease it back? Because, if you are, there’s going to be trouble.
“For 142 years we didn’t own this ground, and then we did, through Colin Graves’s help. Rightly or wrongly, whether you like him or not, it was his help.
“It’s been going on for months and months about ‘we’re near a deal’, but we know nothing more except from the newspapers.
“I’m sick of reading the newspapers. I want to know this morning why I’ve bothered to come, as a member, and find out what the hell is going on, because if you do try and sell it and lease it back, I’m telling you, there will be trouble.”
Vaughan, who had earlier said that the club was “currently subject to multiple offers to refinance the club”, one of which is believed to involve Graves himself, said that Yorkshire were bound by NDAs and confidentiality agreements.
He rejected Boycott’s argument as he launched an impassioned defence of the club’s position.
“Sorry to sound like a politician, but I’ve already made it very clear that we’re not in a position where we can start talking publicly about any of the offers and deals that we’ve got going on,” said Vaughan, who said that Yorkshire expect to announce their refinancing partner “in fairly short order” – “weeks rather than months”.
“There are various offers, with different connotations to them,” he added.
“One thing I will say is that if people think, genuinely for one second, that there is anybody out there that has come to this club with some kind of unicorn bid to buy the stadium, to keep it as a members’ club and do all these things, then they’re kidding themselves. We would have taken something like that in a heartbeat.
“This proposition has been extremely difficult in the marketplace. You think about it. We had a situation when we went to market where the LTV (loan-to-value) was extraordinary, the club had just been embroiled in what it’s just been embroiled in, and the global economic market was in as much of a trough as it’s been in recent history.
“If anybody thinks that there was some kind of miracle answer out there that we could have taken, then genuinely you’re kidding yourselves.”
Robin Smith, the former Yorkshire chair who was involved in the club’s purchase of Headingley for £12m in 2005, asked Chathli for a guarantee that the board would seek members’ approval for any refinancing that involved constitutional change or the sale of the ground.
“The rules of the club do not require us to come back to the membership as it stands, and you wrote those rules,” said Chathli, who stressed that members’ views would always be taken “very seriously” – not least via the members’ representatives on the board.