Yorkshire County Cricket Club are on yet another collision course with their controversial former batsman Geoffrey Boycott.
In echoes of the Seventies and Eighties, when the respective parties were often at loggerheads, a fresh dispute is threatening disharmony behind the scenes.
Boycott, 75, wants to join the club’s board and has gathered the necessary 30 nominations from the club’s membership to put his name forward for election at the annual general meeting this month.
He feels that “not enough thought” is being given to the members and says Yorkshire – circa £22m in debt – need to “start living within our means”.
Yorkshire say members’ considerations are paramount, that there is a clear plan in place to tackle the debt, and that it is their “unanimous view” that it would be “destabilising” and “not in the best interests of the club” for Boycott to be elected on to the board.
In literature that will be sent to members today ahead of the AGM on March 26, when new board appointments will be announced after a postal vote, chairman Steve Denison outlines three reasons why Yorkshire do not want Boycott on the board and in a position to influence strategy:
• Yorkshire have won back-to-back County Championships for the first time in nearly 50 years under director of cricket Martyn Moxon and first-team coach Jason Gillespie and it would be “counter-productive to disrupt things now”.
• There is a clear dividing line between the board’s responsibilities and those of the management, and that “blurring of this operational divide” has caused problems in the past.
• The club have “moved on” from Boycott, who previously served on the board from 2007-2012 and as president from 2012-2013, adopting a “new structure, new relationships and new modes of working”.
However, Denison goes on to praise Boycott for promoting the club in his role as a media pundit, for which Yorkshire are “greatly in his debt”.
To that effect, Yorkshire have instead offered Boycott a role as their first “global ambassador”, a position they say would “carry significant prestige and influence”.
Boycott, who was famously sacked by the club as a player only to be dramatically reinstated by his supporters, has historically enjoyed the backing of the members as one of the greatest players in the club’s history.
He has also given his side of the argument in the AGM literature and bases his candidacy squarely on championing members’ interests, calling them “the lifeblood of the club” and highlighting three key areas of concern to him:
• The size of the membership – “When I was playing in the Seventiess, our membership was over 13,000,” he says. “Now it is below 5,000. All of us need to make a big effort to increase the numbers.”
• The club’s finances – “YCCC has to start living within our means and finding ways to pay back some of the money the club has borrowed.
For many years, Yorkshire cricket has been beholden and lucky that Colin Graves (former Yorkshire chairman and current ECB chairman) was prepared to loan YCCC money.
The club has become too dependent on his generosity and we need to start paying him back.”
• The need for members to be moved from the East Stand to the new Football Stand, which is being redeveloped for 2019, so they can enjoy a better view “behind the wickets”, with a new members’ area also providing more opportunities for functions, conferences, and so on.
Yorkshire say their stance on Boycott has the full support of their principal lender, the Graves family trusts, which are independent of Colin Graves and have provided loans of £18.9m.
Theoretically, a proposed rule change at the AGM would give the Graves family trusts power of veto over board appointments, although whether that would be practically enforced remains to be seen.
Yorkshire say they have nothing against Boycott, but want a more diverse board going forward, both in terms of gender and business skills, with attention now focusing on the redevelopment of the Football Stand, which is earmarked for completion in 2019 to help guarantee Headingley’s international future.
The club is recommending that three people are elected to the board this time – chief executive Mark Arthur, Robin Smith, who is up for re-election, and Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.
In addition to Smith and Denison, the existing board comprises Moxon and Stephen Willis, with club rules permitting up to eight board members.
Yorkshire are also recommending that former player and umpire John Hampshire be appointed in succession to outgoing president Dickie Bird.