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over 4 years ago | Interviews


“It’s really tough. Getting members, all that sort of stuff, is really tough.”

Running a county cricket club is, quite literally, not an easy business. As well as the significant task of maintaining the financial sustainability of the club, there’s the small matter of attempting to secure short-term on-field success without sacrificing long-termplanning, all the while needing to deepen the roots of the recreational game and to acknowledge the duty to diversify in a diversifying world.

No easy challenge. If anything, it’s harder now than at any point in the 155-year history of Middlesex County Cricket Club. At a broader level, Middlesex’s CEO Richard Goatley is aware that county cricket as a whole is struggling. “It’s not easy to survive,” he says. “It’s really hard. County cricket only survives on the grants from the ECB.”

A struggle it may be, but the signs for the future are increasingly healthy at Middlesex. Whilst all 18 counties will benefit from the significant “boost” of the money from The Hundred, the ECB and a new TV deal, Middlesex’s members, in an act of remarkable self-awareness, have more than played their part, as Goatley explains.

“In the past, we used to have a board with six elected members from the membership and in addition there’d be a chairman and a treasurer elected by the membership and then you’d have the chief executive, the director of cricket and the chairman of the Middlesex Cricket Board.

“The trouble with that system is that there was so much democracy in it that you couldn’t be sure that you got the right blend of skills; indeed you tended to get a lack of diversity in the system. Obviously, democracy is very good but the club does need skills. So we went down the route of reducing the number of elected directors by the members down to three.”

Of course, this change would have been impossible to implement without the members voting to reduce their power themselves. Aware of the challenges ahead and the need for a board with a broad skillset, a staggering 98 per cent of voters backed the constitutional change.

“It was very well supported,” said Goatley. “It was a proposal that the members understood and they realised the need for it. They voted to get rid of their own democracy with some value really.

“We did a proper consultation, it wasn’t difficult to achieve. We engaged them, we brought everyone on board with us, we refined it after talking to the members, we had plenty of consultation evenings and it went through well.”

The change has brought about instant results in the addition of three highly skilled and vastly experienced new board members.

“It’s very handy. We’ve brought on board a guy called Richard Sykes who’s an expert on sports governance,” explained Goatley. “He was the co-author of the Woolf Report into world cricket governance, he’s an ex-PWC partner which brings accounting skills so there are a wealth of skills there. He’s also on the board of UK Hockey, so he knows sport. He’s been on our board before for two or three years so he’s well versed in the club and that all works very well.

“We have a guy called Sasha White QC. Obviously having a QC on board, a heavyweight lawyer is very, very important to us.

“The third one is Edward Lord who sat on the FA Council and he’s an expert in diversity. He’s another solicitor – very well versed in sports governance, another experienced sports administrator. They’re incredibly good people.”

The addition of Sykes is particularly exciting. The ESPNcricinfo headline after the Woolf Report’s publishing in 2012 said the report sought “to shake up old boys' club.” The report recommended the abolition of the distinction between Associate and Affiliate ICC members (something that was eventually implemented five years later) and the need to give Associate members more of a say at the table (something you could argue is still a work in progress).

Damningly, the report concluded that “The ICC reacts as though it is primarily a Members club, its interest in enhancing the global development of the game is secondary."

Middlesex’s goals are obviously vastly different to those of the ICC. But, engaging with and amplifying the voices of previously under-engaged communities, or as Goatley says “making Middlesex a broader church”, is of paramount importance to the board. Since the release of Ravi Patel in 2018, there are no players of South Asian heritage in the Middlesex men’s first team squad. Given the number of players of sub-continental ethnicity playing the game in the area at youth level, that’s something the club would be keen to address.

“There are a whole swathe of projects around getting more members – we’re looking at a second ground at the moment and just far more engagement with the South Asian communities, communities like the Afghan community,” said Goatley. “Just bringing a broader church to Middlesex is important – more engagement the better.”

Linked to engaging the South Asian community for Goatley is a closer relationship between Middlesex and the cricket clubs within Middlesex. That priority is reflected in the additional representation on the board by those involved in the organisation of the recreational game. Goatley is well aware that on-field success, which he sees as the fruit of producing high-class homegrown talent, ultimately comes from a flourishing local set-up.

“Whilst we’re a club and the first team and professional cricket is very important, the grassroots are utterly critical and we’ve got to get much closer there. So to have two members from clubs on our board is very important,” said Goatley. “They need a role in having a say in how Middlesex is run and I think they feel engaged with that, so giving them two places to vote for their own guys is brilliant.”

It doesn’t promise to be a simple venture; far from it. But encouragingly, Middlesex possess a leadership aware of the scale of what lies in front of them, and committed to finding ways to overcome them. More encouragingly still, their members are willing to buy into the vision.

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