Last night in a pub in Hove the new head coach Mark Davis and director of cricket Keith Greenfield of Sussex CCC participated in an informal gathering with our Players Club. We are a social bunch and it does not require too much excuse to hold an event. I will not go into too much detail as firstly it would be indiscreet and secondly not of great interest.
What I think is of interest is following Rex’s article yesterday and the total climb down of Liverpool FC to an extent unheard of in the annals of football, is that such a gathering actually took place. By this I mean key personnel were accessible enough to meet in a pub and discuss openly their strategy for the season on and off the pitch and how we can contribute to it. In a sentence no one there felt a customer and everyone a supporter, more even than a fan, as somebody who could make an input. This is the attraction of lower league and semi professional football as opposed to the Premier and Championship, as support makes such a difference, is not assumed and can shape the future of the club.
The Players Club is unique in county cricket. On the second day of play in a county match the players of both teams and umpires come across to our area for a drink. We hold an end of season dinner with the players. The fielders some time use our loo as it’s nearer than the pavilion. There will be a good humoured banter between a fielder in front of us in the ground and the members of our club. I have belonged to many social sporting organisations affiliated to a club in the world of football and horse racing but none come close to the Players aclub for accessibility to the players and involvement in the club.
Of course there is a commercial motive as our members are affluent and all support the cause. It was originally set up to fund the overseas player and two of them were instrumental in Sussex’s first ever Championship win in 2003, namely Murray Goodwin and Mushtaq Ahmed. Last season Jayawardene , the Sri Lankan master batsman and English batting coach and Aussie T20 skipper George Bailey were the overseas players. Personally I do not like the way that T20 cricket has attracted the roving, temporary player. Chris Gayle is allegedly being paid £10,000 a T20 game by Somerset and when in Australia, playing in their bash league, did not turn out for The West Indies which have suffered the most for the lack of participation due to the lucrative white ball leagues. We were therefore delighted that our captain Luke Wright showed no interest in the IPL and wanted to get back to Sussex.
As I always say white and red ball cricket is not an either/or. Last season every white ball final was contested by a second division team. Notwithstanding our new status outside the top flight, we can play the big boys in the one day internationals and T20 and aspire to emulate trophy winners Lancashire and Gloucestershire. Every season, because Hove is not a test match ground and no cash cow, it’s going to be harder for the likes of Sussex and similarly Somerset to compete with Surrey who almost always get a test match (the revenue of the Lords one goes to the MCC, not Middlesex), Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Hampshire, Glamorgan, Durham, whilst Northants, who nearly went bust last season, Leicestershire and Derbyshire are bound to struggle. This makes the input of the Players Club all the more valuable and appreciated. To return to the Liverpool issue one can imagine a bean counter thinking that ticket revenue is only small part of the total income as opposed to the SKY cheque and a foreign owner may not understand the tribal culture of our national game but to disenfranchise fans over prices is a recipe for disaster.