Cricket: Record of failure brings Surrey rebels to the boil: Steam may rise under the gasholders today as members' grievances are aired at the annual meeting at The Oval. Rob Steen reports

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The Independent Online
DELIGHTED as Surrey's forthcoming opponents will be at the proposition of fending off Cameron Cuffy rather than Waqar Younis, the Pakistani's appendix was merely the latest grumble to emanate from county cricket's arch under-achievers.

Today's annual meeting will see Derek Newton step down as chairman after 14 years in favour of Brian Downing. Backs will be patted over the pounds 1.2m receipts for last August's Oval Test and the recent announcement of record profits. Yet behind the summer breeziness lies a winter of unrest for the club that fancies itself as Manchester United and plays more like City.

Enraged by last autumn's sacking of the coach, Geoff Arnold, Alec Stewart came within 24 hours of relinquishing the captaincy while in the Caribbean. Spurred by the newly formed Surrey Action Group (SAG seemed a suitable acronym), a motion of no-confidence in the management board's 'ability to handle cricketing matters' was signed by nearly 300 disgruntled members. This in turn forced the club's legal advisers to work overtime to delay the mandatory confrontation this forced until after the AGM. The malcontents scarcely helped themselves by delivering the wrong motion. These things happen when silverware has not been won for 11 seasons.

Despite a county-best third place in the Sunday League, last season was characterised by a Benson and Hedges tie against Lancashire beneath the gasholders that saw the last nine Surrey wickets speed down the plughole for 18 runs. Someone had to carry the can and that someone was Arnold. Like colleagues such as Graham Thorpe and Martin Bicknell, Stewart had been nurtured by 'Horse' since his mid-teens, and his anger was compounded by what he saw as a general lack of consultation.

'Alec gave his opinion to me - that Geoff should stay - and he was aware of what we might do, but we did not actually consult him,' the chief executive, Glyn Woodman, acknowledged.

Not that change stopped with Arnold. His replacement was not John Edrich or Pat Pocock, both of whom applied, but the 2nd XI coach, Grahame Clinton, the erstwhile opener. In as what Woodman described as 'off-field supremo' came another ex-opener, Mike Edwards, instigator of the club's productive youth programme, member of the last Surrey side to win the Championship 23 summers ago and a teacher for the past 19. Graham Dilley, England spearhead of the mid-1980s but a chap with scant patience for the county grind, was hired to work with the bowlers.

Amid all this came an overhaul of the club's internal structure. Peter May and Bob Willis were co-opted on to a new executive committee, which replaced the old management board. They were joined by Stewart, Edwards and Clinton. Every sub- committee was disbanded and replaced by a series of advisory groups, despite the fact that one, the cricket committee, chaired by the former stumper Arnold Long, had just been asked to assess the reasons for the on-field decline.

This left Long somewhat aggrieved. 'Two off-field matters had a radical effect,' he said. 'For one thing, the club has one of the worst, if not the worst, reputation in the game for attracting players. London doesn't help, of course, but why was the coaching post only advertised in-house? For another, the management board have taken two or three major cricketing decisions without the cricket committee knowing or even disagreeing. Under the new structure the general committee (the club's overall ruling body elected by the members) may now co-opt three members instead of two. It's taking the piss. There's no democracy.'

Woodman cites the impending elections to the general committee, the first for 15 years, as evidence to the contrary. Long is running for one of the four places available, together with a pair of like-minded pals, as is Paul Ames, the secretary of the SAG. So, too, are Edrich and Willis.

'The structure was voted through by the general committee,' Woodman emphasises, 'and endorsed by six of our greatest players - Alec and Eric Bedser, Edrich, Alf Gover, Peter May and Willis. Members wanted more people with experience on the management board, so where there were two, now there are four.'

The SAG has also accused the club of lacking ambition, the failure even to bid for Derbyshire's John Morris cited as Exhibit A. This particular criticism, mind, relates purely to on- field matters. The imposition of a pounds 30 joining fee means it now costs more to join Surrey than any other county. Not the wisest way, one might have thought, to raise membership numbers that have slithered from 6,500 to 4,500 since 1987.

All of which adds to Ames's overriding concern. 'Surrey should be a members' club, not a facsimile of that elitist club at Lord's. The impression is that Surrey cricket is regarded as little more than a tiresome sideshow.'