Angus Fraser: Lord's must resist temptation to mortgage its heritage
Plans to redevelop the ground are exciting but there are fears the debt could compromise the MCC's position
Thursday 19 November 2009
That Chelsea are considering selling the naming rights to Stamford Bridge will surprise few people. There seems very little that football clubs will not flog as they try to pay off debt or raise funds for new players.
Lord's Cricket Ground, however, and the Marylebone Cricket Club, which owns the world's most famous venue, is a completely different animal. Lord's is not known as the home of the sport because it's prepared to sell its soul to the highest bidder. It has its reputation because it's an arena where everyone who enters – player or spectator – feels a sense of tradition and history. Even now, 30 years after first entering the ground, I feel privileged when I drive through the Grace Gates or walk through the Long Room. Renaming such areas of the ground, which would be inevitable should rights be sold, would cheapen the experience. Looking at the dressing-room honours boards that represent those who have scored hundreds or taken five-wicket hauls at the ground, would become like reading the menu at a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.
It was therefore reassuring to hear Keith Bradshaw, the MCC chief executive, refute suggestions that his organisation would sell the naming rights to Lord's and its stands to help fund a £400m redevelopment.
Lord's is magnificent but certain stands need replacing if it's to remain one of the world's most iconic venues. The Tavern and Warner stands have had their time and the Compton and Edrich stands sit too few people, many of whom have an unsatisfactory view.
And this is why the MCC is considering a complete redevelopment. As an employee of Middlesex CCC, who are excited by and supportive of the venture, I have been fortunate to see the plans and they are spectacular. The new stands will be covered, lectern-style podiums that will give a fragmented effect. They will look stunning and raise the capacity from 29,493 to just under 37,000.
Those who love Lord's as it is will fear its unique feel will disappear. On this front the MCC and its architects have to be trusted. All the building that has taken place in the past 25 years has improved the ground. The redevelopment of the Mound Stand and Grandstand were huge successes, as was the Media Centre. The MCC knows it cannot turn this oasis into a concrete jungle.
Many hurdles have to be overcome before the first sod is dug. Planning permission for five apartment blocks at the Nursery End has to be granted and huge funds need to be raised. And it is the fear that such investment will change the outlook of the MCC that concerns me most. The MCC is the official guardian of the Laws of Cricket and unofficial but welcome holder of its conscience. Independently it can take the stance that is of greatest benefit to the image and future of the game. Taking on such enormous debt, like too many football clubs have, could compromise its exalted, deserved and privileged position, and that would be sad for the game.
Capacity of Lord's now. It would rise to just under 37,000 should the MCC's redevelopment plans come to fruition.
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