Durham outraged as ECB relegate side after telling them to turn down £4m bid

Private consortium were keen to buy struggling county and clear their debts

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The Independent Online

Durham County Cricket Club have been hit with a string of stinging and unprecedented sanctions by the ECB for falling into financial trouble – despite the the governing body encouraging the club not to take up a £4m offer from a private consortium that could have bailed them out.

Durham are privately fuming at the outcome having been relegated from Division One of the Championship for 2017. They will start the season in the Second Division with a 48-point penalty. They will also have points penalties in the T20 blast and the Royal London One-day Cup and will also lose their Test match ground status. 

These tough penalties have been imposed by the ECB after Durham were forced to accept a financial bail-out package of £3.8m. The county were struggling with debts totalling an estimated £7.5m caused by necessary ground developments and staging fees for international cricket coupled with lower than expected revenues from ticket sales. 

Durham is a privately-owned rather than member-owned club as most counties are and The Independent has learned that earlier this year a private consortium put in a strong £4m bid to buy the club and take on the existing debts. However, that consortium received no acknowledgement of their bid from the restructuring firm RSM LLP who were appointed to deal with the potential sale of the club.

It is understood that the club were advised by the ECB to turn down bids from private investors and to accept the ECB’s financial bail-out instead - but in the knowledge that it would come with strong penalties and a threat of relegation.

Members of the club are furious and feel that this is a purely political move by the ECB to ram home a point about the precarious financial situation of the county game and to scare all counties into giving them their full backing on the proposed reforms to T20 cricket and the introduction of the controversial new city-based tournament.  

As well as relegation and points penalties, the club have had a lower salary cup than other counties (currently £2m) imposed on them.  

A statement from the ECB on Monday said: “ECB has been working with the … County and its stakeholders…in order to ensure that Durham could address their financial issues. This support has included advancing an annual fee payment of £1.294m. The £3.8m financial aid package will allow the club to meet on-going salary, HMRC and operating costs, settle a substantial debt to a secured creditor and focus on the restructuring and future sustainability of the Club”. 

Although publicly Durham have said they understand the decision - “The Durham Board welcomes the ECB’s long-term commitment to safeguarding first-class cricket in the North East” a statement said - privately executives at the club are said to be livid about the decision.  

The Independent has also learned that Durham players were not kept informed of the details of the discussions with the ECB and some now feel they have been misled into re-signing new contracts on the basis they would still be in the top division.  

Hampshire, who had been relegated, will retain Division One status but this has sparked outrage at Kent who are seeking legal advice as they were runners-up in the Second Division and feel they should take Durham's place in the top-flight.

The ECB regulations do not cover who should get promoted and relegated in an unprecedented situation but Kent executives believe that the team who performed well in 2016 should be rewarded rather than Hampshire who underperformed. They are seeking legal advice on whether they have grounds to appeal the decision.