Henry Blofeld: Yorkshire must buy Headingley to save Test status

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The Independent Online

Headingley is much like a favourite, scruffy old Labrador who nuzzles up to all and sundry, lies on the carpet in front of the fire a good deal and wags a lazy tail without contributing a great deal to the flow of soul and reason. It has outlived its usefulness and yet one would miss it beyond reason should it depart this life.

Headingley is much like a favourite, scruffy old Labrador who nuzzles up to all and sundry, lies on the carpet in front of the fire a good deal and wags a lazy tail without contributing a great deal to the flow of soul and reason. It has outlived its usefulness and yet one would miss it beyond reason should it depart this life.

As a cricket ground that stages Test matches it is irretrievably scruffy and, for all the higgledy-piggledy attempts to de-scruff it, it is still redolent of a bygone era. Before the whole of Yorkshire raises its hands in shock horror at these comments, it is necessary quickly to explain that this has not been the fault of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

Headingley, the football and the cricket grounds and all the appurtenances, are owned by the Leeds Cricket, Athletic & Rugby Club. This, in turn, is the property of Paul Caddick, a local businessman, who, for years, seemed an implacable enemy of the cricket club. He was unwilling to compromise in any way so that the cricket would benefit from the ground advertising and other income generated by the cricket operations at Headingley.

This was not always so and Yorkshire were given the chance some years ago to buy the ground and, incredibly, turned the offer down. Now, Caddick has mellowed and appears to be willing once again to allow the county club to buy the cricket ground. He obviously feels that it is time to move on.

If Yorkshire are to spend £25m over the next 10 years, as they are planning to do, ownership of the ground must be the first requirement. Their new, streamlined committee then have to find ways of significantly increasing the amount of revenue the ground raises so that first their considerable debt to the bank can be paid off. Then good housekeeping will enable them to tuck some money away for future requirements.

There will be plenty of intense negotiations to follow during the next few months, but Yorkshire's recent statement said that their ultimate intention was to own the ground. Then the cricket club will benefit from all the money that this big outlay of capital will generate. At long last Yorkshire cricket will be in control of its own destiny if it all goes through. It is unthinkable that they or England should ever decamp from Headingley.

The chief executive, Colin Graves, is also chairman of Costcutters and as a businessman is as tough as they come. His committee now numbers 12 people, four of whom have recently been elected to serve the four quarters of the county. Their principal job is to increase membership and to raise money.

One of their number, Carol Rymer, is the first woman to have been elected to the Yorkshire committee and represents Hull and the old East Riding. Her perceptive, level-headed and shrewd input will be important to the club and, who knows, one day Yorkshire might become the first county club to be run by a woman. What would Fred Trueman et al say about that?

In recent years Headingley has invited criticism, on the field and off it. The pitch has acquired the questionable appellation of being a "result pitch". The pitch for the present Test match has been no exception and after two days of moderate behaviour, it went rapidly to the bottom of the class on the third day and stayed there. It is an immediate requirement that something must be done about this. The realists who are now in charge of Yorkshire will certainly realise the urgency, and action will be taken.

Off the field, attention has centred on the behaviour in the new West Stand that recently replaced the old Western Terrace where the law of the jungle prevailed. Standards still fly backwards and forwards from the playful to levels that would be unacceptable even in Faliraki.

A police presence is a constant necessity in an area that attracts cross-dressers, endless fancy dress, rowdiness and frequent bouts of fisticuffs. On Saturday we had a day, encouraged by the sponsors, of Jimmy Saville look-alikes and the great man himself turned up in a glittering silver suit to judge them.

As a result there are those who are apt to suggest that the best medicine for Headingley would a bomb. Others, who I hope are in the majority and among whom I count myself, would prefer to nuzzle the old Labrador behind the ears and regard it as sacrilege to think of taking Headingley to the vet for the last time.

Headingley has staged 64 Test matches and became England's fourth Test ground when they played the third Test against Australia there in 1899. Don Bradman played in four Tests at Headingley scoring 334, 304, 103 and 16, and 173 not out when Australia made 404 for 3 in the fourth innings in 1948 and won by seven wickets.

There have been many memorable matches played there, not least by Yorkshire who have won the County Championship 31 times, and some remarkable characters have trod the sacred turf over the last hundred and more years. They must continue to do so.

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