Mike Gatting aims to build afresh on old village green's best traditions
Wednesday 15 May 2013
Really they should consider taking down the weather vane of Old Father Time at Lord's and replacing it with a more expansive icon of Mike Gatting. The clock tower might need a little reinforcement but there are already plenty of other redevelopment plans afoot at the "home of cricket" as Gatting becomes president of MCC. He played there for a quarter of a century with Middlesex and England, and no more fitting figure could preside over the ground as it awaits its 200th anniversary next year.
On 1 May, MCC set out its "master plan" to invest £200m in the stadium until 2027. Various stands will be renovated, bringing the capacity up to 32,000, while the old pavilion will get an extension and there will even be an underground car park. As the first Test of the summer begins this morning at Lord's, there will be much discussion about the changes over bacon and egg ties.
These plans have been the cause of great controversy. Former Prime Minister John Major resigned from the MCC committee when it rejected out of hand the first "vision" of the future, which came in at £400m in December 2011. The initial venture included building residential properties on leased land to help finance it but, while that idea has been shelved, there is now concern about how MCC will finance its ambitions without such an option.
In the last 25 years £50m has been spent on the ground, so does Lord's need all this new investment? "I think it does," says Gatting. "The Warner and the Tavern stands are looking tired, even the facilities where the umpires change are really not up to international standard, and there are still places in the ground that you can't really seen the game from."
MCC is trying to play it safe this time around, not least because it will have to fund the entire project through existing capital and loans rather than revenue from property. The development will be done piecemeal, with the first stage up to 2019 costing £90m. Can the game itself provide for such huge sums, given that the initial project was effectively brought to a halt by the advent of the recession? "It's a flexible plan," says Gatting. "There is going to be a sensible look at the finances of the club. The new people in charge of the project have the best interests of the ground at heart but we mustn't ignore those who disagree. We've got the best village green in the world so why would you want to spoil it? People get such satisfaction from coming here, it means an awful lot to an awful lot of them."
Gatting also works for the England and Wales Cricket Board, whose offices are also at the ground, overseeing a 50-strong team with responsibility for the non-first-class game, and in that capacity it is not just about spanking new stands. He wants to use his influence to effect change on a cultural level too. "I've been playing at Lord's since 1974 and I've seen the ground change, I've seen attitudes change. And now the club is making even more changes in the right direction. But there's much more work to be done. I'd like to get MCC and Middlesex to work together more, to get a bit more harmony in certain areas.
"And in grass-roots cricket, if I've got my ECB hat on, there's so much we could do because MCC has close ties with so many schools and clubs. The club has such huge resources and they can be put at the disposal of so many different people."
So what of another innovation at Lord's this summer: the arrival of Jamie Oliver's Fabulous Feasts as the new public caterer? "Well I've been to one or two of his restaurants in London," he says. "I'll have to have a word with him to make sure his portions are big enough." In the meantime, Gatting has quite enough on his plate.
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