Discontent at The Oval as sorry Surrey seek change of fortune

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The Independent Online

Sorry Surrey was never a more appropriate epithet than now, slipping, as it does, so slickly off the tongue. A summer of empty promise has spilled over into an autumn of discontent, with a large group of disaffected supporters successfully petitioning the club to hold a Special General Meeting at The Oval tonight.

Underlying their motion, which instructs the club to draw up a plan to restore the fortunes of Surrey cricket, to reinstate the cricket committee and to raise the level of democracy and value in membership in south London, is the unspoken fear that the club is more concerned with its status as a Test match ground.

Paul Ames, secretary of the Surrey Action Group, which instigated the petition, wants to see Surrey succeed on the field. "We are showing them that the membership is not going to accept below-par standards," Ames said. "The aim of this motion is to show the management that they are accountable to the membership for the state of Surrey cricket."

Since the petition was drawn up, however, a couple of significant changes have taken place, which may well render much of the motion redundant.

Firstly, in the absence through injury of captain Alec Stewart, they discovered a more than adequate stand-in in Adam Hollioake, who brought some Southern Hemisphere steel to an under-performing side.

Secondly, Brian Downing resigned as chairman on the last day of the season to be succeeded by businessman Mike Soper. Downing, a successful businessman himself, and chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board's marketing committee, was regarded by the membership as having more regard to the international affairs in SE11.

Soper is different. "I am not a miracle worker," he says. Maybe not, but he is a fan. And he promised: "I want us to spend more time with the supporters' club, because that is the official voice of the members." He is adamant that whichever way the vote goes it can only be a Pyrrhic victory. "I would like to see a lot of those things called for in the motion to be done."

There is a problem over the reinstatement of the cricket committee, in that later this month or early next the Imbert Report, chaired by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Peter Imbert, will publish its findings into an investigation into the running of the club and may well make recommendations which encompass the wishes of the recalcitrant members.

Surrey's management did not endear themselves to many members when they announced that the cost of the meeting would be around pounds 15,000. They further dented their claims that they are a democratically run club when it was revealed that the whole issue was going to be overseen by their bankers, auditors and solicitors, all upstanding organisations but hardly neutral in the eyes of the petitioners. Ames consulted the Electoral Reform Society just up the road from The Oval who revealed that they could have run the show for pounds 3,150 plus VAT.

Soper's tone and mood are conciliatory. "If they want it to be a rough- house we'll let them have it, but I don't think it will be. I think we can meet half-way," he says. He also asserts that there will be changes in personnel before the new season - the most obvious candidate being the coach, Grahame Clinton, and possibly, although probably unfairly, Mike Edwards, the director of cricket.