Over and out for Yorkshire

Stephen Brenkley describes how 100 years of history was ditched without a hitch
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The Independent Online
Yorkshire members voted yesterday to defy more than a century of cricketing tradition and leave their spiritual home at Headingley. They agreed overwhelmingly with a proposal to move to a purpose- built, pounds 50m floodlit stadium at Wakefield.

There remain several obstacles to overcome, which include raising the money for their new home and negotiating their way out of the 85 years remaining on the lease of their old one but if all goes according to plan the move could take place by the millennium. It would mean the end of the 11th oldest Test ground in the world and the fifth to be used by England, in 1899. So far it has staged 58 Tests and its potential 61st and last could coincide with its centenary as an international sporting arena, but its reputation has been severely tainted in recent years by the appaling behaviour of fans on the Western Terrace.

History was ditched almost without a hitch. It had been widely expected that the Headingley Is Home campaign would lose the day but even they might have been surprised by the 75 per cent of voters - half the 9,000 members took part in the ballot - who decided that Headingley is obviously not home. Nor was their much rancour at the packed annual meeting in Leeds town hall although the club's president, Sir Lawrence Byford, was forced to say at one point that he would issue a writ against anybody who libelled him.

Demonstrations predicted outside the meeting and filibusters forecast inside it simply did not take place.

The most evocative statement came in a letter from Doug Verity, son of the legendary spin bowler Hedley who said that they could be at Wakefield watching great occasions while recalling great ones at Headingley in their minds.

After the count, 3,493 to 1,158 including proxy voting slips - the county's chief executive, Chris Hassell, was predictably delighted and relieved. "It's comforting to think that so many of our members are sharing our vision for the future. We can look forward now and start the hard work."Although Simon Parsons, of Headingley Is Home, graciously conceded defeat afterwards, his assertion that the Wakefield ground is a white elephant had yet to be disproved. Yorkshire, in conjunction with Wakefield Council, hope to finance the project largely from lottery and European grants. It would be the first time in their long, auspicious history that they have owned their own ground even though they would not have paid for it. But they signed the renewed deal at Headingley in 1982 and the ground's owner, the property developer Paul Caddick, who claims the arena could be refurbished, has threatened court action.

Headingley was not the only old ground rejected by Yorkshiremen yesterday. In a much closer vote - 2,411 to 2,134 - they decided not to play cricket on four outgrounds next season. It means that those singular grounds, Harrogate, Middlesbrough, Bradford and Sheffield have lost first-class cricket. Only Scarborough and, almost perversely, Headingley, for the time being, will be used in future.

This may be good news for the county's new overseas professional Michael Slater, the opening batsman who has signed assuming that he will not be picked for the Australian touring team - but of course is on hand in case of injury.

The final word on a day which left the supporters full of optimism about lifting their 32nd championship title and their first since 1968 went to Sir Lawrence a key proponent of the ground move and a formidable opponent of anybody who disagreed. He was leaving, he said, to watch Leeds United perform in their sparkling modern stadium. He did not mention that Leeds have been there since 1919.

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