Pigott spurs his hobby horse

Stephen Brenkley investigates the storms which have put Sussex on the rocks
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The Independent Online
Many people have resigned lately because they were desperate to leave Sussex. Tony Pigott is quite different. He resigned to try to get back there. Ten days ago he left his post as assistant coach to Surrey solely to mount a campaign to rescue the club where he spent 18 years from a winter of discontent and disarray .

At Surrey his job seemed about to bear significant fruit with a side packed with internationals and confident youth. At Sussex, even if he wins the day and succeeds in the immediate aim of removing the whole of the present committee, he can then expect no more than a long haul towards playing respectability.

In an astonishing few months at Hove, six senior players have departed. Last week they were joined by two committee members including the much criticised chairman, Alan Caffyn, and it is Pigott's intention to make sure the rest (of the committee, that is, not the players) follow.

"When I was seven I announced my intention to play cricket for Sussex and England," he said last week. "When I was 11 and the family was about to move 200 yards over the Kent border I said I wouldn't be going because I wanted to stay in Sussex. The day after I was sacked as a player in 1993 I became a member. You could say they mean a lot to me."

Pigott, 38, plied his seam bowling trade there from 1978 until 1993 when he was told his services were required no more. He took 938 wickets for them in all, 621 of them in the first-class game. He has had three happy seasons at Surrey but still followed his first love and became increasingly alarmed at events there.

By the beginning of February he felt compelled to act. He took advice from a solicitor and after returning from holiday in America personally gathered the 50 members' signatures required (he eventually stopped at 66) to call an extraordinary general meeting. That will be held in Hove Town Hall on 8 April, just 19 days after the annual meeting. Both are certain to be bitter.

"There wasn't just one single thing," he said. "It was a gradual build- up of all the players leaving. I was extremely sad about it all and nobody seemed to be accepting responsibility for what was happening. The members were unhappy, that was clear, but nobody was coming forward to do anything. I decided I couldn't stand by and see the club decline further. Sussex are capable of competing at the top but the way things have gone they'll struggle because they just can't attract players."

Of the six capped players to have departed, Ed Giddins was sacked after being banned by the Test and County Cricket Board for testing positive for cocaine. Jamie Hall, out of contract, was released. Four others - Alan Wells, Ian Salisbury, Danny Law and Martin Speight - left. They had a variety of reasons but it seems all could hardly wait to get out.

By way of a change from players two of the eight strong committee resigned last week. Richard Barrow went on Tuesday "after wrestling with my conscience" and he did not do so quietly. In a scathing criticism he said the club's management style was inward looking, lacking direction and effective management skills and he could "no longer defend an indefensible situation."

On Thursday night Caffyn gave up the chairman's post he had held for seven years and with it his place on the committee. Mounting criticism of his part in the turmoil reached a crescendo when he seemed to blame Wells, sacked as captain and who subsequently resigned as a player, for all the problems.

Pigott said he thought Caffyn was correct to go but still wants a new committee installed to give the club fresh direction. The players, he said, had to come first. "I'm prepared to meet the remaining members of the committee but Sussex have to go forward from here." He has already sounded out potential candidates for a new committee including several former players.

The club's secretary, Nigel Bett, declined to comment on allegations of ineffective leadership but he said: "It would be silly of me to say there had been no mistakes. There are mistakes in every business. It has been a tremendously difficult winter and it's obviously upsetting when so many players have left. Once the politics are out of the way it's important to get on with the cricket. In the meantime I hope to provide a bit of stability with the players and the administrative staff. We've got to get on with it."

Timetable of turmoil at Sussex

August 1996

The England A fast bowler Ed Giddins is sacked after the Test and County Cricket Board find him guilty of taking a banned substance (cocaine) and suspend him for 20 months.

October

Alan Wells is sacked as county's captain on the day he returns from holiday.

November

The England leg-spinner Ian Salisbury announces his departure and joins Surrey. The all-rounder Danny Law also leaves, for Essex.

December

Wells announces that he has signed for Kent.

January 1997

Martin Speight appeals to Lord's for his playing status to be changed so that he too can leave. He wins his case and joins Durham as a wicket- keeper bastman.

February

Tony Pigott moves against committee; gathers signatures for extraordinary meeting.

March

Committee member Richard Barrow and chairman Alan Caffyn resign.

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