The sound of leather on willow. The immaculate whites on the green turf. The next men in outside the whitewashed pavilion, and the clink of the changing scoreboard. The rustic backdrop of trees and cottages. The faded athleticism of the players, dying for a fag or a pint. What more perfect a picture of rural charm can you imagine?
A quick perusal of the Meanwood Rambler’s Twitter feed will reveal that historically he’s been a bit of a cricket fan. I’ve followed the game most of my life and have been to Headingley often enough, watching all forms of the game – 20-20, 1-day, county and Test. Indeed it wasn’t so long ago that you’d hear me saying that one of the great things about living where I do is that it’s only 40 minutes walk to the ground.
Not any more, I’m afraid. There’s another place around here that I like even better. A place where, like the cricket ground, you go to momentarily escape from the pressures of city life and take in a different scene. Except here you can go whenever you want, it doesn’t cost anything and they don’t kick you out at the end of the day. A special place indeed – a place of true natural beauty. There’s nowhere in inner city Leeds quite like it.
One of the bitter and cruel ironies of the planning application to build on Tetley Field is that its apparent justification is for the sake of the game of cricket, to secure Headingley’s Test Match status. Cricket – the sport we most closely associate with bucolic images of the English countryside – seeking to rob us of the most precious piece of English countryside we have in inner city Leeds, just where it’s needed most.
So little wonder then that I’ve gradually lost interest in the game during 2016. I’m vaguely aware that Yorkshire narrowly failed in all 3 domestic competitions this season, but I’ve been indifferent to it. I know I’m not alone in this sense of alienation from the Club – many of the Objectors to the application have stated they are members or fans of YCCC and are disgusted by the proposal. What a way to treat your own fans!
There’s a deeper issue that underlies all this – the perilous state of YCCC’s finances. It feels like a bit of an elephant in the room but let’s get it said – the current structure of domestic cricket just doesn’t stack up economically. The majority of days cricket at Headingley are still played in front of crowds of no more than 1000, in a ground with a capacity of around 17000. No wonder they are so desparate to retain Test status – it’s their only reliable source of income!
So we are left with the situation where there is only 1 way to fund the redevelopment of the stadium – from the general public. Leeds City Council has already agreed to gift £4m of taxpayers’ money to YCCC for the stadium project. Another £4m of public money is proposed from the Local Economic Partnership. And of course we have the 2 Green Belt planning applications and the risk of the loss of significant public amenity.
So the whole stadium redevelopment project is proposed to be funded not just by people who follow cricket but by everyone. The public propping up a failing business; residents’ day to day needs sacrificed for elite sport and civic status.
I mentioned earlier that a number of cricket fans have objected to the planning application. Well, the majority of people aren’t cricket fans, and they’re not going to get any benefit at all from losing the Field for the sake of the stadium. The way it’s going, I’m not going to be a cricket fan for much longer either.