You may have heard that Northants CCC are in financial trouble.
Technically this is true. What you won’t have heard is the shenanigans going on behind the scenes.
According to insiders, the club has been turned down by six high street banks for extended funding and so are resorting to the ECB for more money through a loan or increase annual subsidy, the latter information in the public domain.
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They will know by mid-October if they will get that ECB money. As the ECB subsidise the domestic game it's not unreasonable to ask for more money to be able to compete with the richer counties, especially as Northants are producing current and potential future England players, batting way above their average as a county, to use cricket parlance.
I am expecting the Northampton Borough Council to step in as a lender of last resort if the ECB don’t cough up next month, regardless of the problems with the Cobblers as Northants are making the required budget savings to function, unlike the football club.
So where did the £300,000 debt come from you ask?
Well, it was down to poor budgeting. Departed Chief Executive David Smith included Graeme Swann's England handout of £100,000 for having a central contract in the budget, which obviously disappeared when the spinner retired and other heavy investments in conference facilities.
Further losses are expected this season for similarly poor budgeting reasons but £48,000 from a surprise Twenty20 Finals Day appearance and two payments of £15,000 from Yorkshire over two years for David Willey’s transfer to Yorkshire will be enough to keep the total loss below half-a-million pounds in 2015.
Smith and then new Chief Exec Ray Payne cut the player budget dramatically and with only 16 professionals on the squad next year a tighter squad has performed well.
It’s believed four senior players were 37% of the wage bill in 2013 (Andrew Hall on six figures), very much an older clique ruling the dressing room and were only really used in the red ball and therefore not so financially viable. Two of the four oldies threatened to sue on age discrimination grounds. The club is very much white ball only these days. They simply can’t afford promotion.
The club can actually pay their bills and clear the debt if they sell a pub they own and a residential property, worth a combined £700,000. But some board members and investors came in and said they would put up £600,000 to cover the losses.
But here is where it got interesting - the pub was not sold and the investors have handed over no money?
The debt remains and the club teetering on the edge. Why? It’s understood through sources now external to the club the investors intend to build on the ground, the plan for a hotel and old folk’s apartments.
This is not all over the ground but in the corner where the pub is, the idea being fans, visiting players and conference attendees can stay there to generate money. But that doesn’t clear the immediate debt.
Perhaps even more controversially, Ray Payne’s job was never advertised and although he has hotel and catering experience he has little sports management skills. There are claims he was appointed purely because he was the next door neighbour of one of the board members, Godfrey Hammon, and as long as he invested as part of the £600,000 then the job was his.
We presume he invested. But along with the chairmen, the board and the people running the club are effectively property developers and the fans are concerned. The ground has been valued at £5.2 million pounds and double that with planning permission.
The ECB are said to be not happy with the current leadership at Northamptonshire CCC and that may mean someone will have to leave to get the extra funding and loans.
I am expecting resignations. Alan Lamb was rumoured to have considered his position at the club in August as tensions rose on the running of the club, but nothing came of it. Watch this space.
Now you may remember David Smith left Northants in the winter and was banned from going into the ground in the summer. He says it was out of spite. Someone at the club say the ECB rang up the ground and backed up their claim he wasn’t welcome and it was okay to ban him.
I’m guessing the club banned him as he was mouthing off about the club when he attended two Twenty20 matches earlier in the season at the ground, spouting one or two conspiracy theories why he left as he clearly didn’t want to leave.
He told fans the departure wasn’t amicable and he was currently talking to solicitors to get back into the ground as his son plays for the youth team and he wants to enjoy that, which you can understand.
It’s alleged he was asked to be one of the investors in the club (a sum of £200,000) and the failure to do so may have cost him his job. He didn’t like the smell of the deal. Smith is now a sports agent working with young athletes in cricket and other sports and is free to talk about the club. He won’t be re-employed there any day soon.
Someone that may like what’s going on at Northants is ECB Chief Exec Tom Harrison, employed specifically to streamline the domestic game. But he failed to push through changes as the 18 counties decided if it isn’t broke then why fix it. The turkeys won’t vote for Christmas.
Attendances are up for Friday night cricket and the clubs are content with 16 first-class matches, even if the players are not. But Harrison may still have the last laugh as the seven traditional test grounds are in the First Division next year and if Somerset are ousted by Glamorgan next September the top nine grounds will be up, the plan all along with two divisional cricket.
Championship gates will also be up as a Premier League is muted with only one promotion spot available in 2017. But if Northants go bust because they don’t receive ECB funding this month and another county follows then the ECB may yet get their 14 championship matches a season.
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