The test match summer may be over, but there’s still plenty of unfinished business – and I don’t mean the one-day internationals.
As the blogger Dmitri Old observed this week, “the disgraceful conduct of our governing body has caused a schism between fans and the ECB that may never be healed. In my lifetime I cannot remember feeling such antipathy towards a national team”.
You only have to read the discussion boards, either here or any cricket site, to realise the depth of feeling and extent of division. England have just won a series 3-1, and yet many of us remain querulous, unhappy and resentful. What does that tell you? That a sizeable proportion of English cricket followers have suddenly developed a personality disorder? Or that something’s genuinely wrong?
Not everyone’s discontent. Some say it’s high time to move on. But for those of us who can’t, the problem isn’t merely what our contributor Tregaskis describes as the “detritus, destruction and deceit” of the last six months, and “the flood of a murky culture that swamps and infects our national game”.
It’s the fact there has been no resolution, nor even an attempt at one. The ECB have made not one iota of effort to even recognise the levels of disaffection, distrust and dismay – let alone do anything about it.
The charge sheet makes such familiar reading that I need only summarise it: the sacking of Kevin Pietersen; its motives; the way it was carried out, and the ECB dissembling which followed.
The aftermath exposed the ECB’s contempt for its supporter base; “outside cricket”, “move on”. Outraged by our insolence and disobedience, determined to silence dissent, they told us to shut up and mind our own business. They broke their own confidentiality agreement and then expected our sympathy. They schmoozed journalists into propagating their lies, but wouldn’t even give us the time of day.
For none of this has the ECB been brought to account, or even been asked any difficult questions.
The England test team themselves have become entangled in the antipathy. Like it or not, they are the on-field representation of the ECB, and a victory for the side is also a victory for Giles Clarke. Enmity has rightly focused on Alastair Cook, who only has himself to blame for signing a Faustian pact with Paul Downton.
In the wake of the Oval test, Jonathan Agnew wrote that:
“This has been a summer unlike any I have known before. There has been a lot of angst, division and anger towards the England team.The England and Wales Cricket Board handled the sacking of Kevin Pietersen and the fall-out from the Ashes tour so badly that a lot of genuinely-devoted England supporters felt they did not quite belong. For the first time since the Allen Stanford affair, I came across fans who actually wanted the team to fail”.
At least Jonathan – who I interviewed in May about supporter-media relations – recognised the issue, and without callings us fringe idiots or muppets.
But I can’t agree with what he went on to say:
“Let’s just hope that it really is the end of a divisive summer and that everyone can now get behind the team and accept that England have moved on in a new direction”.
Why exactly should we do that? What’s changed? Why should we unilaterally declare peace when the ECB haven’t made the slightest effort at rapprochement? They’ve never apologised, they’ve never explained, and they’ve never acknowledged.
February’s events were about far more than a single cricketer. They were the stark revelation of the ECB’s true nature – as a governing body who regard the game as their private property and supporters as indentured cashcows. This is most strongly evidenced not only by the ECB’s ‘upstairs downstairs’ language of disdain and control, but a pricing and TV rights strategy which exorts those who can afford it and disenfranchises those who can’t.
According to the recent job advert, the “key responsibilities” of the next ECB chief executive include:
“Developing strong and long lasting relationships with all the key stakeholders in the game including the first class counties, the recreational game, Team England, the National Cricket Performance Centre, the MCC, the PCA, the ICC, and Government”.
Notice one little admission there? The only mention we get sounds more like an attempt to drum up new custom than anything else:
“To champion and publicise the game of cricket in England and Wales in its widest sense…inspiring new participants and supporters alike.
So – there’s the problem. But what do we do about it? We can debate on the internet all we like, but is there any action we can take which would actually make a difference?
Is there anything we can do to hold the ECB to account? To make our voice heard? To get our questions answered?
On a broader level, what can we do to reform the ECB – and specifically to influence Giles Clarke and the new MD into putting the interests of supporters much higher up the agenda.
Seriously. What do you think? Any ideas?
One tactic unlikely to succeed is a boycott. How could a clear connection be made between low match attendances and an organised protest? Ticket ticket sales were poor for four of this summer’s seven tests, yet no firm conclusions were drawn about the causes. Any attempt to stage a mass no-show would be laughed off, because empty seats could be attributed to any one of umpteen factors.
Neither is it possible for an outsider to change the ECB from within. The organisation has no democratic mechanism for supporter involvement or representation.
The board describes its power structure thus:
“Responsibility for the day-to-day running of the ECB rests with the executive management team who report directly to the chief executive, [who] in turn, reports to the chairman of the ECB Board.
“The [fourteen member] board is comprised of a chairman, deputy chairman and chairman of cricket elected by all 40 members of ECB, two independent directors, three directors from the first-class game, two directors from the recreational game, two ECB executives, a women’s game representative and an MCC representative”.
The chair – currently Clarke – is elected by a constituency of nineteen people: the eighteen chairs of the first class counties, and the chief executive of the MCC. The winner then goes forward for ratification by the forty one members of the ECB, thirty nine of whom are the county boards (in effect, the minor counties).
My suggestion is to include on the ECB board two representatives elected by an official but independent supporters’ body, both of whom have a vote in the elections for chair. If that sounds fanciful, is it any less logical than the current arrangement, in which the public provide one hundred per cent of the funding in return for zero per cent of the representation, unlike the MCC – a private club.
In theory, anyone could seek and gain election to the committee – and then the chair – of a first-class county club, which would give you a say at the ECB. But in such a role your responsibility is to further the interests of your club, not the general cricketing public.
So having ruled out boycotts or influence from within, what else can we do? I’m going to start with a very simple idea, in keeping with our role as bloggers, and try to put your views and questions to the man at the top.
On Friday afternoon I sent this e-mail to Andrew Walpole, the ECB’s press chief.
Call me a cynic, but I have a funny feeling Clarke will decline the request. But as they saying goes, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
I’ll let you know how they respond.
Good stuff Maxie, this pretty such sums up my feelings of the Test summer. Still disconnected I’m afraid.
The way the press has acted (and some of the rabid anti-KP brigade) has done nothing to bring me back in the fold just made me even more disgruntled tbh.
I’ve often thought that the supporters need a voice be that an official or unofficial supporters club similar to the football team, and agree that a place on the ECB board for the nominated spokesperson of that organisation may make a difference.
Would the ECB hierarchy entertain a regular fans forum?? I’m not sure but they need to start engaging with the fans or they risk losing some forever…
English cricket definitely needs a formal supporters’ voice at the top table. Football has the FSA, which I don’t think has an official role in the FA process, but they get their voice heard.
Interesting that the paying public are not considered “key stakeholders”.
The logic of your request is undeniable. I’m most interested to see how this turns out.
Me too. But don’t be too surprised if they don’t accept. For one thing, we are an obscure blog they won’t have heard of before. For another, they have no reason to trust us – and no comeback if, from their point of view, it goes wrong.
Argghhhh, come on guys!!! We should all give our grateful and heartfelt thanks to the ECB for enabling some of the stars of the England set up play in the T20 finals today. Bell and Anderson and Buttler and Woakes all due to play being given the ‘freedom of the ECB’ for the day. We should all now rush out and buy even more tickets, climb over walls and sit in trees to watch as a symbol that the ECB – despite their continued ‘promises’ to re-engage with the public and having failed miserably so to do – free these guys for our benefit. What a lousy bunch of cretins (I’m being nice) the ECB are as they arrogantly look down upon the paying public and have a collective crap (note the element of ‘team’ there). We don’t have to pay for this privilege and these days I don’t think they would miss us. I don’t particularly want to ‘engage’ with any of them.
Can anybody imagine the England football team removing all the players from their clubs, giving them central contracts and keeping them away from all but selected internationals??? Does anyone think Arsenal, Chelsea, United and City and Liverpool and the rest would accept this??????
The difference is that football clubs are successful commercial ventures in their own right and wield more power than the national team, because they contract the players (and can actually afford to pay them).
One of the problems facing English cricket is that almost all the revenue comes via the international game, so the counties fall into line with the ECB as long as there is money being made – remember, the counties have voted Clarke in 3 times!!!!! He’s obviously doing something right in their eyes, however unpleasant the rest of us find him.
The ECB don’t get everything wrong, and one thing they’ve got right is central contracts. I’d be surprised if anyone wanted to return to the 1990s, when the England team was by comparison far too inchoate and patchily prepared.
Maxi you and I are very much on the same page with these issues. The KP business is very much short term. And with England’s recovery that issue is now put to bed. Hence the rejoicing and triumphalism of the media. Cooks captaincy will, I predict, come under more scrutiny next year, when his possible sacking will not be a threat to Downton.
I have to say I like Aggers. There are far worse. (Newman, Pringle, Selvey) and I am not surprised that he is the one doing a Rodney King “can’t we all get along.”
The trouble is the ECB in its determination to drive a stake through KPs heart adopted a US style, napalm Vietnam bombing campaign on anyone who questioned them. As the clouds of orange smoke now clears they have laid waste to much good will of many supporters. In addition with the re hiring of Flower the suspicion remains that future players with individuality and maverick traits will not be tolerated.
I don’t think you should dismiss or underestimate the importance of the boycott. While I agree it probably won’t bring down the Mafia like regime, it still has a purpose. Individuals can take comfort in the fact they are not contributing a penny to ECB coffers. Bums on seats (or the lack of them) are still important. It’s not just the loss of revenue to ECB, but empty seats tell a bigger picture. Sky and media can pretend they don’t exist, but they know.
You only have to look at some of the ghastly characters who have taken over football clubs. Most of them come from other businesses. The sports fan is a customer like no other. Most business can only dream of a customer like a one eyed fan. For a start they are loyal to the point of stupidity. They keep coming despite how badly they are treated because they see themselves as a fan not a customer. Customers are nothing like as loyal. Piss off your average customer and they go elsewhere. Sports fans have convinced themselves that there is a distinction between the owner and the team. As long as that continues the owners and sporting governing bodies will laugh all the way to the bank.
The problem with a boycott is how empty seats would be interpreted. The ECB and their acolytes would blame everything and everyone except themselves.
Maxie you are right they would blame everyone else. But they would also congratulate themselves that everything is fine if they have full houses. Eventually people will notice.
And at the end of the day people will decide if they want to help fund a governing body that is as unpleasant as this one is.
Maybe I am deluding myself, but I hope now the KP issue is settled the media will begin to start looking at thinks in a more balanced way. There should not be a knee jerk defence of everything ECB does because of a fear it might let KP back in. That is not going to happen now so the media should start taking a broader outlook. There will always be dinosaurs like Newman, but others might raise their game.
I hope your movement will not take as long as abolishing slavery or the suffragette movement. Do keep us posted. Best of luck.
Well, it’s slightly less important than either of those!
Ultimately this is only a game, but it’s a game in which we’ve all invested huge equity in terms of emotions, time, effort, and money. And we deserve better than we get.
Given that cricket is essentially a middle class and essentially public schoolboy game with its rump firmly placed in the English establishment, with its stakeholders being any commercial operation that has the money and desire (purely commercial) to be associated with the ECB there does not appear to be any space for anybody else. The paying public are just that – they pay – and any illusions that this game can be retrieved are just that – the ‘game’ as it has been played on occasion has gome for ever
There’s certainly no space in terms of listening, discussion and exchange of views. When the papers make a big fuss about something, the ECNB usually respond in some way. But if supporters do?
“the ECB’s true nature – as a governing body who regard the game as their private property and supporters as indentured cashcows.”
Says it all. What we have in ‘Team England’, is a neoliberal’s idea of what a national sport team should be – run for profit and managed like a private business. Managed like a badly managed private business.
Yea, and the players and supporters are just commodities to be exploited till exhaustion or collapse.
The city types running ECB will know all about how to do that.
In case either of you needed further evidence of the Cult of Cook:
I cannot believe how staggeringly awful this puff piece is. It’s like a distillation of Selvey, Pringle and Newman at their absolute worst.
That was me, by the way. Goodness only knows what clivejw will make of it.
I only made it half way though, at which point the nausea became unbearable.
Not even going to bother clicking on it. Waste of time. But thanks for letting me know what to avoid reading.
The bizarreness continues. This one was on the website on the same day: http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2014/aug/23/alastair-cook-hope-ego-resignation
Did Vaughan ever get this kind of coverage? Strauss? Hussain? Brearley? Maybe Flintoff did at the height of his fame, but I doubt it. Interviews with Pietersen (whose captaincy increasingly seems to have been air-brushed) always managed to include a snide element somewhere.
I still don’t get it. Aggressive marketing is one thing, but this is just weird.
In a word, no. They didn’t. No one needed to constantly tell us how brilliant Vaughan was, because his merits were obvious. Ditto Nasser.
In storytelling, the maxim is ‘show, don’t tell’, The more you’re told something, rather than shown it, the less you believe it – and the more likely it is the story is false. You only tell when you can’t show.
Clive has drawn a telling parallel before, on Dmitri’s site, between John Major and Cook. Major’s supporters were always telling us how effective he was behind the scenes, despite looking ineffective in public. But no one needed to tell us about how able Margaret Thatcher was – like her or not, we knew she was in charge.
The piece you linked to is another item in this extraordinary conveyor belt of Cook hagiography. I just don’t get it. What he describes as “admirable efforts” could equally be perceived as a stubborn, selfish man desperately and dishonourably clinging on to his job, even though he and everyone else knows he’s not good enough, and hoping to get away with it.
“Once more accumulating some big scores along the way”. Presumably 79-4 is the new 766.
It plays very well with the Waitrose customers. And that is very important to ECB.
As I alluded to in a previous thread, the drip feed and obfuscation, prior to the publication of Kev’s book, looks like it’s already started!!
I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with many of the people who run cricket, since as a naturally left-wing type of person they are more often than not the kind of human beings who I fully accept are Tory voting, pauper hating, gin-soaked yahoos who end up seeming to be in charge of so many things in this country while not having ever shown much aptitude for anything except networking and being born into the right family or environment.
The last year or so has been an accident waiting to happen for my whole life, to be honest.
I guess constructive engagement might be worth ago, as ridicule isn’t getting very far with an outfit that is so oblivious to its own ridiculousness.
I agree Clive! I love cricket, in all it’s forms, and like many cricket lovers and supporters I feel thoroughly disenfranchised, disconnected, and any other bloody “dis” you can think of! Last Summer’s Ashes just papered over the cracks, thanks, in the main, to Ian Bell.
I thought we would get beat in Australia, but, not as badly as we did, a capitulation far greater than anything India could muster this Summer, at least they won one, and drew one!! The manner of KP’s sacking just put the tin hat on it for me as far as the weasels coterie of Cook, Flower, and the ECB was concerned!
I, like many others, descended into a trough of “Reactive” behaviour, venting my spleen and frustration against anything and everything associated with Cook and the ECB!
Manipulation by the embedded media and the ECB has transformed me from a thoroughly decent supporter to a keyboard warrior, outside cricket etc etc
The only way for the for the voice of the disenfranchised to be heard is if we go more “Proactive”
What are the barriers stopping the formation of a Cricket Supporters Association (in my ignorance, something like this may exist but I’ve never heard of it!)…a formal body that can even handedly represent us, especially to the media, and the Sponsors!!
I would gladly subscribe to membership of such a body, if it were a good vehicle for the average cricket supporter to exert their collective voice and exert an influence!
Just a thought!
The bank holiday weekend was crazy in the Guardian, with no less than four articles singing the praises of the England captain, with Emma John’s piece off the scale in times of blind hero worship. They’ve even got to Vic Marks, who is usually at least a little detached from the rest of the cult. I can only conclude that the ECB is terrified — absolutely terrified — of what is to come in Pietersen’s book. We’d better we prepared, because all next month the propaganda will be relentless.
Charles Sale in the Mail reported that the ECB have pre-prepared a PR strategy for the Pietersen book. Maybe these are the first manifestations of it – it’s an interesting theory.
I wonder if Pietersen’s book might be less revelatory than we’re expecting. But whatever he says, I fear the chances of it changing perceptions are slim. The ECB have too many outriders and allies – their smears and spin will drown him out.
You may be right that the book may be less revelatory than the ECB fears, though I hope KP won’t hold back, as he surely must realize he has nothing now to lose. But the fact that the ECB is so afraid of it is the really interesting part.
“Emma John’s piece off the scale in times of blind hero worship” — that should read “in terms of” & c. But you knew that!
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