New book lifts lid on internal chaos at Hove April 21, 2004

Bitter acrimony on the south coast

Wisden Cricinfo staff

Tony Pigott: described as 'a lovable rogue' © Getty Images
Washing dirty laundry in public is something which Yorkshire supporters have grown resigned to in the last two or three decades, but a concept altogether alien in the tranquil surroundings of the Sussex coast.

But the publication of The Longest Journey, co-written by local cricket correspondent Bruce Talbot and The Guardian's Paul Weaver, will do just that. It is a saga of alleged incompetence and betrayal, overshadowed until now by last season's Championship success.

The key figures are Tony Pigott, the former player who became chief executive after a coup by members, and Dave Gilbert, Sussex's deputy chief executive and director of cricket. A relationship which started as a result of friendship ended in bitter acrimony.

But within a year of the new management assuming control, the county was losing money hand over fist. Almost everything that the club tried seemed to end up costing them, and Gilbert and Piggott took less interest in the cricket and more in trying to turn the club around.

"You can't help but like Tony, he's a lovable rogue," Gilbert is quoted as saying. "But his spending was irrational and largely unaccountable and I was getting increasingly fed up clearing up the wreckage. It was very unfair on Tony to give him a job for which he was entirely unsuited.

"He was always popular with the members and the committee because he always wore his heart on his sleeve as a player, giving absolutely everything, and then he was the catalyst for change when the club changed direction. But he was simply not up to the job."

In 1999 Pigott left, citing "personal reasons", but the reality is that he had been sidelined as Gilbert took a greater role in the day-to-day running of the club. "As soon as I met up with the opposition club's hierarchy, someone would button-hole me and ask exactly what was the difference between Tony's and my roles at Sussex," Gilbert explained. "It was all a bit embarrassing. The club's financial position was still pretty precarious. We just seemed to be on a course that had no strategy.

"I genuinely feared that because of the spending, the club would go bankrupt and I was never going to be part of that. My credibility and reputation are very important to me. In those last few weeks before he left, Tony and I hardly spoke. Our relationship had deteriorated quite badly."

Gilbert left Sussex in 2001, returning to Australia to take over as chief executive of the New South Wales Cricket Association.

For his part, Pigott says that he felt that Gilbert was looking to undermine him from the off. "I think David felt guilty about what happened. Every time I came to the ground after that he would run a mile. Everything I did was for the good of Sussex cricket, but I'm not sure David did."

The Longest Journey (Sutton Publishing) is published next week. It is available from the bookshop at Hove from April 22.