Gooch backs Essex Olympic stadium plan
Graham Gooch has described the prospect of Essex playing some of their future home matches at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford as a "win-win scenario", after their involvement in a joint bid with West Ham Football Club and Newham Council was confirmed by the club chairman, David East, following the submission of the application to the Olympic Park Legacy Company on Thursday.
Gooch is a lifelong fan of both Essex and West Ham, having been born and brought up in nearby Leytonstone, and believes that the prospect of a high-profile cricket venue in the East End of London can only be good for the county's future. "For us it makes complete sense," he told ESPNcricinfo. "We're obviously developing our ground at Chelmsford, so it's not intended to be a home for Essex cricket, but as a county that stretches right down to the city of London, it makes sense for us to try and have a base in the boroughs there."
Two London football clubs, West Ham and Tottenham Hotspur, are in the running to take up principal residence at the Olympic Stadium in the aftermath of the 2012 games, having both registered their interest with the OPLC ahead of Thursday's deadline. However, Tottenham's late application is widely regarded as a back-up plan in the event that their £400million redevelopment of White Hart Lane fails to materialise.
West Ham's bid remains the strongest contender, not least because the club's current ground, Upton Park, is just a few miles down the road in the same borough of Newham. Their bid received tacit backing from the Government on Thursday when the application was delivered to 10 Downing Street by three of its players, Carlton Cole, Mark Noble and Scott Parker.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo, East stressed that Essex's part in the bid was low-key at present, and would be subject to the overcoming of certain technical constraints - the most significant of which is the OPLC's current insistence on a running track around the venue's perimeter, a problem which a West Ham spokesman suggested could be overcome through the use of synthetic grass. Should those obstacles be surmounted, then the venue would in theory be available to Essex during the football off-season between May and August, and would make an attractive base for Twenty20 cricket in particular.
"Our plans are at a very early stage," said East. "We've expressed our interest and have formed part of the bidding process for West Ham, who are seeking to demonstrate that they can operate, not just football, but a multi-sport delivery stadium. There's a good strategic fit for us, in that we have responsibility for five London boroughs in terms of cricket development, and one of those is Newham. But at this stage we are very tentatively dipping our toes in the water."
Essex and West Ham have forged close links over the years, not least through the exploits of Sir Geoff Hurst, who played 23 times for Essex seconds in the early 1960s, and once for the first XI in 1962, before making his name as a centre-forward for West Ham and earning immortality by scoring a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup final.
"There's been a long tradition between the two professional clubs," said Gooch, who regularly conducted his pre-season training with the football squad at Upton Park. "And for me personally, it's a fantastic proposal, because as a lifelong supporter of Essex cricket and West Ham football, it seems a natural tie-up. A joint bid would dovetail nicely, because the months we'd want to use the ground for Twenty20 cricket would be midsummer, when the football season is not on."
A further benefit of bringing cricket to the Olympic Stadium would be the focal point it would provide for cricket in East London, not least the sizeable but largely untapped Bangladeshi community in nearby Tower Hamlets. "We've got to look to promote the interests of our club," said Gooch, "and it would be great to have a visible base where we play some professional matches, and tap into the ethnic communities living there. It's a win-win for us."
Aside from Gooch, many prominent Essex players have come from East London, including Nasser Hussain (Ilford), Ravi Bopara (Forest Gate) and Varun Chopra, who moved on last season (Barking). However, since the loss of the Ilford Festival, for financial reasons, in 2003, there has been no significant Essex cricket played in Greater London, which is something that East is keen to rectify.
"We like the idea of the bid," said East. "The Ilford festival was our foothold in East London in terms of first-class cricket, so if we were able to find a base back in the area, where we could drop in a few Twenty20 matches and capitalise on a community from which we draw a lot of players, it would be fantastic. That was our motivation behind supporting the bid, but it's still early stages, and we will pick it up with West Ham as and when they get a green light to proceed, or at least a bright amber light."
East added that he had not been aware of any interest from Tottenham until their bid for the stadium had been made public. "I haven't given it any thought at all," he said. "The attraction for us was the clear strategic link [through Newham Council]. At the moment we are where we are, we've supported the West Ham bid, and we'll see what the outcome is."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.