England news August 12, 2014

Counties could have gone bust - Collier

David Collier, the out-going ECB chief executive, has revealed that "seven or eight counties" could have gone out of business had the ECB not made changes to the running of the English game.

In a wide-ranging and exclusive interview with ESPNcricinfo, Collier reflected on a decade in the role and admitted his regrets over the Allen Stanford episode, his true feelings over the lack of cricket on free-to-air television and his pride at the pioneering support that England has given to the funding of women's and disability cricket.

And while Collier conceded that not everyone in the game was sorry to see him go - "everyone is happy," is how he put it - he generally reflected with great satisfaction at the vastly increased stability of the game in England and Wales over the course of his period in charge.

That is understandable. When Collier was appointed chief executive of the ECB towards the end of 2004, the organisation was in debt, participation in the game was falling and England had not won the Ashes for nearly 20 years.

A decade later, the ECB has a surplus of £40m, participation has doubled, the Ashes have been won four times and, despite the recent decline, England have enjoyed spells at No. 1 in all three formats of the game. Of course there are negatives, too, but those facts are compelling.

That £40m surplus has caused controversy within the game, however, and created resentment towards Collier from some counties. The counties, many of whom have undertaken extensive redevelopment programmes, would like that money to be distributed among them to help with their debts.

But, as Collier explained, the ECB felt the need to insulate the game from unforeseen events, some which can make cricket seen very insignificant but could have had serious repercussions for the game, and that surplus actually exists to protect the counties

"So many events occur that are outside our control," Collier told ESPNcricinfo. "Consider the spot-fixing episode during the 2010 series against Pakistan or the Mumbai attacks in 2008. In my very first summer in the role, we had the 7/7 attacks and then 21/7. There was a real possibility that Australia would go home and not play the rest of the series.

"If that had happened, we would have had issues with broadcast partners, with sponsors and with the venues. Seven or eight counties would have gone out of business. It really could have been that bad. There were no reserves.

"The game is much safer now. Much more stable. We are in a position where the impact caused by big shocks can be more easily withstood thanks to our reserves and that means the game is more sustainable."

Collier was a good enough sportsman to captain the British Universities at hockey and cricket - "not many people have done that," he said with understandable pride - and played 2nd XI county cricket. A highlight was taking four wickets in five deliveries, including John Wright and Geoff Miller, while playing for Loughborough University against Derbyshire.

But it is not his personal achievements, the financial strength of the ECB or the success of the Test team that provokes most pride in Collier; not directly, anyway.

"My most emotional day in cricket came when I went to the Ken Barrington Centre at The Oval in 2005," he said. "And presented caps to our disability side.

"Women's cricket and disability have grown exponentially over the last decade. And yes, I am very proud of that.

"People sometimes talk as if money is all we care about. But it's that money that has helped us invest in better facilities for spectators, in better facilities for players, to ensure the on-going stability of the game, to invest in grass roots cricket and to lead the world in our development of disability cricket and women's cricket.

"Of course over 10 years I have made some mistakes and there are some things I would do differently. But when I look at where we were when I started and where we are now…"

Still, the financial health of the game is not what many will associate with Collier's time at the ECB. Rather, it will be the image of him glad-handing with Stanford, the disgraced Texan billionaire, when he landed his helicopter on the Nursery Ground at Lord's after he was brought into the heart of the English game in 2008 - billed as a saviour against the threat of T20 leagues around the world.

As history will forever record, England lost a million-dollar match against Stanford's All-Stars in Antigua, at the end of a week of one uncomfortable moment after another, then a few months later, ironically while England were playing a Test in Stanford's backyard of Antigua, his world came crashing down as fraud of astronomical proportions became clear.

Collier wishes he could turn back the clock, but insisted that the warning signs were not there. "With the benefit of hindsight, we wouldn't have done it," he said. "But you have to understand the context of the time: he was involved in the sponsorship of sailing, yachting and polo.

"He was triple A rated and had just been knighted. There really weren't the red flags people suggest. And, at the same time, the ICL was very active. There was a genuine danger from unauthorised leagues. Yes, the way it all panned out I regret it, but we acted with the best interest of the entire game at heart."

Generally, however, a good administrator is much like a good wicketkeeper: they only gain attention when they make a mistake. Nobody goes into cricket administration for the glamour or the praise. After a decade working diligently in the background - and Collier's habit of replying to emails at anything from 6am to 11pm betrays his dedication - Collier departs in the knowledge that he has left the game in a better position than he found it.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Francis on August 13, 2014, 13:08 GMT

    Mr.Collier deserves praise for a job well done. A lot of highly-respected people were taken in by Stanford, and in any case the man who never makes mistakes probably never makes anything. One major conundrum for his successor to solve will be how to get more punters into county championship matches. This is where our future Roots, Ballances, Bells and Cooks come from, and people should be encouraged to support our young players as they strive for Test places. The other half of the problem, of course, is how to motivate players who presently feel more motivated in front of packed grounds at T20 games. Best of luck to Mr.Collier and the next contestant!

  • Jason on August 13, 2014, 12:20 GMT

    @Flash_hard27, the surplus has a little to do with SKY but prior to David Collier the ECB (and previously TCCB) was run like a Club, without a thought for the long term, the counties all got their slice of the revenue and that's all they cared about.

    Its also possible that if the BBC put its mind to the task it could out bid sky, and im surprised that the ECB hasn't created separate packages like the FA/Premiership have done with football.

    Also I agree about the BBC coverage, although you have to consider that the technology has advanced significantly expanded since the BBC had the rights.

  • Neil on August 13, 2014, 9:44 GMT

    As addendum to my previous comment.

    20 over cricket is my least favourite format of the game but I do watch the Sky coverage of the counties 20:20 competition and when games are close can really enjoy them. ITV have free to air IPL and Champions League T20 games and I find these unwatchable, the production values are so poor in comparison with lesser commentators and pundits on show and constant advertising including in the commentary..."that 6 was bought to you by Big Company, producers of the world's favourite hogwash"...good grief. to my mind this is further evidence that free does not always equate to good value.

  • Neil on August 13, 2014, 9:15 GMT

    @ydoethur - Your comments made me smile and smack of the golden glow of nostalgia. I can still remember clearly the BBC tv coverage of cricket and it was pretty awful (TMS is still ace). I am no fan of the Sky juggernaut but bought into the service about 10 years and IMHO the cricket coverage gets broader and better every year. The Sky Sports 2 channel is effectively dedicated to the game over the UK summer months and I can watch a game every evening when I get home from work and all weekend. As a cricket fan I consider it great value for money, I have watched more county cricket in the last 5 years that I had seen in the previous 25!

    All those good works that David Collier is so correctly proud of and that ECB surplus is driven directly by the Sky money, if the BBC were prepared to pay a similar amount and give the game the same level of coverage that would be fantastic but that is not going to happen. Rightly or wrongly the game in this country needs that money to be sustainable.

  • Huw on August 13, 2014, 7:56 GMT

    @YorkshirePudding: that defence is however rather disingenuous. If the ECB are going to make finance the only qualifying criteria for broadcasting rights, of course FTA broadcasters are not going to be interested. Given Sky's business model, they can outbid any other prospective broadcaster (other than different PPV channels) so there is actually no point in wasting time and money on a bid. They are expensive and difficult to put together - and if they won't get you anything, why bother?

    If there was a requirement that cricket should be shown on terrestrial TV, ruling Sky and BT Sport out of the running, I'm pretty sure there would be interest and some serious offers. Likelihood of that happening? Absolutely zero, sadly.

    Meanwhile, those of us who can't afford Sky and live a long way from a county ground, like me, never get to see live cricket, which does upset me somewhat.

  • Dummy4 on August 13, 2014, 7:39 GMT

    I don't mind the surplus being used to support the counties, but it should be distributed fairly. Not to those counties who have spent millions on new stands and got themselves into debt.

  • Robert on August 13, 2014, 7:30 GMT

    Just goes to show that 18 first class counties is not sustainable. The money should be put into grass roots cricket rather than into the pockets of Kolpak mercenaries.

  • ian on August 13, 2014, 6:28 GMT

    Enjoy your retirement, David. I sense from your interview report with George Dobell here that I had misjudged you more than somewhat. Not really knowing who you were (until almost the time of your going!) hasn't helped. You do, however, put up a good case for your MO. It's fair enough. My greatest concern is the carve up of world cricket shared with the BCCI & CA. In the same way that the Stanford scam was too good to be true, I sense that getting into bed with the BCCI (mired in all kinds of shenanigans) cannot be a profitable exercise in the medium or long run, simply because the BCCI's track record fills no one with any confidence. Still, that's probably Giles Clarke's baby. The ethics of the business world (such as they may be) have always escaped me. And I grew up being told that a gentleman's word was his bond! To which I reply, there can't be many gentlemen around in the business world these days. Best wishes.

  • Jason on August 13, 2014, 6:21 GMT

    An interesting insight into the state of the ECB, hopefully the surplus will continue to grow or be there in able to bail out a county or two if required.

    Also interesting to note the reasoning behind Stanford, it needs to be remembered at the time he was also being backed by the WICB who were even deeper into Stanford's pocket.

    Its also interesting to note that the terrestrial channels aren't interested in showing test cricket, which is a shame as they could quite easily show it on BBC3 uninterrupted just like it did the commonwealth games.

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