December 11, 2007

Eight ideas for President Brearley

Some suggestions for the keepers of Lord's

Less starch, please: MCC needs to relax its rules on formal clothing, and unbutton in a lot of other ways as well © AFP

MCC, the world's most famous and influential cricket club, the institution in charge of both Lord's and the laws, has a new president. It is a former England captain who, when he goes to Lord's, seldom wears a tie, tends to sit among the press rather than the members, and can be relied on to question received wisdom. Oh, and he is a practising psychoanalyst. Yes, it's Mike Brearley.

This is the most radical move MCC has made since the late nineties, when it commissioned a new media centre that looked like a spaceship. Brearley has already said, in an interview with Mike Atherton in the Sunday Telegraph, that he wants to scrap the rule that requires members to wear a jacket and tie (or similarly formal garb for women) in the pavilion. To the outsider it has been clear for years that this was a ridiculous rule. Not even churchgoers feel obliged to wear a tie in 2007. Cricket-loving gentlemen are welcome to wear one if they wish, but forcing them smacks of stuffiness.

Brearley is also talking about keeping some tickets back to offer them for sale, at lower prices, on the day, as the National Theatre does, and encouraging the club to make more pronouncements. These are both good ideas too. The sermonising might come better from the MCC world cricket committee, on which both Brearley and Atherton sit, than from the club itself, but the important thing is that it should use its independence and good name to act as the game's conscience. With the national boards and the ICC all leaning too far towards the money-making side of their task, there's certainly a vacancy.

Brearley has made a bright start, just as you would expect from a clever, thoughtful, non-conformist character. But there are plenty more things MCC could be doing. Here are eight suggestions for his in-tray.

1 Put up another scoreboard - facing outwards
MCC's biggest weakness is its exclusivity. Clubs are entitled to be exclusive, but major sporting institutions are not. And MCC's exclusivity is written all over the face it turns to the outside world. Its walls are drab, lifeless, and have nothing to say about cricket. There is a captive audience trundling past, on the bus to school or in the 4x4s taking kids to the (equally exclusive) private schools of NW3. They should be able to see the score, and pictures of the players, and posters advertising upcoming matches. At the moment all they get is the odd poster, apparently designed and written in 1957, listing all the things they can't do in the unlikely event that they set foot in the grounds. Apologies if you've heard me say this before; I first made the point in 2003, and may have to make it a few more times before something gets done.

2 Reduce prices for children
This year I took my nine-year-old daughter to a Test match. I wanted to give her a taste of it and see it through her eyes, as I was writing a guide to cricket for children. It was teatime, and her ticket cost £20. A full day would have been too much for her, yet the pricing blithely asumed that kids would put in a full day. MCC should be making it easier to take kids in for a short time for less money: £10 a session, say. They could call the scheme Test Match Taster, and market it.

3 Give the museum more space
The museum has some great things in it, from the sparrow killed by a ball to the copy of Wisden that survived the Japanese Prisoner of War camps, but it's cramped, fusty and confusing. It needs to be re-housed in three times as much space, with clear, sparky, engaging signposting. This isn't asking very much: certain temporary exhibitions in the museum, like the one last year of Patrick Eagar's photos, were very well presented.

4 Have an honours board outside
Players talk about the Lord's honours board - which they can reach with a hundred or five-for - more and more. But it's in the dressing room. There is a copy in the tiny cinema at the back of the museum, but there needs to be one in full public view, and the public need to be able to see the engraver at work as soon as these great feats are achieved.

The can't-do attitude that glares out of the outside walls of Lord's also flourishes in the breasts of some of the stewards, who treat paying customers with something between suspicion and contempt

5 Let the stewards be more flexible
The can't-do attitude that glares out of the outside walls of Lord's also flourishes in the breasts of some of the stewards, who treat paying customers with something between suspicion and contempt. MCC's energetic new chief executive, Keith Bradshaw, should be giving them a pep talk on major match days and stressing the need to be helpful, to apply common sense, and to be flexible. It's not a crime if a punter from one stand wants to go and sit in another to chat to a mate for half an hour. Let him. It's a long day: it needs to be organised with humanity.

6 Allow members to hand down their membership
Because people are living longer, and MCC has a daunting waiting list, the 18,000-strong membership has grown old. The last time we heard about their average age, it was 57. Sometimes as you walk past the pavilion, it seems even higher. In an ageist world it's good to see older people getting a warm welcome, but the balance has tipped too far in that direction. And quite a few of the members are old gents who make it to the ground once a year, if that. One way of refreshing the membership would be to encourage them to make a sort of living bequest, handing on their membership to the person of their choice who is already on the waiting list - son, nephew, even daughter or niece. As a thank-you, they could retain a sort of emeritus-member status, with the right to drop by for one match day a year.

7 Let the kids meet the players
There's a lot of space at the Nursery End, and a lot of time before, during and after a day's play; plus, at any time, several of the players are twiddling their thumbs (literally, if they have their PlayStations with them) in the dressing room. Let's make use of these assets. If England are batting and Alastair Cook has been out, he should do a lunchtime autograph session. And not just when he puts his name to the inevitable ghosted autobiography.

8 Upgrade the logo
For such an elegant ground, Lord's has a clunky logo, in which the downstroke of the L turns into a set of stumps. If the place is going to have a logo, it should be a stylish one.

Tim de Lisle is the author of Young Wisden (reviewed here) and a former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly. His website is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Simon on December 12, 2007, 14:43 GMT

    I'm a Lord's steward, and take umbrage to some of the frankly inaccurate and ill-informed comments by both this beat-up job's author and those replying. There are very valid reasons for not allowing seat hopping and mobile phones, the walls around the ground are protected and thus cannot be adorned with pretty pictures. Players have complained about people moving in the stands so we have to be vigilant ... Also cannot believe someone who knows the game so well would advocate players, in the middle of a mentally and physically exhausting 5 day challenge, pop out and play backyard cricket with millions of kids - as professional sportsmen they need to retain focus, and signing autographs will certainly not help that.

  • John on December 12, 2007, 11:27 GMT

    A collection of reasonably sensible suggestions peppered with a couple of insane suggestions: for someone who clearly believes that he is terribly modern (i.e. he wants a new logo - perhaps there should be a mission statement too), is this gentleman really suggesting that the only way to get membership of the MCC would be to befriend an MCC member who is close to death? I am sure that the MCC membership is much wiser than the majority of people seem to think and would therefore support an outward facing scoreboard (if only so that they can check the score earlier when they're late to the ground) and to reduce prices for children but that they would be intelligent enough to work out that ensuring that nepotism is the main criterion for membership would be absurd.

  • Mark on December 12, 2007, 5:51 GMT

    Thank God for the MCG. We too in Melbourne have the old-fashioned, restricting, complaining old members establishment that takes up too much of the MCG's capacity, but someone was wise enough to put 70,000 other seats in for the 'general' public. Lord's should open itself up to the 'general' public more. How will I get a seat there in 2009 when Australia smashes the Poms at Lords for the millionth time? Let more people in to enjoy this great game before it dies because of out-dated 'tradition'. Let all of the barmy army in to give cricket crowds much needed atmosphere. Go eat your sandwiches with the crust cut-off somewhere else.

  • Matthew on December 12, 2007, 1:37 GMT

    Speaking of the stewards I would like to see them be slightly more lax, particularly on the use of mobile phones. It seems ridiculous to me that you're strictly forbidden from using your phone in the stands, sure you're there to watch the match but what are they going to do next, ban people from reading newspapers too?

    Also a very good point on the prices, I'd like to see an overall reduction though rather than just for kids. Last summer I was delighted to be able to go and watch the third day of the Sri Lanka test for just £10. It was my first ever visit to Lord's and a test match and I was so enthralled by the place that I actually became a Middlesex member the very next week. However this year, now classed as an adult, £65 to see the worst Windies team in years? Somehow I think I'll pass, like I suspect many other potential punters would/did and it truly is a great shame to see people of lower incomes priced out of such a wonderful experience as a Lord's test.

  • Oliver on December 11, 2007, 19:07 GMT

    the ground?

    I agree the Logo is rather poor, and to be honest I wouldn't want to buy something with it emblasoned on it.

    The handing down of memberships is an interesting idea. However, personally I don't agree with it. Surely that makes it an even more exclusive club?! If you look at places like the Hurlingham Club where members' children are given priority for membership the subsequent waiting list time for other potential candidates increases massively. It would not be inconceivable for the waiting list to return to the wait of the 1930s, where it was at the 30 year mark! I think more emphasis should be put on encouraging young promising cricketers to apply for playing membership though, where one can become a full member in 2 years. So in that sense becoming a member at the age of 20ish is not such a hard feat!

    The issue of the museum is one that is already being considered, and especially allowing access to it from outside the ground.

  • Oliver on December 11, 2007, 19:02 GMT

    As an MCC member, I can say I'm more than happy with the dress code. I mean without the tie, how would one tell an MCC member, and I can tell you traveling on the Tube with on is very funny, certainly makes people turn their heads.

    As to the issue of tickets. It has been mentioned in a comment, that the ballot is open at the moment for tickets, that is correct, and it was mentioned how this is very early to actually know what days you'll be able to attend. For members there is obviously not an issue, in the sense they can go to all days cricket, however to buy guest tickets this still has to be done months in advance (the 7th ODI this year sold out in June).

    I think the stewards have improved no end at the ground. I'm not sure why Tim would want people to be able to go into stands that they haven't got tickets for. I know I wouldn't be best pleased to return to my seat to find someone else sitting in it! Surely one of the best features at Lords is there are so many spaces around the

  • Dean on December 11, 2007, 16:25 GMT

    Coming out of the St John's Wood Tube Station and following the signs to Lords is an absolute thrill. To see the media centre glaring over the historic ground for the first time is, in a word, unforgettable.

    I would tend to agree with Tim on the fact that ticket prices and sales are a bit unfair. For non members, you are required to register for tickets well in advance of the match (registration for the South African and New Zealand series in July 2008 have been open for a while). If you are lucky enough to be allocated a ticket, the chepaest will set you back £60.00 (as a South African fan who watches his cricket at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, you would expect to pay antwhere between £2 and £8). Watching a Lords test has become a "Once in a Lifetime" oppertunity for many cricket fans around the world, and one can't help thinking why the SCG is not crowned the Home Of Cricket... is was after all where the First Test Match was played all those years ago...

  • gavan on December 11, 2007, 13:59 GMT

    I think the best way to make Lord's more user friendly would be an INCREASE in the rule requiring certain dress codes, so that it covered all spectators not just the members seated in the Pavillion Stand. This change would, in all likelihood, result in preventing attendance by the 'Barmy Army'. I believe their would be a huge collective sigh of relief by the many cricket lovers whose day out is so often spoiled by the witless behaviour of this section of England's supporters. If this policy was extende to all cricket grounds, so much the better. I should say that I am not a member of MCC, nor some reactionary old fogey, I am in my thirties and ,like many others of all ages, do not think that the longing for a pleasant cricket watching experience makes me a killjoy.

  • Raja on December 11, 2007, 5:21 GMT

    As someone who visited the Lords on an off day in summer, just to take a look at the grounds and the museum, in between trans atlantic flights, I could not agree more on the attitude of the stewards, one of whom was taking us around the ground. His entire focus seemed to be towards making the Asian contingent (majority of the visitors) feel that they did not belong there/ did not matter. Ironically, Dalmia was the head of ICC at that time, and this guy was quite hilarious in his reaction to Dalmia occupying that position. What was to be a pleasant experience was somewhat spoiled by this person's demeanour. To take the cake, he had no idea of where Gavaskar's skull cap was in the Musuem, and too busy talking of Ashes memorabilia. Came away with a sense of an organization caught in a time warp

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