‘I love Lord’s, but its walls look like a prison’ – Gower fronts ambitious ground ownership scheme

England


David Gower, the former England captain, insists that his aim is to be a “good neighbour” to MCC, the owners of Lord’s, after being unveiled as the public face of a consortium that is offering members of the public an opportunity to own parcels of land at the Nursery End of the ground – the scene of numerous development battles in the ground’s recent history.

Gower unveiled the New Commonwealth consortium alongside Keith Bradshaw, the former MCC chief executive, at a breakfast meeting in St John’s Wood on Wednesday. Allan Lamb, his former England team-mate, was also in attendance, while other grandees of the game, including Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd, are also believed to be supportive of the scheme.

The radical venture comes as a direct consequence of the vote in September, by the 18,000 members of MCC, to reject ambitious plans for a complete overhaul of the ground and instead press on with their own GBP194 million “MCC Masterplan”, funded from the club’s own resources.

The alternative “Morley Plan” would have involved collaboration with Charles Rifkind, the property developer whose purchase, in 1999, of a 999-year lease on the disused tunnels beneath the Nursery End of the ground, effectively denied MCC an outright say in the future of their ground.

MCC does still own the leasehold on the top 18 inches of land at that end of Lord’s, but the club members baulked – by an overwhelming 90% majority – at Rifkind’s desire to fund a complete overhaul of the venue through the erection of two blocks of flats alongside the Wellington Road.

That vote might have been assumed to be the end of the saga. However, Rifkind’s decision to now sell off GBP500 shares, through the use of Blockchain technology, means that the debate will rumble on.

Furthermore, the return of Bradshaw to the fray will add an extra layer of intrigue, given that he stood down from the MCC in 2011 in frustration at his ambitious “Vision for Lord’s” being kiboshed by the then-chairman Oliver Stocken.

As SACA chief executive, Bradshaw has since gone on to oversee an even more ambitious redevelopment of the Adelaide Oval, which this winter played host to the first day-night Ashes Test – another concept that he championed during his five-year tenure at MCC.

“We love Lord’s, but it is generally accepted that the stands are becoming tired, the facilities are tired and need some redevelopment. That requires money, and the Vision for Lord’s was one of the plans that was looked at,” Bradshaw told ESPNcricinfo.

“The MCC and members made a decision not to go down that path and I would say we accept the umpire’s decision – there’s no DRS – and we move on.

“The lease is for 120 years and if there’s no development on that piece of land and no agreement between MCC and New Commonwealth, then that land will revert back to the people who today acquire a piece of that land.

“Millions and millions of people around the world have an emotional attachment to Lord’s,” he added. “Well, now they can go beyond an emotional attachment and have a financial attachment.”

Gower, who scored two Test centuries at Lord’s in 17 appearances, was an outspoken advocate of Rifkind’s plan prior to the September vote, and says that the need to reinvigorate the look and feel of his favourite Test venue is the overwhelming reason for his involvement.

“Before the vote in September I was quite vocal about what I saw as an opportunity to make the place look better,” Gower told ESPNcricinfo.

“I still say that perimeter wall on the Wellington Road and St John’s Wood Road looks like a prison wall. It doesn’t look like something outside the most iconic cricket ground in the world. If they had opted to do something with it at that stage, it could have been a fantastic frontispiece.

“That strip of land at the end has had a million hours of conversation about it. We’ve seen what happened with the club in September when the vote was to leave it as it is. They don’t want to develop it and we respect that.

“So what we are doing now is saying ‘shall we get some fun out of that land, get some good use out of that land, offer it to people to have a stake in that land?’ Why not?

“It’s a glorious ground with a glorious history. I can honestly say I’ve got some very good memories of playing out there, and some downright appalling ones.

“Lord’s is iconic in the world of sport. It’s a wonderful place but it needs some TLC to regain its status as the No.1 ground in the world, because there are grounds around the world – Adelaide for one, where they are doing wonderful things to improve facilities.

“We want to be good neighbours to the MCC. This is not about confrontation in any shape or form, it’s about making good use of a valuable piece of real estate.

“We’re not anti-Lord’s, we’re not anti MCC. I’m a proud member of MCC. This is done if anything for love.”



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