Many club members, like me, have been arguing for a decade or more that it is the club’s management structure that is at fault , something that transcends personalities. MCC is, of course, a private members’ club and as such it can pretty much do what it likes within the laws of the land. And it does. The geriatric chummocracy is not new – it once governed world cricket but since those heady days it has been reduced to a more modest role. We should be grateful for small mercies.
Gerald Corbett is an amiable and pragmatic man whose arrival as Chairman many of us welcomed. If you think it’s a chummocracy now look at what went before! But Gerald has changed much less than we hoped and the secrecy which bedevilled the club’s governance throughout its long history remains. Last week a live “Webinar’ for members was held to which I and many others tuned in. But the transmission failed and we had to be content with watching a recording later. It was shambolic. We have not been told what went wrong other than that it was a “technical” problem. Which I think we could see for ourselves. But why did it happen, and isn’t a proper apology due?
On Gerald Corbett’s watch a running sore which he inherited has festered and is worse than it was. That is the relationship with the freeholder of the strip of land along the Wellington road which is on the Lord’s estate but in which MCC only has a leasehold interest. The resolution of this anomalous absurdity was certainly possible to the Club’s substantial financial advantage. But manoeuvring behind the scenes by the leadership, including Gerald, has meant that this is further away than ever. The Club’s current financial problems (well recorded previously in this newspaper) are such that the imperative to do a deal is stronger than ever but there are few signs that it will happen.
MCC is nominally governed by a Committee many (but not all) of whose members are chosen by ballot by the membership as a whole. In the past the chums then in charge attempted to get their preferred men in place by “starring” candidates they approved of on the ballot paper. This was fortunately stopped under Gerald’s chairmanship but not before the late Mark Williams, a distinguished and challenging (to the system) man in the world of cricket through his direction of the “Lord’s Taverners” , was voted off the committee because he wasn’t “starred” !
So it is the structure that is at fault and many of us have our own ideas as to how it could be improved. A much smaller, more professionally skilled management team would be my preference with a much less hands-on and less quasi-executive Chairman. The Club has an able Secretary/CEO in the young(ish) and impressive Guy Lavender – he needs better support and more personal authority to do his job. And above all the leadership needs to focus on what is by far its primary role – the management of the Lord’s estate containing one of World cricket’s most “iconic” grounds. And for heaven’s sake solve the Wellington road issue once and for all.
So though I understand what motivates those calling for Gerald Corbett’s defenestration, and sympathise to an extent with them, I think the solution is more radical. MCC is more than a business – though not as much more as it rather pompously sometimes thinks it is! And it needs to be run more as a business with the far greater openness to its stakeholders (not least its members) that modern businesses have to have. It needs to select people of ability to govern it rather than place trust in the randomness of Committee elections which often sees famous cricketers chosen ahead of people of proven business experience.
Lord’s is one of my favourite places and I consider myself fortunate to be able to enjoy it comfortably on Major match days. I’ll pay my substantial membership fee this year despite circumstances meaning that I will see no cricket 😥. But I don’t want to be taken for granted. I want to feel comfortable that the governance of the club and the processes and people that are in place are appropriate. There’s work to do.