What is the Point of MCC?
This question was asked by Quentin Letts on BBC Radio 4 and the topic was broadcast on 24 August 2010. The fact that he himself did not know whether the Club was resisting the economic and global forces of modernity or leading the charge of change was in itself a telling admission. Although this listener was not a dispassionate observer, the programme was disappointing inasmuch as the question remained unanswered at the end.
A Naked Emperor
I will attempt to remedy the situation as the question is a good one and needs specialist knowledge to answer. None of the contributors, who ranged from past Captains of the England male and female XI’s to an American journalist, were able to do so and it could be said that MCC has been left without any clothes ever since it was forced to hand over the government of our national game to the Test and County Cricket Board in 1970. However, MCC owns Lords and the Laws of Cricket. If nothing else it remains the conscience of cricket and the trustee and guardian of the best interests and finest traditions of English Cricket. Lords is most certainly a hallowed cricket ground that is revered by the nation.
Loss of the Amateur Spirit in Cricket
At a time of burgeoning commercialisation within the ranks of nearly all our national games, cricket is in need of an urgent injection of the good old fashioned amateur spirit which the MCC has historically provided. The MCC has the biggest Fixture List of any club in the UK and has a long history of generously funding the grass roots game at both school and club level. No club is better placed to play a formal role in nurturing our national sport up to U16 level. Cricket is long recognised as a civilising influence on society and the celebrated historian George Trevelyan once wrote that if the French nobility had only played cricket with their servants they would not have had their chateaux burnt!
The Problem Facing MCC
The public perception of the MCC remains one of a very well entrenched Old Boy Network of Colonel Blimps and the privileged few. The Club kicked and screamed against female membership and resists the radical makeover it so badly needs. It is the future welfare of our national game that matters most and not the arrogant whiff of social airs and graces.
The Rules of the Club are arcane and to the outside observer a classic example of a closed shop. There are no express purposes clearly articulated or published and no evidence of the traditional responsibilities being exercised by today’s 3 Trustees. Indeed the office of a Trustee at Lords today would be better described as a sinecure for past Committee members. – a long service medal if you like. The total control of MCC is assumed by a small number of office holders and Committee members resembling a cabal. MCC today would be best described as an oligarchy and remains as an overhang from the bygone days when the Club Officers were composed of a small group of very powerful and influential aristocrats who were public spirited and altruistic. The five original Trustees of 1865 were the Earl of Dudley, the Earl of Sefton, the Hon Henry Ponsonby, William Nicholson (who provided the money to purchase the freehold at Lords) and Robert Broughton a City Lawyer, all of whom were obsessed with the game of Cricket. They were given the responsibility of ensuring that Lords remained for “the enjoyment of MCC Members and their successors forever”. In addition to the Laws of Cricket, the Club was responsible for the whole concept of Test Match Cricket and of course the Ashes. It had a vested interest in proving that it was world class and could field a national team at Lords capable of beating all comers whatever the cost. How times have changed.
Today the Club suffers from a lack of leadership and direction, personal conflicts of interest within the Club and what is a conflicted interest with the ECB itself. Ther is a strong smell of nepotism.
The downhill path began when Sir George “Gubby” Allen resigned from the Cricket Council in 1983. It is worth quoting the journalist Geoffrey Moorhouse who wrote an excellent book on Lords at the time –
“Hardly any differences of opinion exist between MCC Committee and the TCCB on major issues affecting the conduct and playing of Cricket. They share the same stance on a whole range of cricketing matters. So frequently are individuals to be found with one foot placed firmly in each camp, that it is rather difficult to avoid the suspicion that the long debate has not really been about the ideal structure of administration at all. It may have been about that primitive past time of human beings jostling for power.”
Nothing has changed at Lords except the TCCB has been replaced by the English Cricket Board and further unpleasant ingredients are apparent – jealousy, envy and spite towards the MCC based upon the fact that the ECB enjoys no equity. or substance.
The Ground Development Debate
Sir John Major and Lord Grabiner have recently highlighted what they consider to be inadequacies in the management of MCC that need to be remedied. The ingredients of this dispute can be accessed at http://www.channel4.com/news/critics-hit-out-at-mcc-over-shelved-plans-for-lords
Edited NJK 10 June 2020