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SUSSEX CHAIRMAN, JIM MAY, REFLECTS ON OVER 20 YEARS AS A MEMBER OF THE CLUB HIERARCHY

CHRIS STONOR SPEAKS TO JIM MAY

Jim May came to prominence at Sussex CCC after being an integral part of the Members Rebellion in March 1997 at the Brighton Grand Hotel when the Club Committee were ousted at their AGM. After being elected to the Board his many years experience in the banking profession helped Sussex CCC transcend to a halcyon period of success. May was appointed club treasurer in 2006 and then elected as Sussex CCC Chairman two years later. Eight and a half years on, he is stepping down on March 28th at the club’s AGM.

How does it feel to be standing down after 20 years as a member of the club hierarchy?

I will miss not having a hand on the tiller and being involved in a variety of challenging situations. The club has a high profile with over 200,000 Facebook and 43,000 Twitter followers alongside more than 3,000 Members and around 250 affiliated Sussex cricket clubs; yet we have a small staff base. So, there is plenty of work to do at Hove. Fortunately, I’ve always been a mega-busy person. Also, I am lucky to be going at a time of my own choosing unlike several of my predecessors. I told the Board of my decision last March. 

What aren’t you going to miss as Chairman?

It is not easy running a cricket county. The constant expectations from supporters that we must win every session of play and every match, where there’s massive focus on results and the short-term. It is great when things are going well but tough when they’re not as passion can be exaggerated by social media. I was involved in the NHS where decisions can determine whether people live or die, which is more important, surely, than cricket where supporters can, on occasions, lose sight of an even keel.

How has the Sussex Chairman role changed during your eight-year stewardship?

The main area I focussed on was defining what the Executive and the Board’s responsibilities are. Previous Chairmen became occupied more on the day-to-day running. I made it clear we employed people like the CEO and Finance Director to make the decisions on Membership costs, and marketing, so they are held accountable. Meanwhile, the Board sets the policy, provides support and scrutinises what is going on without being immersed with the intricate detail.

Should the Chairman’s role become a paid job rather than its present voluntary position?

No, I believe it should remain voluntary. We’ve never had a shortage of people wanting to take on the role, although it is restrictive for those in full-time employment. The ethos of sport encourages volunteers, which is a good thing.

My primary feeling is the role should support more diversity. Presently, all 18 Chairmen are male. At Sussex we have four female trustees and another on the Board. I would like to see Chairwomen in county cricket. 

What have been your best moments when Chairman?

Apart from the trophy wins, the ground redevelopment was significant. During the last 30 years there had been at least two false starts; and to have it completed during business as usual was a remarkable achievement. In hindsight, the end result wasn’t perfect but the two primary drivers, Dave Brooks and Ian Waring, did an excellent job overseeing the project.

Long-term the creation of Sussex Cricket Ltd and working much closer with the recreational game is a proud accomplishment, where the recently-formed position ‘Director of Cricket’ is an important step forward. Partnering the ‘Aldridge Cricket Academy’ and being in the vanguard of the growth of Women’s cricket by opening the first female Academy is exciting.

Do you have one stand-out moment?

Winning the T20 tournament in 2009 and then for the Sussex side to travel to India and play in the Champions League was such a thrill. I was only one year into my Chairmanship. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go because of a health scare. Other stand-out moments include watching the youngsters come through the ranks. Amidst last season’s disappointment, to see players like Garton, Whittingham and Archer take their initial first-class wickets… I haven’t felt this excited about a new group of players since the days of Prior, Yardy and Kirtley.

And your worst?

Undoubtedly, these are personnel issues, the match-fixing in particular, alongside those surrounding Monty Panesar. Both were well handled by our former CEO, Zac Toumazi. I was proud the club kept these problems in-house. I believe, during my 20 years at the club, there has never been a leak to the media.

Re: The match fixing, one of our players blew the whistle but it took the authorities an age before the investigation took place. When the news did emerge it was a very challenging time for the club. Until then, I was quite naive about fixing games. I didn’t realise it happened in England. So, this was a wake-up call for myself and others. Since then, there has been an excellent educational programme for the cricketers and those running the game.

Meanwhile, relegation in 2015 was mega-disappointing, made worse by the fact we were leading Division One earlier in the season. The side did experience an unprecedented run of injuries but to be relegated by just two points… The majority of supporters were phlegmatic and steadfast; only a minority made some noise via social media and email.

The present hot topic surrounding county cricket is a proposed city-based T20 tournament - the Sussex Board voted against it last year - one of only three counties - where does the club now stand on the issue?

We’ve held a consistent view. While we are open-minded and flexible, when the original proposal came out it was very short of detail. After meeting with the ECB we suggested an option that included all 18 counties, but the Board machine pushed the merits of their preferred eight-team scheme. We were told our option was not supported.

Yet, the Club has always been pragmatic. We are part of an 18-county set-up and will bend to the consensus, although we must ensure the present T20 scheme is not ditched, where other cricket is played during the proposed city-based tournament time period. Given it’s the height of the summer, it would be wholly unacceptable for just eight teams to be playing.

The ECB have confirmed that each county will be paid £1.3m a year from the proceeds of the tournament over an initial five-year period, or £6.5m in total. Sussex have no debt and have already redeveloped their ground. Surely, this places the club in a strong position over other counties?

Of course the CBT money is important. It could be transformational. And I accept the tournament is more likely to happen than not.  But we must make sure that we don’t just accept this silver if all non-TMGs (Test match grounds) then become second division clubs and we are left with a group of elite super-counties. We don’t want Sussex to be regarded as second tier just because we are not an international ground. We have made proposals to the ECB to mitigate this risk which they have taken on-board.

Meanwhile, in other sports, where revenue has dramatically increased, much of it has gone into the pockets of the players and their agents, so salary caps become ever more important. Our CEO, Rob Andrew, is familiar with our stance and we can benefit from his past experience by learning from the mistakes of rugby as well as football.

Yet, in fairness, TMGs have major challenges too. They hold a lot of debt and there is growing concern that Test matches are losing their appeal. If a county’s future business model is based around hosting such games then financial problems may occur and why they view the CBT revenue as being so crucial.

Before you became Chairman did you already hold ambitions for growing the Club’s off-field business?

I wanted to build a 12-month revenue stream as the ground was barely used during the winter.  Certainly, things have moved on over the last eight years. When we unveiled Rob Andrew last November, we couldn’t find anywhere in the ground to hold the media event as all the rooms were hired to outside businesses. In the end, we jammed him into the ‘Long Room’ just before a luncheon booking.

How are the off-field activities progressing?

It’s all change on this front. David Bowden is stepping down from the Club Presidency as well as his Chairmanship of the ‘Sussex Cricket Foundation’ (SCF). Sadly, Tim Shutt has recently left the club after being MD of the SCF. I am standing down; Rob Andrew has just become the new CEO…

Our problem is: by chasing this wider agenda some supporters criticise us for having our eye off the ball if there isn’t success on the field. Therefore, we must balance the short term with the long as most supporters judge us on winning trophies, which I understand and accept. And success on the field helps us with our plans for the recreational game as the professional side is the beacon and magnet. If we can get that right we will attract more affiliated cricket clubs. It becomes a virtual circle where building a sustainable base is vital.

 

You said to me when I first interviewed you in 2012 that before stepping down as Chairman you wanted to place the club on a stronger financial footing - what went wrong?

I admit it has been challenging. We chose to invest a majority of Spen Cama’s legacy into ground infrastructure which arguably is now the best non-TMG venue in the country. We are presently gaining that investment back from increasing rental, catering and hospitality revenue. I believe the club has spent the legacy wisely. But pro-cricket costs have increased and we are receiving less money from the ECB via performance related payments. For example, Matt Prior, before his career-ending injury, secured significant amounts of money for us; and that is why it is so important we nurture our own youngsters and see them play for England.

And what of your future?

I plan to be an ambassador as well as continuing to be an unpaid club salesman. I am forever promoting Sussex CCC where a particular enthusiasm is applying cricket for social good. If I can do anything with my network of contacts and get more bodies involved with the club, I will.

Meanwhile, I am a professional optimist and as each season begins I always believe in the best for Sussex. And this new season is no different. The winter recruitment has been the finest since I can remember. We have an excellent balance between youth and experience and with an injury-free Luke Wright leading the team, I fully expect Sussex to do well. 

And finally, what do you feel is your legacy - the off-field expansion?

Yes, but it is a joint legacy. The Board had a vision - I simply helped implement it. When I first joined the club there were no computers, no T20, no social media. My first ambition was to see Sussex actually win something and not remain the eternal bridesmaid. We then had a magnificent 10 years of success. The real achievement was the integration of the professional and recreational bodies into Sussex Cricket in 2015. I am confident this will ensure we have a sustainable future.

A primary passion left is to help create opportunities for those from under-privileged backgrounds. I sold the idea of a state school cricket centre of excellence to Sir Rod Aldridge who was generous in his backing. So, an ambition of mine is to see people from East Brighton, both male and female, via the Academy, not only play for Sussex but also England. Now that really would be something.

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