Chief executive Payne says Northants are still in good shape

It has certainly been a long, frustrating and financially testing 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Northamptonshire County Cricket Club is going to come out the other side of things in pretty good shape.

By Jeremy Casey
Friday, 19th February 2021, 10:56 am
Afghanistan all-rounder Mohammad Nabi will play for the Steelbacks in the T20 Blast this summer
Afghanistan all-rounder Mohammad Nabi will play for the Steelbacks in the T20 Blast this summer

That is the belief of County chief executive Ray Payne, who has been at the forefront of guiding the club through the rocky waters that have been thrown up by Covid-19 over the past year.

The on-field issues that have hit the club have been pretty obvious, with the 2020 cricket season at first being delayed until August, and then all matches that were staged being played behind closed doors.

But the pandemic has hit Northants hard in other ways too, and in particular the off-field entertainment and hospitality that keep everything ticking along, particularly in the winter months.

Northants chief executive Ray Payne

Concerts have been postponed and cancelled, as well as scores of planned functions, and Payne admitted: “It has been really tough, and personally for me, hard to watch.

“We have built up the club, not only with the cricket, but also with its non-cricket activities with concerts, awards dinners and so on.

“That has very much been part of our group regrowth.

“So not only to see that side be closed for effectively a year, but also without the cricket and supporters it has been very tough in terms of monies coming in.

David Ripley has been able to piece together a strong squad for all formats of the game

“We are fortunate that the first lockdown occurred at our half-year, and we had at least some cash from the winter that we had accumulated to help us with the initial part of the summer.

“We then had to be very prudent with our spending and our costs, and we have seeked support where we can get it to enable us to continue to do our cricket business and prepare for 2021.”

And there does now appear to be a brightening light at the end of the tunnel.

The country is still in a national lockdown, but the vaccination programme appears to have been a success and is gathering momentum.

Virat Kohli will bring his India team to the County Ground for a four-day match against India A in July

The fixtures have been released for a full summer of cricket (see story on the right), and hopes are high that supporters will also be allowed back into grounds.

That is not a guarantee as yet though, so if things don’t go to plan how long can the club continue without letting in the paying public?

“That comes down to two factors,” said Payne. “One, we get income from the ECB and that is very much about the international programme, so as long as Team England can deliver, then that’s good.

"The ECB have fulfilled payments to date and as long that continues then we are good.

The gates have been locked on County Ground hospitality for nearly all of the past 12 months

“Then there is Government support for businesses that are closed, and we would hope that while they remain closed the Government will continue with that support.

“We generally cannot operate at all with the events business, the restaurants, weddings, and then not least of course there are no crowds for the cricket.

“I am confident that with those two (supports) in place we can continue, although it is not continuing as we know it.

“Training at the moment is in small groups, but the lads are keeping fit and have an end date in mind.

“We have the three-year arrangement with Singapore, but the pre-season tour this year is not going to happen, so we have rolled that on to 2022 and 2023.

“But we are out of debt as a club, and that was a huge target for both myself and our chairman Gavin Warren, who took on that role five years ago.

“We have removed the debt, we are cash positive, but we have to be very careful and we are very careful with our spend.”

One area of the club where the pandemic doesn’t seem to have hit is the playing group and recruitment.

Head coach David Ripley has been allowed to piece together what looks a very competitive squad for all formats of the game, with the headline winter signing the capture of Afghanistan all-rounder Mohammed Nabi for the Vitality Blast T20.

And Payne says the club were never going to let the playing side of the operation suffer.

“We had to believe this pandemic was temporary, and as a club we were always going to protect the playing staff, and protect the support staff,” said the County chief executive.

“We had to make sure that when we did come out of the pandemic that we came out competitive, and that no other team wanted to come to the County Ground.

“The overseas signing was a target, and I was delighted when Mohammad Nabi signed for us. It does show that these players see Northamptonshire as a real contender in the competition, and that he wanted to come and play here, and we have had for the past few years where we have gone after targets and got them.

“We also strengthened our squad towards the end of last season as well, with Simon Kerrigan and Tom Taylor joining us, so on that I have no worries at all.

“The only worry is they won’t be able to get out and play in front of crowds, which I know they want to, but I am sure they will do well.

“I am also looking forward to a full County Championship competition, and I will be fascinated to see how we get on.”

It has been an exciting amd encouraging couple of weeks at the County Ground, with the rebranding of the Steelbacks, season tickets going on sale for the new campaign, and also the announcement that the India Test team will be playing at Wantage Road this summer.

Virat Kohli’s side take on India A in a four-day game as part of their preparation for their Test series against England, and on the face of there is plenty to look forward to... provided we can see the back of this pandemic.

“It has been a struggle, but I think we will come out of it with our playing staff in place, and our preparations have been good,” said Payne.

“We have also done some improvements around the ground while we have been closed, and there are initiatives, such as the Steelbacks rebranding, which is one of two or three projects that will move the club forward.

“We also haven’t just sat idle, we have been working hard and moved things on, and we are just really looking forward to the return of cricket.”

And so say all of us!