Colin Graves’ 21-year era as Yorkshire’s major financial backer has ended in a bitter fallout with the club’s current regime.
The Costcutter founder, who has pulled out of the running to return as chairman, sparked an angry club response over a letter accusing the board of acting “negligently”.
Email correspondence in February led the businessman to believe he had an agreement with interim chair, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, to replace Lord Patel.
But he now believes the club was only preparing to offer him the role as a “last resort”. “As directors it appears that you may have acted negligently to the impending financial crisis that the club is facing,” he wrote in a letter to Grey Thompson, which has been seen by Telegraph Sport.
Yorkshire still owe about £15 million to the Colin Graves Trust and have been looking for external investment since January. Graves was understood to have reached an agreement with the trust, which is run by independent trustees, to extend repayment by another three years in return for him returning as chairman and putting the club on a secure financial footing.
However, as he effectively withdrew his offer, the club immediately accused him of making unfounded claims. Yorkshire said in a statement they were “disappointed” that Graves had gone public with his decision to withdraw his chairmanship application “and are obliged to make it absolutely clear that at no point did Colin make a clearly defined, tangible offer that the board was able to consider formally, unlike other interested parties”.
The row is just the latest of a series of bitter fallouts between current and former board members since the club was brought to its knees by the Azeem Rafiq racism furore.
In recent months, Graves had offered to underwrite the club with a personal guarantee in “extreme” circumstances. However, Telegraph Sport revealed last month that former Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley had entered the running alongside the owners of the Delhi Capitals IPL franchise and the Saudi national investment fund. A deal could be announced within the coming days.
‘Chairman of last resort’
Graves bailed out Yorkshire in 2002 and was executive chairman of the club between 2012-2015. He was chairman of the England & Wales Cricket Board between 2015 and 2020.
He planned to restructure Yorkshire as a business but believed it would not be necessary because he had the backing of investors willing to come on board with him. He offered to be chair for three years in an unpaid role but has now pulled out, believing he has been used as a backstop option by the board if they do not secure funding elsewhere.
“After five months of constant discussions, interviews, exchange of emails, it would appear that your board only require my services as chairman as a last resort. Other excellent candidates have been rejected, in a process that has proven to be arduous and disappointing to all who participated,” he said.
“You as a club approached me on the 9th January 2023 (via a director) asking me if I was interested in returning to YCCC as chairman. Since then I have outlined my positive approach to doing that role unpaid, and to save our great club from its impending financial crisis while respecting the confidentiality of our discussions you requested of me,” Graves writes in his email.
“I have gone through every process and interviews that you and Perrat Laver have established, providing everything that you required. For the last two months I have been told you would do a great job with your experience and knowledge of cricket and the club over the past 20 years, and that you personally looked forward to working with me.
“It would appear that your board is determined to obtain investment into the club from any outside source – other than using my offer to stabilise the club, and then to trade out of the difficult situation the previous chairman and your fellow directors have placed this members club in. As you know this was achieved before in 2002, when the club had no assets to utilise as collateral in its refinancing.”
However, as the extracts of the letter became public, Yorkshire attempted to pick apart Graves’s claims. The club said he had “indicated that the terms of his return would require total control of the board and executive” but that would run counter to their aim of “using a fair, thorough and robust process” to make the new chair appointment.
The club added: “Colin also makes a number of allegations about the board’s actions in regard to finances which are unfounded and indicate a distinct lack of understanding of the current position of YCCC.”
Yorkshire: ‘We will not be distracted’
One of Graves’s first acts would have been to conduct a cost review of the coaching and playing staff, cutting costs as necessary and he also guaranteed Yorkshire would remain a members club.
He also told the club he had a consortium of outside investors willing to put money into Yorkshire if he were appointed chairman. It is understood there was no opposition from the England & Wales Cricket Board to Graves returning to Yorkshire.
The Yorkshire board added: “We remain at a critical point in the future of Yorkshire County Cricket Club. The board is squarely focused on securing the financial security of the club and we are continuing the positive conversations around investment from various sources...The short and long-term financial well-being of the club remains the board’s priority, and we will not be distracted by speculation which is unhelpful to our primary objective of securing the future of Yorkshire County Cricket Club and making it a welcoming club for everyone”.