Yorkshire chief Mark Arthur confident packed stadiums will return in time for Roses clash at Scarborough

Yorkshire County Cricket Club's chief executive Mark Arthur believes that spectators will be allowed back into cricket grounds from the start of next season.

Thursday, 21st January 2021, 9:52 am
Updated Thursday, 21st January 2021, 9:56 am
Mark Arthur believes that spectators will be allowed back into cricket grounds from the start of next season

The Yorkshire chief executive is confident that the rules will be relaxed sufficiently to enable the phased return of crowds from April.

Arthur is optimistic that full crowds will be possible from July – a timeframe that would be especially good for Scarborough, which is set to host a money-spinning County Championship Roses match when Yorkshire take on Lancashire from July 11.

It will be the first Championship Roses game at North Marine Road for 30 years, with Scarborough having predicted that the fixture could generate £300,000-£400,000 in income and attract crowds of around 7,000 per day.

Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur

The whole of the 2020 county season – which did not start until August 1 – was played behind closed doors, meaning that Yorkshire fans have not been able to watch their side in the flesh since September, 2019.

But Arthur is sanguine about the chances of crowds from the get-go, with Yorkshire’s Championship campaign starting on April 8 when they face Glamorgan at Emerald Headingley.

“I would expect socially-distanced crowds at cricket for April and May, and a limit on the number of people that will be allowed inside Emerald Headingley, for example, during that period,” he said.

“I would expect that number to increase in June as more and more people are vaccinated – although by what percentage that number will rise, I wouldn’t know, and we will obviously adhere to whatever the government advice is and we won’t be taking any risk with our customers.

“But then I think we’re all hopeful that from July onwards, provided we get the green light from the government, that full crowds will be allowable once more. That is certainly my hope at this stage.”

Yorkshire are already selling memberships and T20 season tickets.

The club’s international tickets are selling like hot cakes; there is only limited availability for the India Test match in August, while the T20 international against Pakistan is already sold out apart from hospitality.

Although matters are grim in the midst of a third lockdown, Arthur has a glass half-full mentality moving towards Spring.

He said there had been no thought of reverting to a regional fixture model, which was how Championship cricket was able to proceed in the guise of the Bob Willis Trophy, and he stressed the importance of fans returning to the country’s grounds.

“I think whatever the sport is – and that whilst to a certain extent we’ve got used to watching high-class sport on television without any fans in the grounds – the importance of fans really speaks for itself,” he said.

“All the players and people such as myself involved in the game of cricket, for example, recognise the very real value of having spectators at our events, and that’s not meant in terms of cash; that’s in terms of creating the atmosphere.

“You only have to look at football and the game between Liverpool and Manchester United the other day as a case in point.

“Can you imagine the noise that there would have been inside Anfield under normal circumstances, had a crowd been permitted, and I’m sure it would have been a much better game of football too.”

Yorkshire’s members will simply be glad to attend any county cricket next season after the problems of 2020 – especially that Roses contest at North Marine Road.

It comes in the final round of the new-look Championship group stage before the competition takes a mid-summer break for white-ball action.

For this season only, pending a review later in the year, the 18 counties are split into three groups of six based on a hybrid of their finishing position in the 2019 Championship, their performance in last year’s Bob Willis Trophy, and with an element of local derby flexibility thrown in.

Yorkshire are in group three along with Glamorgan, Kent, Lancashire, Northamptonshire and Sussex, with each team playing the other home and away in an initial 10-match group stage.

After the white-ball tournaments, the counties will then be arranged into three new divisions of six based on their finishing positions in the Championship group stage.

The top two sides in each group will go into Division One, the third and fourth-placed teams into Division Two, and the fifth and sixth-placed sides into Division Three.

Clubs will then play a further four games – one apiece against the respective teams from the other groups, avoiding their opponents from the group stage.

The Division One winners will be crowned county champions and will then play off against the Division One runners-up in a five-day final at Lord’s from September 27 for the Bob Willis Trophy.

By then, the hope is that full crowds at grounds will be as familiar as the thwack of leather on willow, a heartwarming thought.