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Jim Cumbes: The Big Interview

David McCourt finds the boss of LCCC in buoyant mood

Published on October 17th 2011.


Jim Cumbes: The Big Interview

LANCASHIRE County Cricket club have been grabbing headlines of late, but not all with a bat and ball. Whilst the club wrestled with developer Derwent Holdings over plans for their Old Trafford ground, the playing budget was forced on a diet. 

Yet remarkably, with a squad of just 17 players, many of which were youth academy graduates, and only one international player, Lancashire managed to win their first outright county championship for seventy seven years. 

“It seemed clear that nothing we could say was going to budge him from where he was. We were told he was a stubborn old chap who had never lost a litigation case – so I guess that’s another notable victory,” smiled Cumbes. 

Chief executive Jim Cumbes seemed understandably cheery as we met in a small quiet corner office at Old Trafford. Cumbes enjoyed spreading the good news with Manchester Confidential – even if there was an element of luck in the long awaited on-field victory. 

“Although a lot of the press have said we won it because we’ve been playing at Liverpool and a lot of the out-grounds where there is better weather, in actual fact, it’s because the weather has been kinder to us throughout the region and country this year than it has in a long time,” said Cumbes. 

Had we met under different, and once very possible circumstances his mood may have been more sombre. Lancashire could have been lifting the county championship trophy in Wigan. 

“We might have been looking at a very bleak future hadn’t we won the re-development case,” Cumbes said. 

Plans to re-develop Old Trafford into an ground worthy of hosting an Ashes test match in 2013 were met with opposition from Albert Gubay’s company Derwent holdings, owner of the nearby White City retail park. 

In December last year Derwent Holdings called for a Judicial Review into the £70m scheme to redevelop Lancashire County Cricket Club and the surrounding area. The scheme had attracted controversy through the partnership of the club with Trafford Council and Tesco – with Tesco funding coming to the club through the conduit of Trafford Metropolitan Council.

The reason behind the Derwent move was that they had acquired the nearby White City Retail Park and wanted to maximise returns there without proposed Tesco threatening their own plan to bring Sainsburys to White City. Derwent continued with the action even when Sainsburys indicated it didn't want to come. 

What was really crippling the club though, was the amount of time and money it took to resolve this problem. The whole thing had cost more than £4m - largely down to legal challenges and planning costs. Lancashire had also lost a £2m grant from the North West Development Agency (MWDA) as a result of time delays. 

Cumbes confirmed that, during the early stages of the seven-year battle, the club had looked at going elsewhere. East Manchester and Wigan were options and Cumbes admitted: “Certainly Wigan was really viable. I though it was quite an attractive option at the time.” 

But people’s hearts were in Old Trafford. “It’s a great brand name, half of the world know it as a football club and the other half knows it as a cricket club, so I suppose the heart was wanting to remain in Old Trafford but we knew that was going to be difficult. It is always difficult when you try to re-build an old ground.” 

Cumbes insists he remained confident throughout the procedure. 

“I always thought that once we’d got the planning, we were always going to win the case. But we got to a stage were we were just puzzled as to why we were being challenged.” 

The Secretary of State had looked at the case three times and not called it in, Derwent Holdings had lost their appeal against planning at White City, and then they lost the judicial review, and yet still Lancashire were being challenged. 

“It was frustration for us more than anything else,” Cumbes said. 

Cumbes never met Albert Gubay face to face. “The only people we ever dealt with were the people at his company (Derwent Holdings) who weren’t particularly pleasant to deal with I have to say,” he explained, and even discussed with the chairman about going over to see tax exile Gubay in the Isle of Man. 

“It seemed clear that nothing we could say was going to budge him from where he was. We were told he was a stubborn old chap who had never lost a litigation case – so I guess that’s another notable victory,” smiled Cumbes. 

These complications with planning and finances meant that Lancashire had the smallest squad they’ve ever had last season – just 17 players – many of whom were promoted from the youth team to make up the numbers. However, this meant that the pressure was off, and Cumbes believes the players benefitted as a result.

“A lot of the players came without any baggage. They didn’t have this millstone hanging round their neck like previous players have had – nobody was asking how long is it going to be before you win the championship.” 

Coach Peter Moores got a keen bunch playing for each other at Lancashire last season, and a never-say-die attitude began to surround a team that already felt somewhat like underdogs. 

“We won a lot of matches you would of thought we weren’t going to win, and the team gained confidence from that,” Cumbes said. 

The future looks bright for Lancashire with so many young cricketers on their hands, but the problem they now face is keeping the squad together. The worry for Cumbes is that some of these players have the potential to develop into England players, and that’s when you lose them. 

“It’s not like years ago when at least they’d play half of the matches in a season. Now you are lucky if you get the internationals once or twice a season.” He said. 

Cumbes remains upbeat about the future of Lancashire cricket though, and there’s a sense of pride in his voice when he explains that last seasons’ youngsters are more than just a fortunate generation. 

“We have brought a lot of these youngsters on ourselves through the youth academy and the system here so I suppose we just have to keep producing these players until such time comes when England can’t take everybody.” 

Cumbes tipped Tom Smith, Stephen Cross and Paul Horton as possible predecessors to inevitable forthcoming retirement of Glen Chapple, and hopes that one of the three will be groomed under the experienced captain. 

Cumbes for West BromCumbes for West BromCumbes himself was a professional footballer - as well as playing first-class cricket for four counties – and kept goal for Aston Villa, West Bromwich and Tranmere Rovers throughout a career which involved facing both Pele and George Best. 

“If I had to put one marginally above the other, I would have to say George Best,” said Cumbes. “He was just an incredible player who could change a game in the blink of eye. Pele was a very fine player don’t get me wrong, but the conditions Best played under, and the number of games he played a year, over here in England, I think puts him just ahead of Pele.” 

The ex-pro also gave his thoughts on the two young goalkeepers playing in Manchester at the moment. 

He said: “Joe Hart is a very fine goalkeeper, he’s possible the best goalkeeper in the country at the moment. David De Gea I’ve not seen enough of, but clearly if you are an international and you cost £18m must be good. I thought the press were quite harsh on him on a couple of occasions.” 

Cumbes remembers when Pete Schmeichel came to Old Trafford and he had a very similar start, the press were on his back, and then “he became the best goalkeeper in the country, if not one of the best in the world.” 

For now though, anticipation is already beginning to build towards the Ashes match at Old Trafford in 2013, but Cumbes believes it will have to be a cracker to match the last Ashes test there. 

“We had a fantastic match here in 2005, which came within a wicket of England winning it, that’ll never be repeated that series I don’t think - that was a very special series.” 

Cumbes smiles at this. He’s man with a ready smile, and easy charm. A likeable chap well over six feet tall with a spare frame as befits an ex-goalie.

He’s happy right now. His cricket club is on the up, they’re winners. Not only have they beaten the other teams in the league but also a tax-exile on the Isle of Man with a big chip on his shoulder.

Shpl2571

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AnonymousOctober 17th 2011.

The final piece in the mancon puzzle, now I don't need to look at the MEN website at all. More sport please....

LiamOctober 21st 2011.

Another very well written article. Agree with above poster, more sport please.

AnonymousOctober 25th 2011.

Well written article, more local sports please

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