Daily Telegraph

HAMPSHIRE will become the first county cricket club to be listed on the Stock Market. This is planned for next year and will probably come on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM), the same market that lists a number of football clubs, most notably Chelsea.

The flotation will mean a tremendous turnaround in Hampshire’s fortunes. Less than six months ago the project to move to a new ground, the Rose Bowl, looked doomed. The money had run out and there was a deficit of £10 million. Since then, led by Rod Bransgrove, who made his fortune in pharmaceuticals but now runs a quoted entertainment company, Hampshire are ready to welcome the new season and take the first step to becoming the Manchester United of cricket.

Having grown up near the Oval, where he played his junior cricket, Bransgrove, 50, still has Surrey close to his heart and he also supports Tottenham. He moved to Hampshire only in 1986 and last year he was voted on to the committee by members anxious about what was happening to their club. He became chairman in October and that is when he realised the dire prospects faced by the county.

“I always suspected that there was a problem,” he told me. “I was surprised by the scale of the problem that emerged at the end of last year. The project to build a new ground went wrong because we ran out of money. We had well-intentioned people but it did not work. They could not get it together. It was too big a task.”

Even before he became chairman Bransgrove had made it clear that funds would be made available, but when he became aware of the scale of the problem, he “did an investigation with some of the members of the committee and decided on the course of action”.

The action means that Hampshire’s flotation will come in a number of stages. On March 26 Hampshire will hold their annual general meeting. Then 14 or 28 days after that there will be another meeting to approve plans for converting the club, which is at present a friendly society, into a limited company.

Bransgrove will then underwrite the private placing of shares, having made available £4 million for this. This means that if nobody takes up the shares he will take them up himself. He has also brought in another £1 million from donors who wish to remain anonymous, but admits: “We still need another £5 million.”

He hopes to get this by having a title sponsor for the ground and selling leases and hospitality boxes, as many as 12 for between two and five years.

Then, next year Hampshire will become a plc and float on AIM. Like Tottenham, the pioneering football flotation, Hampshire will not float the club but Hampshire County Cricket Ground Company, of which the club will be a subsidiary. This company also owns the ground and has given the club a 999-year lease.

Even with Bransgrove’s intervention the Rose Bowl is very far from complete. Although there will be seating for some 6,000 spectators the pavilion has not been fitted out yet and players and members will have to make do with semi-permanent buildings made of compressed hardwood.

Bransgrove has ambitious plans for Hampshire including installing floodlights and creating England’s first sport leisure village centred around cricket and featuring golf course, fitness suite and squash courts. He said: “The plan is to have a sports leisure village which will increase pedestrian traffic through the sports village and also increase catering turnover and maximise retail sales.”

The words have echoes of what Manchester United have done, but Bransgrove is far too much of a realist to pitch it quite that high. Hampshire made a loss of £193,000 last year and there is a long way to go before they can claim such a position. However, for the moment Bransgrove is confident that he can carry his members with him. “Ninety per cent of my postbag is supportive and the other 10 per cent want more information. We are not the first club to become a limited company, Durham have already done that, but we may be the first to float.”

TWENTY-FOUR hours after FIFA announced that from 2010 World Cups will be rotated around the continents and that Africa will get the 2010 tournament, Sepp Blatter, the president, rowed back from that decision. At a press conference yesterday he said: “Nobody in FIFA took a decision that rotation would start in 2010. The principle of rotation has been agreed but not the starting date. When rotation starts it will be in Africa. We don’t want them to wait 20, 30, or 50 years. We don’t want them to live with promises.”

Yet even as Blatter was saying this, the FIFA website continued to insist that Africa would get the 2010 World Cup. Blatter, when asked about it, said: “That is the FIFA website,” as if he has no responsibility for it.

The confusion reflects the fact that there is enormous division within FIFA on rotating World Cups. The idea has been accepted in principle, but it has also been agreed that when rotation starts Africa will be the first continent to benefit but there is no agreement on how it should work.

If there is strict rotation among the six continents that make up FIFA that would mean that Europe, who now get the World Cup once every eight years, would get it once every 24 years.

Peter Vellapan, the general secretary of the Asian Confederation, and a man brought up on English football — he once played reserve football for West Ham — said: “That would be a disaster for the World Cup and for European football. One solution would be to have two out and one in, every third World Cup coming back to Europe, which is the fulcrum of world football.”

Asia are also worried about Oceania staging the World Cup. At the moment no country in Oceania has the capacity to stage it, but Australia might qualify in 15 or 20 years and that would be at the expense of Asia.

One FIFA source told me: “If Australia can stage the World Cup then that would reduce Asia’s chances. It is easy to agree some of the continents that can get the World Cup, but not all.”

At the moment it seems that if rotation starts in 2010 the first three choices are clear: 2010 Africa, 2014 South America, 2018 Europe. After that it becomes very complicated and unless the issues are settled before the 2002 competition, rotation will not start.

Meanwhile Africa will have to hope that the FIFA website is correct and not Sepp Blatter.

© Mihir Bose


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