(Photo: Getty Images)
By Paul Edwards
A rain-wrecked Friday afternoon at Blackpool Cricket Club. The volunteers continue their hard work but Lancashire’s Royal London game against Warwickshire is destined to end in a no result. The pavilion and bars are still heaving, though, and upstairs the players and coaches sit and wait and chew fat. It is not surprising Paul Allott and I can find no spare room in which to talk.
Eventually we repair to the cubby-hole used by the county’s public address announcer, Matt Procter, and this is ironic, given that Allott’s days of addressing the public are now over. After a long TV career, the former Lancashire and England player returned to Emirates Old Trafford last September as Director of Cricket. He did so refreshed by his new mission and unencumbered by any regrets about leaving that curious world in front of a camera.
“Being director of cricket at Lancashire is a huge remit but I can’t say I miss filling in for an hour in the pouring rain,” he said. “I enjoyed my time as a broadcaster and I think I worked in a golden era when you were just concerned with the game and telling your public what your opinion was of the action in front of you.
“I enjoyed it and I had a great time but towards the end the sense of purpose had gone and this job certainly gives me that.”
Outside our tiny window, the rain abates a little but does not stop. England are not taking wickets in the Test match, so there is no reason for Procter to request the return of his tiny empire. And it is appropriate we are in Blackpool, for one of Allott’s main goals at Old Trafford is to strengthen the county club’s links with schools, clubs and leagues.
To that end, all Lancashire’s 300 club chairmen are being invited to next Tuesday’s Roses match in the Royal London Cup.
“There has been a historical disconnect between the county and the recreational game,” said Allott. “It’s neither the county being snooty nor the clubs snubbing the county. It’s just never worked in my time. That’s a waste and one thing I’m trying to do is bring the clubs and leagues to Old Trafford and take Old Trafford to the clubs and leagues. We’re welcoming them and we’ll be trying to help them by offering assistance and advice. We want to take All Stars cricket to the clubs and we can also take players to clubs for fund-raising functions or presentations – that sort of thing.”
One senses Allott does not need a reason to issue invitations or offer help. Although Cheshire-born, he admits Lancashire is “in his blood”, so the maintenance of strong clubs like Blackpool is an end in itself.
At the same time, however, strengthening the county’s links with schools and leagues might increase the chances of Lancashire producing a stream of talented players capable of winning honours for the Red Rose.
Head coach Glen Chapple’s stated aim to field a side including eight players who learned their cricket in the North-West. “Nine would be good,” says Allott, and one can imagine his pleasure if all eleven players in a Lancashire team were eventually home-developed.
“I’ve been involved with the county for 45 years,” he says. “I’ve always held the club very dear to my heart and the attractions of this job included trying to make Lancashire one of the best clubs in the world and having responsibility throughout the county.
“I particularly wanted to concentrate on the performance set-up into the academy with the aim of finding a top-notch set of players to win things.”
This will take a while and Allott knows patience is often on the ration at First Division clubs. He has no time for the “ludicrous” system by which a quarter of top-tier counties are relegated each season but he retains an open mind about conferences.
All these matters, in addition to contracts and a host of other things, are Allott’s responsibility. One might think his in-tray is an unwelcome sight, especially for someone with no great love of either offices or emails. If so, one would be wrong.
“I’m enjoying the job hugely,” he says. “I like the involvement with the players and seeing how much it means to them. Maybe I underestimated their desire to succeed.”