Thursday, March 17th, 2016

David Leatherdale Looks Back Over Three Decades At New Road

David Leatherdale Looks Back Over Three Decades At New Road

David Leatherdale has brought down the curtain on 31 years as a player and then administrator with Worcestershire CCC, latterly as chief executive.

Leatherdale conducted his final task at New Road before be takes up the role of CEO with the Professional Cricketers' Association in overseeing last night's AGM in the Graeme Hick Pavilion.

Here he looks back over the past three decades at New Road.

Question: It's the end of an era for you David?

David Leatherdale: It's 30 full years really. I played my first second eleven game in 1985 at Ombersley. I remember it well. It seems a long time ago.

I had 20 years of playing and the days of Botham, Dilley and the winning Championship sides of 1988 and 1989 and the other one-day wins we had. Thirty years is a long time both on and the pitch.

Question: How did the Worcestershire link come?

David Leatherdale: I had just played in the Oxford-Cambridge Schools Festival at 17 for Yorkshire and they at the time offered me a registration document which basically meant you couldn't go anywhere else without their say-so.

Myself and my dad went back and asked the question whether I would be guaranteed some second team cricket or just a couple of games the following season to show what I could do. At the time they said 'no.'

Doug Padgett, their coach, came to watch me in a club game for Pudsey when I got 80 and we asked the same question again and he still said 'no'.

Because of that link with Worcestershire we did have, because Richard Illingworth and Steve Rhodes had come down from Yorkshire, it was Richard's dad, Keith, who said 'why don't you write to Worcestershire for a trial' which I did.

I got offered a game at the end of my first year of doing 'A' levels in 1985 in September at Ombersley and then I did my 'A' levels and came down for three months in 1986 and got offered a contract in August of that year for the following season.

Question: A good time to join with the success the club was about to have?

David Leatherdale: When it was announced, there was a piece in the newspapers saying 'Worcestershire sign three new players – Botham, Dilley – and Leatherdale! It is probably the first and last time all three have been mentioned in the same way.

I made my debut in 1988 and I think in the next three to four years, we won seven trophies. I played at Lord's in the 1988 Natwest final against Middlesex. Mark Ramprakesh was another young lad at the time who I had played schools cricket with.

We were 10-3 when I went to bat in front of 20,000 plus people and I got 29 which felt like about 300! We got to about 160 and then we had them 25-5 and Dill (Diley) bowled like God. He swung it and bowled at pace and had Ramps lbw first ball.

It would have been 25-6 but Dickie Bird didn't give it and Dill went ballistic. He got 50 odd and Paul Downton 30 odd and they won by two wickets.

We won Championships and 40 over competitions and I remember a one-day semi-final against Hampshire here which went over into a second day and we needed something like 110 off 15 overs which in those days was unheard off and we won with two or three overs to spare with myself and Gavin Haynes getting runs.

There have been some good memories. We played Warwickshire in two finals in 1994. They beat us in the first game when Paul Smith got five wickets and we hammered them in the second final when Tom Moody and Graeme Hick smashed it all over the park.

To have played in a winning team, when you start off was great. It was a pretty social sort of enviroment, everyone enjoyed each other's company, but we had some high class players and nine or ten of them were present of recent England internationals.

If you went through the list – Dilley, Radford, Newport, Illingworth, Rhodes, Botham, Curtis…they had all played for England or were about to.

The guys that then came through were myself, Steve McEwan, Gavin Haynes, Stuart Lampitt, and a lot of that revolved around people getting injured. Paul Pridgeon and Phil Newport both did achilles tendons in one year.

I was a batter when I started and Gavin was the all-rounder and we were fighting for places.

Question: There have also been some tough years along the way?

David Leatherdale: There have been some tough years. I signed a three year contract in 1991 and it was the year when two overseas players was reduced to one.

I gather we had an agreement that Tom Moody and Allan Donald were playing at Warwickshire and whoever they didn't retain, we were going to have. I think we might have been expecting Allan Donald at the time but we ended up with Tom which was probably 'our win' because Tom was fantastic.

But it meant we had signed a batter and I didn't play much in 1991-1992 because Tom had taken my position. I spent a lot of time driving up north to play club cricket on Saturday whilst playing second team cricket at Worcestershire which I did for three summers.

But then I gradually got into the side, did quite well, had a couple of seasons where I scored 800-900 runs batting at number six and averaging 40.

I still wasn't bowling and that only came about because of injuries. I remember opening the bowling at Kidderminster in a four-day game with Tom (Moody). That's how badly off we were but I got a bit of a reputation of being able to bowl at the death in one-day cricket and I got gradually got better and better at it through practice.

I had actually started off as a bit of an off-spinner in some of the second team games. I was a genuine dibbly-dobbly medium pacer. I probaby knew where it was going most of the time which was quite helpful but also managed to get wickets when other people didn't.

In the early days, I was a bit of a last resort bowler and usually picked up a wicket. Ten-15 years on, I had 300-400 wickets which shows I was slightly better than I might have been in the first five or six years.

Question: Do you have one particular highlight of your playing career?

David Leatherdale: There are a couple. The obvious one is when we played the Australians in a one-day game at New Road when I got 5-10 and we had bowled them out for 140.

Steve Waugh had written in his Ashes diary book that Australia were bowled out by a side with one bowler who wouldn't get a bowl in a Chinese restaurant and that obviously referred to me.

It did come back to haunt him a few years later when he played for Kent and I got him out for one in a one-day game and all the lads, particularly Mr Pipe our wicket-keeper who was fairly vociferous, ran past him and said 'I'll have a number 57 with fried rice'.

I gather that he was quite petrified after what he had written in his book when he came out to bat.

There are certain grounds you like playing at. I always got runs at Northants, I always got runs at Notts. I think Bumpy and myself still hold the record of 256 for the highest sixth wicket stand at Trent Bridge.

We had a game there where we were set 280 in 50 overs and were 9-3 when I went in and I got 115 and Neal Radford smacked 70 and we won with five overs to spare. They are the games you remember, where you made a difference.

Then there was the semi-final here against Lancashire when Andrew Hall took three wickets for no runs in the final over. If anyone could bowl yorkers like that now, they'd have a job for life. The club has just been a massive part of my life, both as a player for 20 years and the 10 years since.

Question: What was the transition like, when coming to end of your playing career, to the administrative side?

David Leatherdale: It was a little bit forced, I'll be honest. When Tom (Moody) took over as coach, in 2004-2005 the club said 'we want you to play, but we're not going to offer you a full contract.'

I think I am still the only player here to have been given a one-day contract.

I worked in the commercial department part-time and I played one-day cricket. I used to spend, as I said, four days in the office and four days on the pitch in a seven day week!

I'd come in on a Sunday morning, put out the boundary boards, make sure all the hospitality was okay, I'd go home, put a shirt and tie on and come back in the afternoon to play in the Sunday League.

It actually worked quite well. I always did work in the winter time. We never had 12 month contracts then. I did jobs ranging from painting pipes 200 feet up in the air at a fish food factory to loading trucks in a metal works yard.

One of the biggest things I did was working in the winters in the commercial department under Mike Vockins. They wanted to employ one of the players and I went through a full interview process and seven of us applied, including Rhodesy and Radders, and I was offered the job.

I had done a couple of winters working for Radio Wyvern at that time, organising their Charity Snowball event. I worked for an accountancy firm and even got offered a job working for a funeral company. I nearly got there but thankfully something else came along.

I've done many things but they've all been beneficial. I wasn't a coach. I did the Level Two coaching but it was always the business and commercial side which interested me. I worked here with John Osborne (ex professional goalkkeper) who was great and I learnt a lot.

I tried to broaden things and every winter went off and did something different that I thought would be beneficial.

Question: You graduated from Commercial Director to Chief Executive, that must have been a big leap?

David Leatherdale: When the club came and said they'd like to appoint me, it was a tough time. It was 2010. We'd lost players, we'd had major cutbacks, we'd cut back over half a million pounds in one year when we had the floods.

We had to make some pretty tough decisions. When Mark Newton left, I became chief executive, commercial director, HR manager, PR manager, all rolled into one because we had to make those changes.

But we've gradually changed those things, the club has progressed to what we can see today, and will only do so further.

It is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week job but that's me and that's what I was like as a cricketer. I was passionate about the club and to do those things and to make some decisions that are not easy, when you've got the club at heart, and making them for the club, not yourself, is a challenge.

Question: There have been a lot of developments at New Road?

David Leatherdale: Building the Graeme Hick Pavilion was the proverbial no-brainer. It used to cost us a fortune just to keep the old pavilion going. The players facilities were shocking and I can vouch for that having had the space in the dressing room under the stairs next to the toilet!

We needed some new facilities, we needed some hospitality facilities. The Graeme Hick Pavilion was a godsend. It meant you had something to sell that you were comfortable with as a good enough facility.

We would argue our facilities before that were not up to standard for what conference people want. It was always a three phrase plan and that was Mark Newton and the board's vision going back 10 years.

But the catalyst was the floods of 2007. If we were going to try and carry on in the same way and just have 50 days of cricket, it just wasn't going to happen.

The sort of mission when I took over was that it needed to be a 365 days a year sustainable business. Other counties have recognised over the last two or three years, that is what they need to be doing.

We've been given high praise from the ECB for what we've done and what we've achieved and how we have done it.

Yes. we have made a profit every year for the last six years. It has been hard work and there have been constant changes to be able to do that. We've been lucky some years like selling a bit of land to build the hotel which created an exceptional profit.

But the credit also goes to Steve Rhodes and the coaching staff in that he has worked with a team with a very small budget.

We are still in the bottom four of the 18 but four or five years on we are bringing through and producing cricketers that can play for England.

Question: Commercially are Worcestershire ahead of the game compared to some other counties of a comparable size?

David Leatherdale: I think we are. With the facilities we've got now, we have a nice Summer Marquee, the Hick Pavilion which seats 200 and fills constantly and The View which links to 10 hospitality boxes after the original plan when building the hotel was that there would be no extra facilities for the club.

We've got about 18 facilities we can use now and a hotel next door with 90 per cent occupancy and already talking about potential extensions.

Question: Will you be sad to leave? David Leatherdale: Very much so. Telling the chairman on Christmas Eve when having a coffee in his kitchen was not the most pleasant experience.

Would I want to go and work for another county or come back and play against the county I've been at for 30 years? I think I might find that difficult, particularly in the short term, to leave one county and go straight to somewhere else.

Yes, there are some great Test match grounds that are very much bigger than Worcestershire. Was I actively seeking a job at the time? No I wasn't. But to have the opportunity to work for the whole counties, the whole game, the players, opportunity like that don't come along that often.

Was I guaranteed to get the job? No. I went through a lengthy interivew process with four interviews. To represent the game as a whole, it's a different level. Cricket is my life and that's what I want to do. I'll be sad to leave but I'll look forward to sitting in the Ladies Pavilion with a piece of cake and a cup of tea as a non employee and enjoy watching cricket and thinking 'I don't have to do this and that.'

The game changes, everything changes, clubs change. If I hadn't looked at something else, would I be here in 10 years time and done a job as chief executive for 15-20 years?

Those days are gone. In business now, the game matures, the games business changes, different thoughts and ideas come into the game. It feels about right.

We've done two really good things with the Hick Pavilion and the hotel-new facilities and we've got cricket to a level where we think we've got a really good squad and an academy bringing people through.

Over the next few years I think there is going to be an ability to be able to invest in cricket like we've tried to do with Steve Rhodes and support the work he has done on pretty much a shoestring budget – and he deserves a huge amount of credit for that.

I wrote to the ECB last week and said, with all these changes in the game, Worcestershire still need to be appreciated, they can be at the top table of cricket, producing cricketers to play for England, and making sure we are still the iconic ground that everyone recognises Worcestershire for and the members in the same way.

There are a lot of people who have been involved in this club a long, long time. But the game is changing. There is no doubt that the game is not going to be in the same place in five years time as it is now.