BN1 chats to… Sussex County Cricket Club’s Rob Andrew

As an England Rugby Union legend, Rob Andrew scooped three Grand Slams, reached the 1991 World Cup final with a last-minute drop goal before such drama was commonplace and won a Premiership title with Newcastle Falcons.

Before this, Rob Andrew was also a promising cricketer, playing 17 first-class matches while at Cambridge University, along with several appearances for Yorkshire’s second team. Last year’s appointment as Sussex Cricket’s chief executive marks a return to a sport he still loves. “It is nice coming back. I still play a bit of cricket as well. It’s one of those sports you have a chance of keeping on playing – rather than rugby where you get to a certain age and your body falls apart. It’s nice to be involved again in the sport at a professional level and seeing it from the inside.”

Now he’s overseeing a new chapter for Sussex Cricket, developing not just pitch-bound activities but the club’s work among the wider community. A range of programmes promote healthy living and encourage greater engagement with the sport. There’s a big focus on enabling disability cricket, both with their own team and those around the county, as well as staging games in more disadvantaged local areas. “It’s not just the glamour of the first side team here. We want to be able to make cricket accessible. It’s not an easy sport for kids to pick up. We want to try and make it simpler, so as many kids as possible can take part in it. If they’re good enough, there’s reason why they can’t end up out there,” he says, waving his hand towards the pitch.

The club needs to be viable and self-sustaining in the face of shifting demands. While evolving the team, there’s also a desire to invest in the future of the ground. “We only play 40 days of cricket a year, and there’s a few more days in the year than that.” Situated yards away from bustling central Hove, the sea within sight, the 1st Central County Ground works as part of the local community; onsite is a small office park and conference, wedding and event facilities. “It’s a really attractive venue for lots of things. I found it surprising there’s many people in Brighton & Hove who’ve no idea it’s here.” There’s also the prospect of two concerts with word class acts this summer. The perennial Lionel Richie heads to Hove on Sat 23 June, while X-Factor starlets Little Mix appear on Fri 6 July. “We’re really pleased to be having two very big concerts which’ll both sell out. But they’re massive logistical challenges,” he says, pondering the logistical challenges of building two live stages amid a busy cricket season.

Sussex stands as the oldest county cricket club in the world. Established in 1839, it’s very much part of the local cricket scene and the wider community. “Cricket in Sussex, Hampshire and Kent goes back to the 1700s. Sussex and Hampshire argue as to where the first game of cricket was ever played.” The sport is still adapting to the changing ways we experience any entertainment. One evolution has been the huge success of T20. Now fans don’t need to invest four days to see a full competitive game. “It’s the future for the game. We’ll still play ‘red ball’ cricket, but there’s a vibrancy and excitement about T20, which the kids like, the broadcasters like, the media like and the sponsors like. You have to create something which people want.” The County Ground see a great atmosphere on T20 days, the new format attracting a younger and more diverse crowd.

As chief executive, one of his parities is to ensure the right people are in place to run the team and activities. “We’ve got a nice balance of youth and experience. Teams are always at a point in time – they’re always moving. You’re constantly trying to get this balance right. I think we’re in a really good place. It’s a very positive place.” One new addition at the County Ground is the appointment of the highly regarded Australian coach Jason Gillespie. Only this year he’s helped the Adelaide Strikers win Australia’s domestic T20 competition, alongside coaching Yorkshire to the County Championship title in 2014 and 2015. “He’s a winner. Most Aussies are winners. He’s a good coach, and I think that sort of thing can give the players a lift. They’re ambitious and want him to help them win.”

As with most sports, financial viability is always a challenge, but Sussex Cricket is in a good place compared to many clubs. “We’ve no external debt. But that’s a challenge for all sports. The other challenge is making sure that kids keep playing the game.” As part of long plan, Andrew is continuing to place a big emphasis on encouraging new talent. Sussex do a huge amount of outreach work with schools and local clubs, overseeing all cricket development in the county. Recently, they’ve seen a massive growth in the women’s cricket. The key piece of advice he has for any aspiring cricketer is to make sure they relish playing. “If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to work harder and the opportunities will come along. Our philosophy here for the boys and girls is very much around developing young talent and giving homegrown youngsters a chance to make their way into the county side. If they’re lucky enough, the better ones will go through and play internationally. That’s the journey we want to see them take.”

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