Meeting Andy Nash

Nash Twitter PicAndy Nash has been chairman of Somerset County Cricket Club since 2008. His first season in charge was the club’s first season back in the top flight of the County Championship and very much the start of a new dawn, one that saw Somerset start to compete at the highest level in all formats of the game on the Cricket field and become a more robust, profitable and sustainable business off of it.

During his time in charge Somerset have finished runner’s up in the County Championship twice, in 2009 and 2012, therefore equalling the county’s best ever finish in the four-day tournament. The cider county made T20 Final’s Day for four consecutive seasons from 2009 to 2012 finishing as runner’s-up in the first three, and the club’s army of supporters enjoyed a day out in the Lords Final of the 40-over tournament twice in 2011 and 2012. And then there was the club’s impressive showing in the 2011 Champion’s League in India when Alfonso Thomas led a largely young, inexperienced team to the semi-finals and a narrow defeat to a Kieron Pollard inspired Mumbai Knight’s but enjoying some big victories along the way.

Andy had enjoyed a successful career in the pharmaceutical and drinks industries and it was this flourishing career that first brought him to the west-country in the late 1980’s and he been a resident here ever since. This move also introduced him to Somerset County Cricket Club and converted him into an avid fan and that allegiance continues still.

In 2004 Andy was invited to join the club’s committee as vice-chairman to Giles Clarke who he ultimately replaced as chairman in 2008.

The club’s ambitions and business aspirations remain as clear and strong as ever with plans for the new pavilion now at an advanced stage and building work set to start in September. This will give the county Category B status and a stadium that can host international one day Cricket in Taunton. This is an important development for the whole region not just the Cricket club.

Andy Nash is very much leading these exciting times alongside the club CEO Guy Lavender by working closely with the club membership, the local government authorities and business community. And his work goes on.

Andy NashWhen The Incider first published in April of this year Andy was the first club official to make contact, wishing us well and offering his support highlighting the strong values that he and the club places on the club’s support. When we chanced our arm and asked for an interview he responded in the affirmative immediately. So, on a hot, blistering day at Taunton Andy welcomed me to the County Ground and we sat on the balcony directly outside Dave Nosworthy’s office for a chat on all things Somerset CCC. Please note the interview was conducted before the Royal London One Day Cup had started.

So the first question, being a Somerset supporter, what are the chairman’s earliest memories of watching cricket at Somerset?

“It was when we moved here in 1987. I moved to join a company called Taunton Cider who were the club sponsors at the time. One of my earliest memories was coming here and watching (Graham) Hick get his 406.  Being born in Wiltshire is, I suppose, the next best thing to being born in Somerset. The county is split between Gloucestershire and Somerset supporters. North of the county tends to be Gloucester and west and south lean towards us. Whenever you go to the Bath area AGM there is always a colourful and noisy contingent from Swindon which is good to see.”

Did the young Andy Nash play any sports and were there any that he excelled in?

“I was always a keen sports fan growing up and followed the ‘big three’ of Cricket, Rugby and Football and played all three at a fairly depressing level. But I was also a big Tennis fan and played that to a decent standard so when I did play Cricket my double-handed backhand would double up as a pretty poor cover drive. And I followed Cricket from as far back as I can remember principally following the England side rather than any specific county. But it was moving here that got me the bug. It drags you in.”

He moved from fan to club official at Somerset, initially as vice-chairman in 2004 before graduating to the full chairman in 2008. How did his chairmanship come about?

“I had a phone call from a Headhunter, as I had no contacts on the committee as was then and I was just a common fan, and he said he had been retained to find a new chairman for Somerset and asked if I would be interested in hearing all about it so I said “yes, of course”. And, to cut a long story short, the process ended up with two of us in the running – myself and Giles Clarke – and I always say to people that he had the full set of Wisden’s so he got to do it first. My wife bought my collection as an anniversary present so mine only goes back to 1979, which is the year we got married, so I am still working on getting the full set.

I didn’t even know the club were looking to make the change at that time. But professional Cricket was realising the importance that if you were going to survive let alone thrive then you had to get the money right and too many clubs were in an incredibly weak position financially.  

The club deliberately set out to find more commercial chairmen and that’s how it happened.”

The whole landscape of the club has changed dramatically since 2006 when the county was quite frankly the worst team in the country, finishing bottom of the Championship for a 12th time in the club’s history (this was a record number of wooden spoons at that time but Derbyshire have since gained more last place finishes!)

Now the club has a team that is competitive in all formats. And at the same time it has continued to turn a profit, attracted healthy crowds and seen major parts of the ground re-developed. This in stark contrast to some other counties, of both a similar size as well as bigger Test venues, that have struggled to make money or attract the paying public.

So what does Andy think is the secret to Somerset’s success? Is there a special formula – hard work, luck?

“Well it was certainly a lot of hard work from an awful lot of people. There is no one switch that you can flick, it is a combination of a number of things. We had a really simple business model, because one thing I have learnt is the simpler it is the better it is because it is easier for people to understand it. Ours was to play better Cricket, attract more members, they spend more money, invest in the facilities, make more money again, invest in the playing squad, get bigger crowds and so it goes on.

“But it was the likes of (Justin) Langer turning up, which was a seminal moment in improving the squad, and prior to that it was Brian Rose coming back to the county which made a huge difference, and Marcus Trescothick coming back after retiring from international Cricket and his illness. So it was a host of things that brought the improvement. But, of course, none of these would have been possible without dramatically improving the club’s financial performance.

“In 20 years we only made an operating loss once, which is great going for a club, but in those days if we made a profit of £20k then that was good going. So we didn’t have any money. Now, for the fifth year running, we are going to make north of half-a-million clear profit and you can do stuff with that sort of money.”

Andy NashThe ground has undergone major improvements in recent years to the Colin Atkinson Pavilion, the Andrew Caddick Pavilion and now the vision for international Cricket too.

“The Pegasus development was vital because it meant we could finance and build the ‘Caddy Shack’ (aka the Andrew Caddick Pavilion) and refurb the Colin Atkinson Pavilion. And with facilities like that the club wasn’t busy for only 50 days of the year but for 50 weeks and this brings in more revenue, more membership and more activities.

“I am a firm believer that you have clear direction and ambition. The reason I am so passionate about pitching for international cricket is because we knew it would ignite people’s imaginations and start to drive ambition as well.  And it has done exactly that with the Council supporting us with almost anything we want now.

“And this will be good for Taunton too. I can tell you that for the 10 towns that currently hold ODI’s the average economic benefit to the town is worth £2.3 million in one day.

“We have seen the potential with the Elton John and Rod Stewart concerts and we know from talking to Taunton Deane Council that these were each worth a seven-figure benefit to the town.”

The new pavilion is the focus for 2014 with the club committed to raising £150,000 to part-fund the project. How is the fund raising going and are things still on course to start building come September?

“Basically we are now fully funded with any other money coming in going to very good use as we will have a higher standard of fixtures and fittings. So we will be under way as planned in September. This is, of course, an enormously important development for the club as it will take us to a higher level again financially. It would be great to think we could spend right up to the salary cap whereas, at the moment, we are a few grand under that and, although we are the fourth highest spending county on team salaries, I am sure our Cricket management will put the extra money to very good use. “

Andy has to balance his time between the business aspect, keeping the finances in check and not spending above our means, whilst also being the focal point and contact for the club’s supporters. Talking of salaries and signing the best overseas and domestic players available can Somerset supporter expectations be too much at times? We have been treated to watching world stars like Kieron Pollard and Albie Morkel in recent seasons and demand high quality imports. Does Andy think these expectations to be realistic?

“For me it all comes back to ambition and momentum. Those high profile signings were brilliant at the time. I can tell you that when we reported Chris Gayle signing it is the only time the club website crashed. These guys do put bums on seats. And the Cricket team management tell us when you put a young guy like Jos Buttler batting opposite Kieron Pollard then they can only learn. The same way that our guys learnt batting with JL. 

“But the way we operate is that our financial strength has meant we have been able to attract a really good calibre of people off the pitch too. Richard Gould was a brilliant Chief Executive, extremely talented and dynamic, and he knows how to manage teams. And I mean manage teams properly. The direction are very clear – here are the financial guidelines and we must stay within them.

“Guy Lavender is quality too and knows how to relate to people but at the same time doesn’t take any crap. And if you talk to anyone now, even the gate men, they are very proud to be Somerset now.And as our good people have moved on we have attracted really good people to take their place. Jez (Curwen) our Head of Marketing has been outstanding, Michelle our Head of Events is fantastic and the catering team are amazing with what they achieve. “

The 2014 season is one of change for the domestic game and the various competitions and formats. Having polled over 30,000 cricket fans and reviewing their feedback it was decided that the Championship would stay as is but with most games starting on Sunday. The previous 40-over tournament, which was played mainly on the Sabbath, had been abolished for the return of 50-over cricket at the ECB’s request to place the domestic one day game in line with international formats. And the 20-over game, that had started in 2003 as a short, sharp tournament that stared and finished inside three-weeks in July would now be extended to a longer period with emphasis on Friday night cricket.

So is the new fixture structure working out financially well for Somerset?

“The LV= CC? It has been brilliant for Somerset, you have seen the crowds and they have been really strong. We have never had a strong corporate market for the red ball game and it has been relatively small compared to other counties so the corporate loss on a Sunday has been heavily outweighed by a huge increase in the additional number of people coming to games and spending money here.

“The T20 was a worry but we will know properly at the end of the season. Results have been mixed. The same big ‘three’ in this competition are getting the highest gates in terms of percentage and capacity which is us, Essex and Sussex.”

With the newly returning 50-over cricket is there a concern that crowds will drop from the 40-over format which was very popular?

“All the counties were unanimous in not wanting to make the switch from 40 to 50 (overs) but were offered the chance to maintain the integrity of Championship Cricket, keeping it home and away, and this occupies 80% of the season. Given that the ECB went along with what the counties wanted with T20 then it was only fair that we supported Team England with what they were desperate for and that was 50-over Cricket and two new balls at the beginning and several power plays being deployed.

“We may be confounded, maybe they will come in for the 50 but we don’t expect the gates to be maintained because we know our membership prefer 40-over stuff and the gates more than doubled when we went from 50 to 40 last time. We have to compete at international level. Let’s see how it goes.”

And what gives the chairman most satisfaction in how the club is being run these days? That is simple:

“One of the most encouraging things with the set-up is the partnership between the Board and the Academy and the sheer conveyor belt of talent coming through. We have two of the finest schools in the country in the county.

“You still hear the odd moan that there aren’t enough home grown players in the side but the reality is that 16 of the 20 that make up the first team squad regularly are home grown, meaning they were born in the west country or schooled in the west country. Kings have been buoyed by attracting the likes of Meschede and Buttler before him and have set out their stall to be the best Cricket school in the country. And we have a fabulous relationship with Millfield these days too. Both schools are attracting talent from all around the world these days.”

So back to Andy the fan, he does have to host special guests at games from time to time. Can he hide his emotions during games when, say, a player drops an easy catch?

“No I am hopeless (laughs). We were on the balcony during a T20 game and I was sat with Guy (Lavender) along with some guests from Essex and of course you are meant to keep your emotions in shape but it is almost impossible. As a wicket goes down I celebrate and why shouldn’t I because first and foremost I regard myself as a Cricket fan and it is an enormous privilege to do this role being a fan as well.

“But there are odd occasions when you are expected to behave properly, shall I say, and I was very lucky to be invited by the MCC chairman to the Sri Lanka Test but there were the odd outbursts. I was surrounded by various Presidents and Prime Minister’s so one has to mind one’s P’s and Q’s.”

So what would be the chairman’s message to readers of The Incider and the club’s supporters around the world?

“It would be to look forwards not backwards. The club has made a lot of progress and the results are down to an awful lot of people including the club’s executives, who are paid, and the volunteers who aren’t. We have just to keep it going. The facilities are improving all the time and this continues to add to our financial strength.

“We are going to win that (elusive) Championship at some stage and I’ve got a feeling it might be next year.”

Nash bookIn 2013 Andy’s book “A Year in the Life of Somerset County Cricket Club: Through the Eyes of its Chairman” was published and has been a major success. It is a great read and comes highly recommended.

You can buy the book in the club shop at Taunton, online at http://www.somerset-countysports.com or on Amazon.

You can follow Andy on Twitter: @57deacon

Thanks to Andy for his time and let’s hope his prediction about the elusive Championship win comes true.