Mitcham Cricket Club, the world’s oldest cricket club, has vowed to keep battling to ensure the survival of its pavilion, its chairman reveals.
Cricket matches have been taking place on the green at Mitcham since 1685, making it the oldest ground to be continuously played on in the world.
The freehold to Mitcham Cricket Club’s pavilion has been owned by Phoenix Group Investments since 2008 as part of the Burn Bullock pub freehold.
Phoenix Group has sought to redevelop the site on several occasions, and have been involved in a bitter dispute with the cricket club for more than a decade.
The pavilion, which was opened in 1904, was secured as Merton’s first registered asset of community value in 2014.
Chairman Peter White-Young said: “We have been trying to negotiate with Phoenix for several years now to get permission where we could take ownership of the pavilion and its redevelopment.
“We have made it very clear to Phoenix that we are not going to go away. We last met in March 2019 and their representative indicated to us that they would sell us a reduced footprint. They quoted us a ridiculously overpriced evaluation and we have heard absolutely nothing of them since.”
The continuing dispute means that Mitcham’s pavilion faces an uncertain future, but White-Young explained that he will not stop fighting for the club that he has given so much of his life to.
He added: “Right now I don’t know what they are intending to do. I would like to get us to a position where we take over the responsibility of the pavilion as a whole and we are left to get on with it.
“We have a set of plans which have been in front of the ECB to extend the pavilion and make it usable by the community all year around. However, until we can resolve the issue surrounding the security of tenure, then we are stuck.
“There are individuals like Mick Jagger, who by the way are cricket mad, and we want to be able to go and seek support for what is a very important historic asset.”
It is widely believed that Lord Nelson regularly travelled from his home in Merton to watch games being played on the green.
The largest attendance for a match came in 1937 when a crowd of 10,000 gathered to watch a women’s game between Surrey and Australia.
Unfortunately, much of the Mitcham Cricket Club historical records were destroyed when a bomb hit the local pub around the green where they were kept.
Speaking of the club’s history White-Young said: “We have an enormous amount of history and every reason in the world why we want to improve our situation.
“We want to continue providing this sport for young people in the local community. We want to ensure cricket continues to flourish for the next 350 years. It’s not about me or any one individual. It’s about the future of the game on the green.”
The late James Southerton, who represented England in the first-ever test match, was born in and played for his local Mitcham, whilst the original Australian men’s touring side used the green as their practice ground for all of their touring fixtures.
When asked what it was like to be the chairman of the world’s oldest club, White-Young described it as something he was immensely proud of, despite the current circumstances.
He said: “It’s a great honour and a great responsibility. It really is a great pleasure. We have an incredibly multicultural setup. At the same time, it’s also incredibly hard when you’ve got a freeholder who won’t communicate and who would rather we didn’t exist!”
White-Young, like many others connected to Mitcham, has accepted that despite the support from local councillors there is only so far that the cricket club can go in this fight, given the financial limitations of being run entirely by the local community.
He explained: “We are never going to go away. We hope to agree on a reasonable way forward. They have refused to take rents from us, as that would give us rights they don’t want us to have.
“One of the things they may do is impose some sort of ridiculous commercial rent upon us. We are not a commercial enterprise and if they charged a huge amount, we simply would not have the funds to be able to pay this rent. We are a club run entirely by the local community. The agreement simply has to be sensible.”