For this month’s cover feature, SBT welcomes Sussex Cricket back to Eastbourne and catches up with Club Chairman, Ian Fletcher-Price, who talks about next month’s event at the Saffrons following a 17-year absence

Alex Tudor, Surrey and England under the watchful eye of Paul Hacker, Chairman of Eastbourne Colts, coaching before the Lashings 2016

While Eastbourne’s first recorded cricket match was against Battle in September 1738, Eastbourne Cricket Club itself was formed in 1828 and initially played at Bourne Links, now part of the Royal Eastbourne Golf Club. In 1855, matches were moved to the Field in the Marsh, now the site of an NCP car park in Junction Road, adjacent to the railway line. The first match played at the Saffrons however, was in May 1886.

The Saffrons’ reputation as a batsman’s paradise was first seen in 1893 when Eastbourne played South Past & Present and scored 463 in their innings. Some of the biggest hits ever seen at The Saffrons were by FCJ Ford of Cambridge University and Middlesex. Playing for Eastbourne against Hurst Park, he hit one six over the stables, which is now the new pavilion, and a week later against Mr Scott Holmes XI, hit another maximum over the flint wall into Grassington Road on his way to scoring 240 out of Eastbourne’s 720 total.

With a long history under its belt, Sussex Cricket is returning to Eastbourne this season to play first-class cricket for the first time since 2000, and whilst excitement is building for the fixture – Sussex Sharks will take on Gloucestershire next month – for two players, this date will mark a very special return to a ground that has provided the catalyst for their careers.

Vice-Captain of Sussex Sharks, Ben Brown and Gloucestershire’s Tom Smith will go head-to-head at The Saffrons on Sunday 14th May, when Sussex will play their penultimate match in the Royal London One-Day Cup South Group campaign. Despite being great friends off the pitch, both players are looking forward to facing each other in front of what is set to be a huge crowd at the Saffrons. After winning the Royal London One-Day Cup in 2015, Gloucestershire will no doubt prove to be tough opponents for Sussex, promising an exciting contest for supporters.

Wicketkeeper-Batsman, Ben Brown played for Eastbourne in the Sussex Premier League for ten years from 2004 to 2014, and is relishing the chance to play at the ground again in this season’s 50-over tournament. He told SBT: “I think everyone connected with Eastbourne cricket is hugely excited by the thought of top-level domestic action returning to the Saffrons, and I am no different. There’s a good history of first-class cricket in Eastbourne and the whole club is excited by its return. I know that many people at the club, including Ian Fletcher-Price, have worked so hard to get this fixture in the calendar.”

Ahead of next month’s cricket event, returning to Eastbourne after a 17-year absence, SBT got into contact with Ian Fletcher-Price, CEO of Posturite and Chairman of Eastbourne Cricket Club. Winning Sussex Business Person of the Year 2008/2009 and with Posturite achieving a Sussex Super Growth Award for Shortlisted Finalist earlier this year, Ian has earned himself an outstanding reputation within the Sussex business community, and has proved himself once more with the organisation of the upcoming Sussex Cricket event.

So Ian, what was it that caused the absence of County Cricket in Eastbourne?

At around 2000 both the cricket club and the Saffrons sports club were not in a particularly strong financial position. The Wicket was sub-standard for County Cricket, there wasn’t a strong committee, and all good things come to an end. This coincided with Sussex having their financial windfall, deciding to bring much of their County Cricket back to their HQ where they had invested much of that money in facilities and infrastructure.

At the time, there was no quibble from Eastbourne at all; it was a natural progression after a long, successful history of County Cricket. Since 2000 the Saffrons have relocated its pavilion, got themselves on a stable financial footing and Eastbourne Cricket Club have re-grouped as well. We’ve now got a top-class Groundsman in Jamie Ramsden, a strong committee, we’ve got the largest junior membership of any Premiership club in Sussex and we’ve also probably got the largest women and girls section. All those things combine with the successful 5-year Lashings campaign that helped to raise money, which has been reinvested in the club facilities.

Do you expect this to be the first of many? Will this be an annual County Cricket event or could it be more?

There’s every intention on both sides for this to be a recurring annual fixture for the foreseeable future. We’ve obviously got to prove ourselves and we’re up to that. There’s a sub-committee that has been working on this all through the winter and I’m very confident they are going to be pleased. I’ve been to the other out-ground matches over the last couple of years to benchmark the requirements – I’ve been to Horsham and Arundel – and I know that the event we’ve got planned is going to be comparable to those or even exceed them.

Do you think this may give you the jump needed so that you will have more County Cricket in one year than just one event?

From left to right: Mike Punter, Parafix the Clubs new sponsors of the 50 Over Royal London Cup Competition, Rob Andrew, Chief Executive of Sussex County Cricket Club, Ian Fletcher-Price, Mark Davis, Head Coach, Sussex County Cricket Club

I think that the corporate support we’ve had in the past and that we have this year – we’re sold out in the corporate marquee of 550 spaces – is phenomenal for a small town like Eastbourne, however I think there’s a realistic limit of support. We could stretch ourselves too far and go back to trying to host a four-day game, and I’m not sure in this day and age with corporate entertainment as it is; I just don’t think the appetite is there for that. I firmly believe I’d rather do one thing very well than spread ourselves too thin.

We have attended the last five events, which have been fantastic, but it has always been purely corporate entertainment. This year is very different – can you explain to us what facilities are going to be available on the day?

The first part is simple; it’s just replicating the long marquee at the Saffrons Road end with 550 people, and that’s really the same corporate supporters as in previous years. These supporters are very Eastbourne-centric, which I think is fantastic news for the town. It shows the appetite for first-class cricket and it also shows the support for top-class sport in our town.

Inside the marquee we have partnered with Sussex Downs College, who have made this whole event part of their course for their students (they have used it throughout the year for their Hospitality and Catering course), to plan the event and cater the food. They’re going to cook it, and deliver it on the day as part of their assessment. It’s brilliant because it shows that community spirit – working together and supporting the local college, which does a fantastic job. There is a win-win element to that deal, and Christina Cavalari – who runs that course – has been absolutely fantastic in her support. We’ve had various meetings throughout the winter with the students for them to treat it as an important part of their education.

Outside of that, we have the capacity to host another 4,500 supporters. Approximately 500 of those will be Sussex Cricket Club members, so of course they’re invited in for free, while the paying public will come through the gates on the day.

There is going to be a live auction hosted by Ed Giddings in the marquee for those guests and there will be a silent auction open to every supporter in the ground. There’s also one very special raffle prize – with a ticket price of £10 – where the winner will receive two Business Class return flights to anywhere in the world. This will be drawn at the end of the game and I think it will create quite an interest.

How are the public sales going?

As would be expected, fairly slow. I think people are cautious, firstly because we’re not yet in the cricket season. Secondly, I think people will naturally want to have a steer on the weather. I expect around 75% of the ticket sales to be made on the day, and that will be very weather-dependent, which is normal. It would be lovely to have them pre-sold and have that pressure taken off, but to be honest it’s quite early in the summer – 14th May – which can often be a great month for weather. I’m not too worried about it in the suntrap of the south, but it will be what it will be.

We didn’t get much notice; the fixture wasn’t confirmed until November, obviously Christmas is in between and suddenly we were into the new year and planning an event that would normally take 12 months, but cramming it into a three or four month period. I don’t want to stretch ourselves by planning too much. The second year will hopefully be easier with regards to the planning as there will be a template to follow.

Do you have support in advertising boards?

We do and we’re very lucky. The club’s sponsor, IEP Financial agreed to sponsor the day itself, so that support has been very important to us. There are advertising boards available, which will go up for the day and will then be put up on the football fence for the rest of the season, so at £350 it’s very good value.

Let’s talk about Rob Andrew…

People will know Rob Andrew from the pedigree of his rugby playing days and his mixture of roles within the RFU. I think Sussex have been lucky to get someone of his calibre as Chief Executive and he brings a whole different profile to the county. It’s his first season and he has cricket pedigree himself, so he knows the game. He’s thrown his support behind the out-ground cricket in Sussex and understands the importance of bringing it to the east of the county. This continues the pledge by his predecessor, Zac Toumazi who started the Eastbourne ball rolling.

And now back to you – as well as being CEO of Posturite, what is your involvement in the club?

I am Chairman of Eastbourne Cricket Club, and I see that role as making sure we’ve got all of the right people in the right places. When I first took over as Chairman seven years ago it was an indistinguishable premier league club. Now, we have tremendous involvement from around 14 people on the committee – each has their own area of responsibility. What often happens in sports clubs is you get two or three leading lights, who do everything while everyone else relies on them. I’ve never felt that a community club should be run in that way – I feel that more people should take on more responsibility.

How has the maintenance of the Saffrons improved over the years?

I think when we ambitiously employed Jamie Ramsden five years ago we always knew the goal was to bring back County Cricket, and he has worked in conjunction with the Head Groundsman at the county ground to seek his advice and guidance to make sure we’re going about things the right way. That’s worked brilliantly and he has delivered the Saffrons back to its glory days.

What about local sponsors?

Cru – another new, fresh local business – is supplying the wine on the day, Sussex Plumbing Supplies are sponsoring the scorecards and of course Life Media Group are producing the Match Day Programmes and Eastbourne Cricket Club Fixture Books. Numerous other local companies have pledged to take advertising boards.

For any further information, or to buy tickets online please visit www.sussexcricket.co.uk

Ian Fletcher-Price can be contacted directly via fletch@posturite.co.uk

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