A slice of cricketing “heaven” is up for grabs on earth! Pay £500 (about Rs. 106,000) and you can own a little bit of the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground, considered the traditional home of cricket, at St. John’s Wood in London, England, where “dreams are made” and probably shattered too. It is now out in [...]


Lording over a little bit of Lord’s

In this exclusive interview cricketing legend and former England skipper David Gower tells Feizal Samath and Kumudini Hettiarachchi of a project that offers fans across the globe a stake in what is considered the home of cricket

A slice of cricketing “heaven” is up for grabs on earth!

Pay £500 (about Rs. 106,000) and you can own a little bit of the iconic Lord’s Cricket Ground, considered the traditional home of cricket, at St. John’s Wood in London, England, where “dreams are made” and probably shattered too.

The Nursery Ground of iconic Lord’s. Pic from the New Commonwealth

It is now out in the open – anyone can buy into the strip of land known as the Nursery Ground of hallowed Lord’s which has hosted more than 2,000 Test matches and will in August witness England and India on the turf for the second Test match here this year.

It is in an exclusive Skype interview with the Sunday Times that we learn the finer details about this ‘unique’ opportunity, from none other than cricketing legend and former England skipper David Gower. He is Chief Executive Officer or “face” of the New Commonwealth, a United Kingdom-headquartered property consortium offering fans a stake in the Lord’s Grounds. (www.newcommonwealth.com)

“The idea is, as you know, we offer it for ownership across the world. The interesting thing that we need to sort out and the team is working on this right now is….… that there are regulations across the world that would differ. We don’t want to fall foul or make any mistakes on such regulations. On the title deed of this piece of land, it will specify ‘part of Lord’s’. So you are genuinely buying into a part of Lord’s……..though you can’t really see it — as the land is underground,” says 61-year-old Gower, who celebrated his birthday on April 1, 25 days before the announcement offering an opportunity to the public to be part owners of Lord’s.

Now able to hold nearly 30,000 spectators, the Lord’s Cricket Ground, is named after its founder, Thomas Lord, and had first opened for the 1814 season. The first Test match at Lord’s was in 1884, with England defeating Australia. Sri Lanka appeared in a Test match here for the first time in 1984.

The ownership will come as a physical token minted by the Royal Mint, says Gower, and “the idea is that anyone who is a cricket fan, a fan of Lord’s gets this physical coin which says you are a part of Lord’s”.

Assuring that “your share or shares (you can get any number) will be secure”, he underscores that it is also transferable “to your son, heirs, grandchildren. It’s not short-term property investment but a long-term one as some nice things can happen on that land”.

The slice of Lord’s up for sale is underground – a network of defunct train tunnels along the length of the Nursery Ground, the lease for which is held by property developer Charles Rifkind who has now joined hands with New Commonwealth under this venture.

Earlier, a plan floated by Rifkind Associates to build two blocks of luxury residential flats here was rejected by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), which owns the Lord’s Cricket Ground, creating much controversy.

Forthright Gower’s views are clear: “They are the underground tunnels, it’s the land underneath. If anyone came to their senses, you can do an awful lot of very good things with that piece of land and above it. But Lord’s, as you know, is built on tradition, it is tough to break the sense of stuffiness, crustiness that comes with being an old club.”

For 19 years there has been discussion on possible development (residential flats) on the strip of land. “I was a supporter of that development because I felt that would have made absolute sense for the club, the MCC, to use that money to fund all the improvements needed around the rest of Lord’s to make it on top of the world as a historic ground with great facilities,” says Gower.

That didn’t work out, unfortunately, he says, adding that it means that the club is paying rent for that strip of land and will continue to do so for the next 119 years. In the meantime, what do we do for that strip of land?

Now on the table is the idea of selling shares to Lord’s fans or anyone, cricket lovers or history aficionados.

How will it happen? “For each £500, buyers will receive one blockchain-backed ownership share issued as Lord’s Tokens printed by the Royal Mint and will be listed on the London Block Exchange – a market for online cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – enabling investors to buy and sell,” states a New Commonwealth press release.

When asked whether cryptocurrency would be valid in some countries including Sri Lanka, Gower is quick to answer “yes, we are checking out the regulations in different countries and if it’s an issue in Sri Lanka we need to make sure that’s not an issue. Either that or make alternative arrangements”.

The face of the New Commonwealth: David Gower

Referring to the time-frame, Gower explains that as a market, they are hoping to have everything in place in time for the Test match in August against India. “At the moment, if anyone wants to learn more about this, you can log on to our website. There is a brief summary of the plan and the opportunity. But if you log on and register showing interest, it gives us an idea of the kind of interest. The campaign has been going on for about three or four weeks and started in London. It’s being advertised across the world.”

He elaborates: “We are well aware that in Asia as a whole where there are many cricket lovers, there could be a lot of interest – in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Middle East (West Asia), Dubai. We are open to interest from anywhere in the world – even our arch enemy Australia as the Ashes tells you. Lord’s is still known as the home of cricket. There are other grounds in the world that have been re-developed, improved and have better facilities. The MCC is aware that it needs to sharpen up and make improvements.

“Already there have been hundreds of thousands of hits on the website and there have been tens of thousands of people who have registered their names and their interest. At £500, that gets you quite a long way – in terms of the level of interest we need. There is yet to be a decision as to what the trigger point would be..….although nothing is going to happen in the immediate future on the land in terms of developing it and making it more valuable…”

Any registrations from Sri Lanka? “Maybe, but I don’t know the numbers,” says Gower. “We have had interest from all over Asia. I am sure there has been a lot of interest from Sri Lanka and I am sure a lot of people there know a lot about Lord’s and at this stage it would be fun to have (a share) and to be able to say you are a co-owner of one of the great cricket grounds.”

Are these shares tradable? Will there be some recognition of the owners at the grounds? Says Gower: “You can inherit the tokens and pass them on, also you can trade if you find the price and the buyer. On what you suggest, I think it might be a good idea to have some sort of recognition – from where these shareholders are, whether it’s flags or something else. We are part of Lord’s but also neighbours. Whatever is done has to be with their (MCC’s) blessings. But it would be a good idea to show even on the website from where the interest is coming in. Good idea.”

After serious talk of shares and business strategy, it is chat time whether Gower’s children have taken after one of cricket’s all-time greats and also the future of Test cricket.

“I have two daughters, both in their 20s, who played hockey and netball at school and university but they are not huge cricket fans,” laughs Gower, adding that “since it’s important to my life, it also becomes important to their lives”.

Picking up Test cricket, he says that Lord’s has one of the best attendance records in the world. “We have people who love Test cricket here and we have grounds which are not as big as what you have in Australia, India … so it’s easy to fill. Test cricket in this country, at the moment, is very healthy. But as you know the trend is against that….it’s for T20……Also the interest in Test cricket, one might say, seems to be dwindling if you go by attendance. But I know many people who are interested though they are not actually on the ground.”

“In terms of the life of Lord’s, in terms of the life of the cricket grounds around the world itself…..point to the increase in T20 until and unless another format evolves. Test cricket on the other hand has survived. In England, I am disappointed that it has taken 10-12 years for a franchise T20 to evolve. Things will change very rapidly in the game in, for example, the way it’s watched … TV vs. i-pad, i-phones – the next generation. T20 is riding the crest of the wave,” says Gower, stressing that the game may be changing shape…….might be changing in different forms, but cricket as a game is growing.

Lord’s Nursery Ground projectWhat is up for sale to the public under the New Commonwealth is a network of defunct underground train tunnels in the Nursery Ground covering a stretch of 200mX38m at the Lord’s Cricket Ground.

The Nursery Ground which is behind the Media Centre is used for practice pitches and matches and is reported to have some of the best grass nets in the world.

It had been in 1887 when celebrating its centenary that the MCC had purchased 3½ acres of Henderson’s Nursery to extend the outfield of Lord’s, thus creating the ‘Nursery Ground’. A decade later, though, a section of the Nursery Ground had been requisitioned by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway for tunnels to be constructed by the cut-and-cover method, according to information from the New Commonwealth.

The legal arrangements provided an Overriding Lease for the Railway with a 150-year lease for the MCC Trustees over the surface and subsoil to a depth of 18 inches. This lease was renewed for another 150 years to 2137 in 1988. In 1999, the MCC had been offered the chance to purchase the Overriding Lease but had failed to agree to the terms and it had been sold by Railtrack through an auction. This is what Charles Rifkind bought in 1999 for £2.3 million.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty, New Commonwealth CEO David Gower stresses that the real-estate consortium is pioneering the concept of crowd-funded ownership. Look at the website and you will see that there is another building in Mayfair, the Celine Building, which will operate on the same basis, ownership by many but with a more commercial return.

“Network Rail has sold its property. That 999-year lease means that Rifkind Associates are in complete control. When the MCC lease expires in 2137, the land as described reverts to the owners of the head lease, who could still be the Rifkind family but we hope will be New Commonwealth,” says Gower.

When asked how much New Commonwealth is hoping to secure from the sale of shares and whether it will pay-off Rifkind, he says that Charles (Rifkind) would cede ownership to NC but could also keep a stake in the new venture.

Says Gower, “No figure has been set but it would need sizeable interest to achieve the numbers needed to make NC viable. The plan would be to take either all or the major part of Rifkind’s stake and then NC would control the future commercial aspects of the property, including the rent payable by MCC, currently under £200,000 pa but overdue a review and likely to be over £500,000 pa in the next 10 years.”

With regard to development, he says that nobody knows what the future of cricket and Lord’s will be over the next 20, 50 years, let alone 100 or so! At some stage it is more than likely that the land will be more successfully utilised. Development around the Nursery Ground will proceed according to the MCC Master Plan for now. The members voted to adopt the plan last September and it means that MCC will be rebuilding offices and other facilities, extending the Compton and Edrich stands that flank the Media Centre but without any development on the strip of land intended for NC.

“We think attitudes might change down the line as factors around cricket and Lord’s change but it is hard to put a timescale on that. However, the rent due in 10 years’ time, at which stage MCC envisage grassing over the strip to extend the outfield of the Nursery Ground will be over £500,000 pa and I don’t think that represents good use of MCC funds as it is a high percentage of the current annual income, which is in the order of £8-9m,” he adds.


Wonderful opportunity for any cricketing fan: Kumar
While England’s legendary skipper David Gower is the public face of the New Commonwealth, here in Sri Lanka who will it be?“We are targeting ‘ambassadors’ and the two obvious ambassadors in Sri Lanka are Kumar (Sangakkara) and Mahela (Jayawardene), both of whom are legends of the game. Personally I have immense respect for the two for what they have done on the cricket field. I have worked with Mahela in commentary boxes and he is a charming man. Kumar has a worldly approach to life in general and the two would be ideal as ambassadors,” says Gower.“Exciting,” is how Kumar describes the opportunity for any cricket loving fan with the necessary resources to purchase shares in the New Commonwealth offering. “I believe it is a wonderful opportunity to be a shareholder in part of the most iconic ground in the world, Lord’s; a place where very special cricketing memories abound.”

Explaining that the share sale will be promoted mainly through social media in other parts of the world and will be offered as a tradable long-term investment, he says that it will be subject to and regulated by all relevant financial authorities and laws of the country. For any Sri Lankan investing, it would mean seeking advice, both as to the method of investment and on all financial regulations regarding cryptocurrencies prevalent globally and in Sri Lanka. This would enable them to make an informed decision and comply with all regulations and laws.

“You can follow the links online to understand more fully the New Commonwealth offer,” says Kumar, adding that although any future development project will have to be agreed upon with the MCC and its members, this would offer a great opportunity for the worldwide public to be a part of that process.

In England itself those associated with the New Commonwealth are another former skipper Allan Lamb and former MCC Chief Executive Keith Bradshaw and from across the world Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd of West Indies fame.




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