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March 1, 2013 7:14 pm
Derek Brewer’s home would be the envy of most London commuters. Its front door opens on to the back entrance of the pavilion at Lord’s where Brewer, chief executive of the Marylebone Cricket Club, has his office. The house does have a separate entrance on the road that runs by the side of the club but it is the inside entrance he has asked me to come to. “Compared to the hour, hour-and-a-half journey I used to have when I last worked in London, this is a 30-second commute,” he says.
Brewer’s house, which the Club acquired in 1912, was long rented out to Sir George “Gubby” Allen, the patrician former England captain and stockbroker who, in his lifetime, ran Lord’s like a personal fiefdom. Indeed the private entrance was built by the Club so Allen would not have to use the main road to access the ground.
Brewer, who is married with two sons, is the third chief executive to live here and, while he and his wife also have a home in Nottingham, he is keen to emphasise how crucial this home is for his job. “I probably have four evening functions a week on average here at Lord’s and I’m often called out late in the evening to sort things out.”
During the Olympics, when Lord’s hosted the archery, the 2012 organisers took over Brewer’s office and he worked from his dining room for two months. In fact, he often chooses to work from there saying, “It’s a lovely place to come. I almost look out on the Harris Garden. I like to do that when I’ve got something complicated to do.”
However he makes it a rule not to come home for lunch, worried what home lunches may do to his figure. “I love cooking fish and I do a good roast dinner but I have to be disciplined about what I eat – although I’ve actually lost weight doing the job.”
Brewer’s surprise weight loss could have been the result of coping with one of the gravest crises the Club has faced since he took charge last spring. Two days before Brewer’s appointment as chief executive was announced, Sir John Major resigned from the important MCC committee. The former prime minister, a great cricket lover, resigned when the committee rejected a £400m redevelopment that would have considerably increased the ground’s capacity but also involved large-scale development of flats at the (northeast) Nursery end.
To add to Brewer’s problem, a club with almost a Kremlin-like belief in secrecy found that the row was front-page news. In a letter to members, Philip Hodgson, then MCC president, explained that the redevelopment had to be rejected because “preservation of Lord’s as a cricket ground was more important than a windfall of cash”. Sir John, incensed that his views had been “misrepresented” and that he was being “traduced”, thundered back, “I did not resign over the decision to abandon the ‘Vision for Lord’s’, even though I do believe it is a serious mistake the Club may come to regret. I resigned due to the manner in which the decision was reached.”
Since then, elections to the committee have generated further adverse publicity and plans for a revised redevelopment are still to be agreed. While Brewer is reluctant to talk about it, he hints at the turmoil all this has caused saying, “There are some very strongly held views about the ground development. It really does attract and polarise opinion. I have no problem with strong debate.”
Brewer’s reticence about the future of Lord’s is in sharp contrast to his willingness to talk about his career before he came to cricket. Given that Brewer worked for 24 years for NatWest and RBS, this may seem surprising, but he is keen to set right the image of bankers.
“I was not a casino banker. In my last role at RBS, I was the regional director for the East Midlands commercial bank. We were lending money to businesses turning over between £1m and £20m. When I left RBS in 2005 [to take charge of Nottinghamshire County Cricket], the share price was high. Bonuses were small and people earned them against specific objectives.”
He is even prepared to say of Fred “the Shred” Goodwin, “he was a very bright individual. The trouble is everything’s tarred with the same brush. I find some of the comments against the banks difficult to stomach. The training that you got in a bank, leadership training, management training, is second to none. I’ve run big teams of people now for 20-odd years. What I can tell you about my first nine months here is the experience that I found the most useful has been the banking experience.”
This is important for Brewer, as the MCC is also a business. “We turn over between £40m and £50m. We’ve got 180 staff, with all our catering in-house. And, on a major match day, we have probably about 1,500 [staff] serving a crowd of 28,000, the largest cricket ground in the country. So it’s a big operation to run.”
We are talking in a room that Allen called his “drawing room”. Brewer, aware that he would never have the power Allen wielded, smiles at the description saying, “it is a nice sized living room.” The way he utters the words suggest that Allen’s world, which was closer to Downton Abbey, could never be for Brewer.
It is certainly hard to imagine Allen displaying his cigarette-card collection as Brewer has done but then, for Brewer, this is where cricket meets family history. The collection features some of the great cricketers of 1938 but Brewer is keen to highlight Ken Farnes, a little-known former England bowler. “He bowled for Essex,” says Brewer. “My father came from Malden in Essex and always used to tell me about Ken Farnes, and I lived there between 1991 and 1998.”
There are other cricket-card collections in the room, as well as the “Wisdens” [cricketers’ almanacks] that Brewer has collected since the 1960s, and a picture of Moseley cricket club in Birmingham, where Brewer played before going on to play for the Warwickshire Second XI. His wife, Jo, is tolerant of his passion for sport, while his two sons are just as keen as he is, but Brewer worries how all this will come across to the outside world: “I’m going to sound a real nerd, aren’t I, when this goes out?”
Then, as I admire the bust of Gubby Allen, Brewer points to his CD collection saying, “I’m very keen on classical music. I love Shostakovich and go to the Proms and concerts a lot.” There are also books on the western isles of Scotland. “That’s my favourite part of the world. I do a lot of walking there.”
As we pause on the landing on the way to bedrooms on the first floor, Brewer points to a painting of Neist Point on the Isle of Skye. “The Isle of Skye is so beautiful. It is one of my favourite places,” he says.
Not that in the year ahead the 54-year-old will have much chance to visit Skye. “There’s a lot to do,” he says, “but it could not be more exciting. What a year to be doing the job, with the England-Australia match here in July. And we’ve got our bicentenary in 2014 coming up.”
Leaning against the fire place in the living room is the bat with which Don Bradman, widely considered the greatest batsman in the game, made his century at Lord’s in 1930. It came in the second innings and Bradman’s 131 not only changed the course of the match decisively in Australia’s favour but provided further proof that the game had discovered a batting genius.
The hall has his most treasured possession. This is a framed Fulham shirt “presented by the committee and staff of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club in recognition of his magnificent contribution to the club during his seven years as chief executive, 2005 to 2012”. Brewer was taken to Fulham as an eight-year-old by his father and such is his devotion to the club that he has every single Fulham home programme since 1965. “Cricket’s my job,” he says, “football is total relaxation. When I first went, opposing fans sat next to each other and people could drink in sight of the pitch. At half-time, you could change ends. In those days you could walk from the Hammersmith end right round the riverside to the Putney end. It has all changed but Fulham still has great character.”
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