Exclusive: MCC about-turn on Eton-Harrow match at Lord's

Eton and Harrow schoolboys at Lord's - Exclusive: MCC's U-turn on Eton-Harrow match at Lord's - Alex Davidson/Getty Images
Eton and Harrow schoolboys at Lord's - Exclusive: MCC's U-turn on Eton-Harrow match at Lord's - Alex Davidson/Getty Images

MCC is understood to have agreed to an 11th-hour about-turn over their axing of Eton-Harrow and Oxford-Cambridge fixtures at Lord's.

A climbdown amid protests from a rebellion group comes just 24 hours after incoming president Stephen Fry backed the governing body to stand its ground at a crunch meeting with members. Accusations that MCC "trampled over the history and traditions of Lord's" by ditching the matches were due to be thrashed out at a special general meeting. But just a day before facing a resolution to reinstate the historic fixtures, the MCC Committee agreed a compromise, amid fears a toxic row would be played out at Tuesday night's meeting.

Sources close to the process said neither the MCC nor the rebels who raised the motion were aware which way initial results were going. Early counting had been outsourced to an agency and the governing body was only receiving a running tally of turnout.

Instead there was a clear sense that MCC chiefs were nervous about more reputational damage arising from the special general meeting on Tuesday.

In an email to members, Guy Lavender, chief Executive of the MCC, said: "I write to advise you that the Special General Meeting scheduled for 18.00 tomorrow will not now take place. The MCC Committee has agreed to a request, received from the requisitionists this morning, to withdraw the Resolution and cancel the SGM, in the best interests of the Club.

"Both the committee and the requisitionists continue to believe in their respective points of view, but we will now work together on next steps, to include a consultation process with Members with a view to considering the future of the two fixtures at the 2023 AGM. Noting the time needed for this consultation, it has been agreed by both parties that the Club will invite the four institutions to play their respective matches (Oxford v Cambridge and Eton v Harrow) at Lord’s in 2023."

Talks between MCC and a group campaigning for the matches to be reinstated intensified over the weekend after concerns were raised around due process.

Fry had intervened in the row on Sunday, saying "My urging for MCC members is, 'If you really love cricket, don't you want more kids to play? Don't you want it to lose that image that it sometimes still has: a turgid image of snobbery and elitism?"

However, in its most recent message circulated with members, the Committee for the Reinstatement of the Historic Fixtures at Lord’s takes issue with MCC saying the decision was prompted to allow "all genders, abilities and backgrounds" to "potentially play at our wonderful ground".

"In our view, the email seemed to suggest that such a future could not become a reality if the historic fixtures were to be reinstated," the rebel group says.

"We think this is misleading, for two reasons: first, because those wishing to reinstate the historic fixtures actually applaud these initiatives and would not wish such a future to be put at risk in any way."

The group also takes aim at corporate sponsor matches that still go ahead. "We also note that the MCC Committee has stayed silent about three fixtures that take place at Lord’s every year: the ones that the club’s sponsors, including JP Morgan, are allowed to host for clients and staff as part of their sponsorship deals," the group adds.

"It would be reasonable to assume that these matches have no different an impact on the quality of the Lord’s square than the historic fixtures do, yet they do not feature in any discussions around fixture congestion."

Ahead of the crunch vote, Bruce Carnegie-Brown, the club chairman, had earlier this month written to all 23,000 members: "I hope you will support the committee by voting AGAINST [sic] the resolution".

The MCC Committee was not obliged to change its plans if it lost the vote, but it would have been hugely damaging. Online and postal voting was due to close at noon on Oct 3.

Telegraph Sport had been first to disclose in February that Lord's would no longer be hosting the fixtures. In the subsequent resolution requesting an about-turn, the rebel members said the decision was a show of "disrespect" to members which "was further to be seen in the attitude of the club's chairman towards older members, with his comment about colostomy bags at this year's AGM".

Carnegie-Brown, 62, had been disciplined after joking about members that "they are taking an age to empty their colostomy bags" during a break at the Lord's meeting on May 4 – a comment that was picked up by microphones.

The Eton v Harrow fixture was set to be relocated to the Wormsley Estate in Oxfordshire.