Pushing the boundaries

He may have spent the majority of his professional life working in football but Sean Jarvis’s appointment as Leicestershire’s new chief executive is a homecoming in every sense.

Huddersfield Town’s former commercial director officially started his role at Grace Road this week but, in reality, he has been helping the county navigate its way through an unprecedented crisis since the start of the lockdown in March.

For a man used to dealing with multi-million pound sums in the monied elite of the world’s most lucrative football league, the financial reality of Leicestershire’s situation – like that of almost every other county – is stark.

He also knows that county cricket is about far more than pounds and pence. It’s a way of life to a great many people, the players included. Which is why he’s doing everything he possibly can to ensure that Leicestershire remain part of English cricket’s fabric.

“I was born and bred in Leicester in the 60’s and grew up until I was 18,” Jarvis tells TheCC. “My dad was a huge Leicestershire man; he was an umpire and also did a Sunday morning show on BBC Radio Leicester all about local cricket.

“It’s a homecoming for me. It’s probably the final chapter of my career. It was a difficult one, really. I’ve spent 15 years at Huddersfield Town and we’ve gone through some amazing times – taking the club from League One right the way up to the Premier League, and then beating Manchester United.

“I had been living up in Yorkshire for nearly 35 years. I’ve firmly got my roots here and my wife is a Yorkshire lass.

“But then when Leicestershire came calling it just felt right to move back to my hometown. With the heritage and the DNA that I’ve got, it felt right. Now I’m looking forward to the challenge.

“I’ve been involved in shifting Rugby League from a winter sport to a summer sport as well as working in football, so I’m hoping I can bring that kind of knowledge here and bring a different dimension to what we do.”

Cricket has certainly had a need for out-of-the-box thinking so far this season, with the county game not resuming until 1 August at the earliest. That has put an unbearable strain on a number of counties, with only Surrey and Lancashire not furloughing their entire playing staff in a bid to cut back on costs.

“Homegrown talent is imperative for English cricket. We want people who want to play for Leicestershire.”

Leicestershire’s own players have been left kicking their heels, while the likes of Little Mix and Westlife – both of whom were due to play at the Fischer County Ground next month – have also had to save their Foxes bows for another season.

It was hardly the situation that Jarvis envisaged when he accepted the job vacated by Karen Rothery back in March.

“You’ve got to take the positives out of this – everyone here knows that we’ve got a lot of hard work ahead of us,” says Jarvis.

“One criticism I would have of sports clubs is that they do one year and then just repeat the same thing year-on-year-on-year.

“They stick to the same model. Having this break, which of course has a lot of negatives to it, but you have to look at the positives and think, ‘right, how do you break that cycle of repeating the same thing. What can we do differently? How can we go about things in a new way? What can we improve on? How can we make the future better?

“You have to find the silver-lining even when there are dark clouds everywhere you look.”

Jarvis has certainly seen a few of them in recent years, with Huddersfield’s relegation from the Premier League last season precipitating a disastrous season back in the Championship.

They’re not the first team to experience that feeling, just ask any Sunderland fan.

Currently sitting dangerous close to the relegation zone, it’s not inconceivable that the Terriers could find themselves back in League One by the time the season is eventually finished.

All of which will seem a world away from visits to Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge enjoyed by Jarvis during their two year stay in the top flight.

“It was an incredible journey,” he says. “At Huddersfield, we were particularly good with business connections, we worked very hard with businesses in the local community and built connections around that.

“We were also very strong on fan engagement and how we communicated with supporters and took their ideas onboard.

“If you look at the Football League awards, Huddersfield won the most trophies for family excellence as well. I think all those little things and little tactics you could actually bring to cricket. We looking to develop a programme called the Running Foxes, where we want to select between 30 and 40 people within the business community who can act as ambassadors for us. They will be opinion formers for us and will help spread the message in places that, arguably, we couldn’t reach.

“We’ve started a business network called the Foxes 50 too. That’s developing nicely. It’s about doing different things and hopefully bringing some of my expertise from football into the cricket world.”

It’s performances on the field of play, though, that Leicestershire’s players and coaches will ultimately be judged on.

“You have to find the silver-lining even when there are dark clouds everywhere you look.”

Leicestershire’s last piece of major silverware came in 2011, when the county won a third T20 title in just seven years. You have to go back to 1998, however, for their most recent County Championship title.

Currently languishing in Division Two, it would take a Huddersfield-like re-birth for the Foxes to challenge the likes of Essex, Surrey or Yorkshire anytime soon.

But Jarvis is confident that the kind of local base that has served Essex so well could be replicated in the Midlands. And if they need any inspiration, they only have to look at the feats of Claudio Ranieri’s Premier League shock troops in 2015/16.

“There’s no magic formula, no silver bullet,” says Jarvis. “Leicestershire have got an incredible heritage of some amazing, amazing cricketers.

“That is where we have to get back to you but it’s going to be a long journey.

“Our first step is rediscover ourselves – find out who were are and what we stand for.

“With a new board in place, which has a real diversity of knowledge, once you start creating harmonious behaviour at the top then it filters all the way through.

“This is what we’re trying to create.

“Homegrown talent is imperative for English cricket. We want people who want to play for Leicestershire.

“We want people who are students of the game and have a real desire to learn and become the best.

“We’ll almost become the academy of cricket, if you like. We want people that have that hunger to help rebuild Leicestershire.

“We want to get back to where we once were. Some of the bigger clubs have bigger revenue streams, bigger fan bases but we’ll be cricket’s challenger brand.

“We want to push the boundaries.”

You could argue that there has never been a better time for that to happen.