TWO former football stars are launching an appeal to fight the “draconian” punishment handed out to Durham County Cricket Club.

Ex-Sunderland players Kevin Ball and Jimmy Montgomery are backing an online appeal to raise funds for the cricket club following the sanctions imposed by sport’s governing body as part of a bail-out.

Last year, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) agreed a £3.8 million rescue of the debt-ridden club, but imposed severe sanctions which saw the three-times county champions relegated to Division Two, begin the new season with a 48-point deduction and face stiff penalties in both of cricket’s cup competitions.

Led by ex-Durham President Tom Moffat, four Durham supporters are today launching a new website to both raise money to pay the club’s debt to the ECB and send a clear message to the governing body expressing fans’ anger at the severity of the punishment.

Mr Moffat said: “We believe the punishments handed out were draconian to say the least and grossly unfair.

“They are probably the harshest ever imposed on a sporting body.

“The purpose of launching a website today is two-fold.

“Firstly, it gives cricket enthusiasts throughout the country the opportunity to show their anger at the ECB and at the same time make a donation to the fund, which will be used exclusively to pay off the debt owed to the ECB.

“We want to show the powers that be that Durham members – and indeed followers of the game throughout the country - are not taking this lying down”.

The club, which has undergone a restructuring since the bail-out which has seen Ashes hero Sir Ian Botham appointed chairman, has seen its first increase in membership in eight years.

Today, former Sunderland captain Kevin Ball and FA Cup winning goalkeeper Jim Montgomery, who played cricket for Wearmouth in the same side as Len Shackleton, will launch the website in an event at Philadelphia Cricket Club.

Mr Moffat said: “People who support other counties have either joined the club or given a donation.

“It shows that supporters of the game from outside the North East are as angry as we are at what the ECB has done.

“Every hit on the website – every pound raised will send a clear message to the ECB. Let’s show them that we mean business.”