SIR Ian Botham says his top priority is getting County Durham back into the first division after being formally announced as the new chairman of the troubled cricket club.
The former England all-rounder has taken over the reins at Durham County Cricket Club, which is in the process of being restructured after being given a £3.8m bail-out last year.
The club will start the season in the Second Division with a 48 point deficit after being penalised by the English Cricket Board (ECB) in exchange for the financial aid package.
Sir Ian Botham, who was announced as the new chairman of the club in November, was formally appointed at its Chester-le-Street grounds yesterday.
In his first press conference as chairman, he said: “The people up here deserve a good team and with the help of Durham County Council and with the ECB’s help we are pretty much starting on a reasonably level playing field, apart from the 48 points, which is another discussion for another day.”
He added: “I’m not going to go into this half-cocked. It’s something I’m proud to be doing.
“I love the area and I’m proud of the area, I regard myself as a local. Hopefully, we will be here in a couple of years lifting the trophy again."
He added: "I'm delighted to have taken on the role of chairman in what looks to be a very exciting time for the club.
"I finished my first-class career at Durham and have lived here for 30 years, I am very proud to be part of the North East, a region needs people playing cricket.
"The response has been magnificent and everyone has been very supportive.
“I can't wait for the season to start and for Durham to return to the top flight, where we belong."
Durham County Council stands to become the only shareholder in the club, which is being reconstituted as a community interest company (CIC) after agreeing to convert loans of £3.7m into shares.
Council leader Cllr Simon Henig said: “This is a big deal for County Durham to have someone like Ian Botham leading the board. That makes a big difference and is one of the reasons we are more confident we will move forward to a more stable position.
“It marks a real step change in terms of Durham County Cricket Club and it puts County Durham on the map nationally and internationally.”
Adding that it was not yet clear what role the council will have at the club in the future, he said: “We are optimistic that these shares will be redeemed and the council will start to see something coming back in the other direction but that’s for another day. It’s premature to talk about that because the board hasn’t even been made.”
Chief executive David Harker says he hopes the legal process of becoming a CIC will be completed by the start of the season.
The North-East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the club’s other major investor, has confirmed it has not converted its outstanding loan of £770,000 into shares.
Chairman Andrew Hodgson said: “Further to the restructuring of the cricket club in autumn 2016, the North East LEP has been in positive discussions with the new organisation and the ECB about the repayment terms of the loan. It is important that the loan funding is repaid to ensure the sustainability of the North East Investment Fund.”
“The North East LEP continues to work with the club and regional partners to support Durham County Cricket Club in promoting the North East through the delivery of first class cricket.”