Back From The Brink

Published: 2023
Pages: 217
Author: Tennant, Ivo
Publisher: Moyhill Publishing
Rating: 4.5 stars

Like many others I have always been passionate about county cricket. As a Lancastrian I look first towards the fortunes of the Red Rose, but at the same time have always taken a great interest in the fortunes of the other 17 First Class counties. Hampshire are of particular interest, partly because my late father was a Hampshire man, and partly because they are the closest First Class county to where I have lived for many years.

So the first question I asked myself when I learned of the impending arrival of this new book was ‘What do I know about Rod Bransgrove?’ The answer, I am ashamed to say, was ‘not a lot’. Which is not to say his name is not one I know well, as it certainly is but, I now know, it is one that I have rather taken for granted for the duration of the 21st Century. What I certainly hadn’t realised was that without him Hampshire would in all probability have gone under, and that beyond that he had sunk a large part of his personal fortune into the club, and fought a long series of battles with the ECB.

The reason for this is simple enough. I love the game of cricket, and try not to face the sometimes grim reality of how much of a struggle it is to keep it going. In short I rely on people like Rod Bransgrove doing whatever it takes to keep the game alive and, to my shame, occasionally think ill of him on those occasions I perceive his actions and comments as championing developments that do not suit my rather traditional view of how the sport should be run.

What I expected when I opened Back From The Brink was the inside story of the last quarter of a century. I feared it might well labour its point, particularly when I realised author Ivo Tennant had Bransgrove’s full co-operation. In addition whilst I realised that that story would necessarily involve a look at the character of the man himself, I did not anticipate as full an introduction as I actually got. A whole book on how Bransgrove made such a success of his life would have been too much, but equally anything that left the real Bransgrove hidden would have lessened the book’s impact.

In fact however Tennant’s reader gets to know exactly what makes Bransgrove tick. Almost by definition he is an interesting man, but his background is a modest one, without any great academic achievement. He was of course a cricket lover, and it is clear that in his youth he was a more than useful player, albeit not one who ever seriously aspired to playing the game at First Class level. He is also a musician of some talent, but again not so much so as to enable him to derive a living from those skills.

It almost goes without saying that Bransgrove has a strong work ethic, and has never been frightened of long hours and hard work, but that of itself will not, as I know only too well, a successful businessman make. What singles men like Bransgrove out is their vision, and following on from that their willingness to back their own judgment and their ability to imbue other talented individuals with the courage to join them on their journey. Tennant tells enough of Bransgrove’s life story to enable his reader to understand what motivates him, but not so much as to put off those whose interest is cricket, rather than business.

It helps that Tennant himself clearly knows Bransgrove well, and that he has had the opportunity to speak to many others who do. As noted already Bransgrove himself has supported Tennant’s efforts, as have other family members, business associates and friends both inside and outside the game. One great friend is Ian Botham, who contributes a foreword, and many other well known names have shared their thoughts. One or two with whom Bransgrove has crossed swords have also spoken to Tennant, although sadly not Giles Clarke, whose input might well have been illuminating, albeit its absence is hardly surprising. The two do not get on at all, disagreeing on much, and particularly the Allen Stanford debacle – it is a sobering thought that that one happened fifteen years ago.

All in all Back From the Brink is a fascinating look at how cricket has been run in England this century. Parts of that history are well known, but much is not, and nowhere before I have seen a seamless narrative dealing with what has happened. Inevitably the focus of the book is Hampshire and Bransgrove, but everything else revolves around that. I dare say if I ever met Bransgrove there would be a number of subjects over which we would have to agree to differ, but not over what he has done for Hampshire and for cricket. He is a man for whose talents and tenacity I now have the very greatest of respect, and Ivo Tennant has done us all a great service by telling his story.

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