Allen Stanford has claimed that it “breaks his heart” to hear of the embarrassment that his notorious partnership with the ECB caused to English cricket.
Speaking to the BBC in his first interview since 2009, when he was indicted for the second-largest investment fraud in US history and ultimately sentenced to 110 years in prison, Stanford continued to protest his innocence of the charges, and vowed that he would walk out of the doors of the maximum-security Coleman II prison in Florida “a free man”.
However, his name will forever be synonyous with his brief but ill-fated involvement with English cricket in 2008, which began he landed his helicopter on the Nursery Ground at Lord’s and challenged the England team to a $20 million winner-takes-all contest on his private ground in Antigua.
England duly lost the first of what was meant to be a series of five such matches against their West Indian opponents, the Stanford Superstars, but soon afterwards the ECB severed all ties as the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Stanford with a $8bn fraud.
The fiasco was a huge embarrassment to the ECB, in particular the then-chairman, Giles Clarke, who brokered the deal in a bid to head off the financial threat posed by the nascent Indian Premier League, and David Collier, the then-chief executive. Both men survived in their jobs, however, with Clarke last year stepping up to the role of ECB president.
“It makes me very, very sad. I’m very sorry,” Stanford said of the embarrassment caused to the ECB. “It breaks my heart and there’s nothing I can say other than that was not caused by Allen Stanford. That was caused by the wrongful prosecution … an over zealous and a wrongful prosecution.
“I’m not sure if Giles Clarke is still the head person now, but he and I got along well,” he added. “And I think the world of David Collier.
“My dealings with the ECB was one of professionalism and one of mutual respect and I love cricket.”
The so-called Stanford 20/20 for 20 had been the culmination of an involvement in cricket that had begun with his inter-island Caribbean competition, the Stanford 20/20, in 2006.
That tournament, underpinned by a million-dollar prize pool, had been credited with a genuine revival in interest in cricket in the Caribbean. His second staging of the competition, in 2008, was watched by a reported global audience of 300 million.
Stanford agreed with the assertion that he had been trying to exploit the game of cricket for his own interests, but maintains that his involvement in the sport had created significant spin-off benefits for the Caribbean.
“I was trying to grow the Stanford brand globally,” he said. “I spent about $30-odd million on cricket in the West Indies in addition to what I spent on the 20/20 for 20 tournament. But I certainly did want a return on that investment in terms of a business sense. But what nobody understood is that I anticipated this new generation of players that we were going to uncover.
“In the West Indies we have the greatest physical athletic talent for cricket anywhere in the world. They were just being diverted into other sports, whether it’s basketball or soccer. There just wasn’t that real incentive for them to stay and play in a sport that had not kept track with the 21st Century and the modernisation of the sport.”
Stanford admitted that he had had little opportunity to stay in touch with the sport since his conviction. “Cricket is not a very big sport in prison,” he said.