Don Robson, who helped the fledgling Durham County Cricket Club find a home during his leadership of the council in the early 1990s, spoke on the eve of the fourth Ashes Test in Chester-le-Street.
Mr Robson said: “It’s quite tremendous, really. People are going to come from far and wide. When you go down to the club, and you see the pitch, you see the stands, you see all of the business that’s going on, you realise we should have been doing this a long time ago.”
He will join more than 70,000 fans who will visit the Riverside Ground and pump more than ï¿½20m into the local economy as Alastair Cook’s England side look to win the Ashes series outright.
The 79-year-old said the milestone marked an important step in the region’s sporting history – and defended a council decision to pump ï¿½2.8m in an effort to clinch the future of international cricket in the North East.
He said: “The people in charge of the club are very intelligent, business-minded people, and you have to give them the opportunity to develop further, having had so much success.”
It is now two decades since Mr Robson was approached by a Chester-le-Street farmer as he searched for a site which could play home to his Durham CCC team. Believing the land to be overly wet to remain of use to himself, the farmer was looking to give up his lease.
Of considerable size, and positioned in the shadow of Lumley Castle, the location appeared just about perfect for Mr Robson.
And after a frustrating, heavily-protracted pursuit this arrangement laid the foundation for more years of top-tier cricket in the North East.
Last night Mr Robson said that putting the North East on a worldwide stage justified huge investment in the sport earlier this year.
He said: “We became a first-class club in 1992. Since then, the development – across all areas of the club – has been outstanding.
“The success of the academy is, in my opinion, an achievement in itself.
“Elsewhere, the club continues to spearhead cricket coaching across the region, and takes the game into schools. The club attracts visitors to the area, and also attracts investment to the area. It is, generally, a social benefit.
“Many first-class cricket clubs look at us. They look at our model, at how we’ve built ourselves up over the last twenty years.”
The Riverside played host to two fixtures at the 1999 Cricket World Cup, just four years after opening. But Mr Robson believes that an Ashes Test represents a different proposition entirely.
“There’s a massive difference between the two,” he said. “This is test cricket, and, because Australia are involved, there’s an added interest about it.”
England retained the urn on Monday at a rain-drenched Old Trafford, and currently lead the series 2-0.
Victory at Chester-le-Street will ensure that England win the series outright.