Run machine: Even Geoffrey Boycott’s prolific scorer as captain could not lift a club living in the past

Like most cricket-mad young boys growing up in a mining community near Wakefield in the 1940s and 1950s, I dreamt of one day playing for Yorkshire and captaining the club. Whenever I went to my local nets or matches, Yorkshire cricket would be the only thing talked about.

My dream came true in 1962 when I made my debut and I went on to play for them for the next 24 years until 1986, and captained the side for eight of those years, from 1971 to 1978. I am proud to have followed in the footsteps of some great men who captained Yorkshire, but I realise now that taking on the role was the biggest mistake I ever made in my cricketing career.

It led to countless arguments with the committee that diverted me from the main job of winning cricket matches, while the pressures and demands of captaining Yorkshire persuaded me to put my England career on hold for three years, losing possibly my best years in Test cricket. I wonder what I would have achieved if I had chosen a different course.

Things came to a head in 1970. Aged 29 I was approaching my best years and wanted a stable environment at Yorkshire so before I flew to Australia that winter for the Ashes, I went to our captain Brian Close’s house and asked him if he was going to resign or retire. He gave me an absolute assurance he was not retiring and was loving the job, so I went to Australia with a clear mind. How wrong I was.

Before the first Test in Brisbane John Nash, the Yorkshire secretary, phoned me and said that Close had resigned and the committee had voted unanimously to invite me to be captain. I was so surprised Closey had resigned, but chuffed to bits I had been offered the captaincy.

The next day the English media told me Closey had been sacked. I was dumbfounded, totally speechless. I felt embarrassed because I had accepted the job thinking Brian had resigned. Later on I found out what actually happened: I had been elected captain by a majority vote, after it came down to either Don Wilson, the left-arm spinner, or me. The chairman then asked the committee if they could all vote again and make it look good, by nobody voting for Don this time so it would be carried through ‘unanimously’. What duplicity and farce!

After we won the Ashes, I returned home full of enthusiasm for the new job and could not wait to get started. I had a naive belief we were on the verge of great things, but I had failed to grasp two important factors. The first was that the great Yorkshire team of the 1960s – the likes of Close, Ray Illingworth, Fred Trueman, Jimmy Binks, Ken Taylor and Bryan Stott – had been broken up, but new talent had not been nurtured.

The second factor was overseas players were becoming a real force in the county game, making teams that Yorkshire had beaten in the past a lot tougher to play. English players were also starting to move counties much more frequently, but we were stuck in a time warp.

In order to be able to play for Yorkshire, you had to be born in Yorkshire; when I was a young kid that made it feel as though you were already part of a special club, but now it meant the county was being held back.

I was also naive about the complexities of the job. When Closey was captain on away trips, he was handed a cheque by the secretary to cover our wages. He had to go to the bank when it opened at 10am on the morning of the match and cash the cheque. He was given some brown envelopes with our names on and how much we should be paid, less the tax, and he would fill them with the money from the bank. He would count it out and give it to us before play started and then at 11.30am have to switch on and start thinking about the game. It was amazing the amount of peripheral nonsense he had to do.
Another issue where Yorkshire seemed to be operating in a very old-fashioned way was the fact that there were no fixed-term contracts for the players. In those days, cricketers did not earn very much money and there were no agents to find them commercial deals. In 1968, when Ray Illingworth asked for a three-year contract to have a bit of security late in his career, he was refused. Sellers said to him: ‘If you want to go, then you can ——- well go. —- off.’ So Illy went, joined Leicestershire and won trophies.

It was a ridiculous situation, and I knew I had to address this issue because it was causing so much trouble in the dressing room. Tony Nicholson, the fast bowler, helped me squeeze more money for the players but the committee resented me for it.

As the team became poorer in ability the harder I tried and the better I batted but it made no difference – we were just not good enough. So when Yorkshire wanted someone to blame, they decided to point the finger at me: I was accused of being obsessed with my own scores.

The chief protagonist was Richard Hutton, one of the players. At one point, he tried to organise a letter to be sent to the committee expressing a lack of faith in my ability. The players refused to sign and it fell through. My relationship with Don Wilson was also strained. It felt like I was batting with a sack of coal on my back; the burden got heavier and heavier.

Of course there were things I could have done better; I wasn’t a good man-manager. I was a strong-minded individual, so I tackled the committee about things and answered them back where perhaps I could have been more diplomatic. I took on senior players, so should not have been surprised when the whispering campaign against me began.

Remaining captain in that atmosphere was a mistake. The job wasted so much time and energy, which I could and should have put to better use by pouring it into my batting.
I was not a political animal; I could not toady up to the committeemen, pour drinks down their necks at the bar and make them feel important.

Alcohol and pubs were a big thing in cricket then. Everybody would go to the bar every night, but I did not. I remember the first time I played for Yorkshire seconds, Brian Sellers came to the match and bought everyone a drink – even the kids. When asked, I said: “I would like an orange juice, please.”

He replied: “If you want an orange juice, you can buy your own bloody drink.” It was no surprise that the plotting behind my back happened in a pub. They staged their meetings at the Half Moon in Collingham, north of Leeds, but what they did not know was that Terry Brindle, the cricket writer on the Yorkshire Post, often went to drink there. They tried to get him in their camp to write bad stuff about me, but he refused.

Among those who met there to try to get me deposed were Don Brennan, a wannabe who lived in the past. Then there was Captain Desmond Bailey from Middlesbrough, who was all port and hot air. Harry McIlvenny, Brian Sellers, Billy Sutcliffe (son of Herbert) were all also involved. Terry would humour them, so they thought he was on their side but would then tell me what was going on.

My mind became so frazzled by the end of the 1974 season that I decided the thing to do was give up playing for England and concentrate on Yorkshire.

During the time I did not play for England, they were losing Test matches and the Yorkshire committee were telling me that I should be batting for my country. Then, when I decided to make myself available to play for England again in 1977 and Yorkshire lost a couple of matches in my absence, they criticised me for not being there. What was I supposed to do: cut myself in half and give one bit to Yorkshire, the other to England?
I am sure I would have played with more freedom and scored more runs in the 1970s if I had never captained Yorkshire. The people who were running the club made it at times unbearable for me. The rulers had a history of doing what they wanted and sacking players seemingly on a whim. The only difference with me was the members were finally sick of their petty jealousies and decided enough was enough and toppled the committee after I was sacked as a player in 1983.They blamed me for the uprising – nonsense! The committee were the ones with the power to make the decisions, not me. They started the unrest, they did the sackings and they reaped what they sowed. They forgot it was a members’ cricket club and not a private gentlemen’s club run for their own gratification.
[The Daily Telegraph]