An Interview With Geoffrey Boycott

Posted on: 03 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

One of cricket’s most famous names talks to 50connect.

Former Yorkshire and England star Geoff Boycott enjoyed an illustrious, but sometimes controversial career at the crease.

Rated as one of England’s finest ever opening batsman, the outspoken cricket commentator spoke to 50connect about life before a career in the sport and the reasons behind the lack of modern-day English players in his greatest XI.

It’s hard to mistake the strong Yorkshire accent that is synonymous with Boycott, and it’s growing up in the small mining village of Fitzwilliam in the Wakefield district of West Yorkshire that Geoff remembers fondly – the days before cricket took over his life.

As a young boy, Geoff remembers being just one of a number of kids that used to play around the streets of his village. Never destined or seen as the next potential star batsman for the country’s cricket side, but just an ordinary boy who enjoyed playing football through the winter months and cricket in the summertime.

Facts & Figures

  • Made his full Yorkshire debut in 1963 aged 22
  • Played his first Test match for England two years later
  • Won the Wisden Cricketer Of The Year in 1965
  • First English cricketer to pass 8,000 runs
  • Made 108 Test appearances
  • Scored 22 Test centuries
  • Highest Test score of 246 for England
  • Retired with a Test average of 47.73

“It’s just what you did when you were a young boy. I wasn’t especially great, I was just one of the kids who loved going out to play cricket in the street,” says Geoff.

“You had a bat and a ball, whoever had the bat batted first and used the manhole cover as the wicket. The streets were all in rows like Coronation Street so that’s where you played and you had everything there. It was safe as well, your parents were close by and everybody knew everybody in the village and you just played soccer and cricket.”

“I was just like everybody, I just liked it. I didn’t know if I was any good, it was my uncle Algy who asked my parents to get me some coaching. He was a local cricketer and he said I seemed to have some aptitude.”

“I used to go to coaching every Saturday morning in the winter, catch two busses and walk three quarters of a mile to a man called Johnny Lawrence. He was a Yorkshireman who used to play for Somerset.  He was a leg spinner and batsman – a real all-rounder and he played for many years."

"He bought a greenhouse and put some indoor nets in there which was a good idea as being a greenhouse it got lots of natural light. That’s how I grew up, going there every Saturday morning and it was my uncle Algy who really got things going.”

But things weren’t quite as simple for Geoff as two major accidents turned family life upside down.

As an eight-year-old, Geoff fell over some iron spikes near his home and punctured his chest. He was rushed to hospital, nearly dying and ultimately losing his spleen. Two years later, his father had a serious accident when being hit by empty coal tubs down a mining pit. The injury left Thomas Boycott off work for two years with a severely damaged spine.

“I don’t remember much about my accident but I know my father had a very serious mining accident in 1950 and it nearly killed him. He was off work for two years and it ruined his life and health."

"We had no money; it was a struggle before he got injured so it was even worse after. There was none of this compensation rubbish or disability pay back then as it is now. They used to promise my mum a few dozen eggs and tomatoes and it was all nice words but there was no compensation – the bloody union was useless. It was full of fat cats who couldn’t be arsed to move a muscle.”

“We were just kids but we knew it was struggle. So when I passed my GCE I thought I had to get a job and earn some money – it wasn’t to do with cricket, I could see that it was just too big a strain on the family and I needed to start bringing home some money. I’d have loved to have gone to Oxford and Cambridge, who wouldn’t? You’d have to be wrong in the head to not want to go to the two finest universities in the world. It wasn’t to be, the phrase ‘needs must’ is perfect – I had to get a job and try and make it that way."

However, the old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’ couldn’t be more fitting than in Geoff’s case. Those hours spent in the streets honing his skills in duel sports saw him eventually selected for the Leeds United under-18 football team, where the Leeds fan rubbed shoulders in the same youth team as Billy Bremner.

“I played in the Leeds United youth team in what was the Northern Intermediate League. Raich Carter was manager then and John Charles was the king.”

“Pwoah - he was the best footballer in Britain and he was the first one to go abroad, a fantastic footballer. So we used to play on a Saturday morning, then they’d give us tickets if the first team were at home. So we’d get our lunch at the café and then get to go and watch the great John Charles. It was wonderful - I met him years later too and I told him before he died what I thought of him and he laughed.”

“He was a big man, big-chested and those were the days defenders got away with kicking forwards to death. Kicking him was a waste of time; he was so big, huge, barrel-chested – a fantastic player.”

Despite being a staunch Whites supporter, Geoff called time on his soccer career to get to grips with working life.

Starting out as a clerk in the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance from 1958 until 1963, Geoff made time to play at a number of cricket clubs, averaging 70 in the South Elmsall district team, which he captained.

Boycott playing for EnglandHe also played for Barnsley where he caught the eye of Clifford Hesketh, a member of Yorkshire’s County Cricket team committee, which paved the way for a glittering career with the White Roses and England. 

In 1963 Geoff made his Yorkshire debut, going on to make 609 first-class appearances and playing in 108 Test matches for England. However, 13 years after his Yorkshire debut, Geoff an established international was rewarded with a place in the England Test match team alongside his cricket idol Tom Graveney.

“’Elegant Tom’ we used to call him. I played with him against the West Indies, what a player he was. It was a very special day for me. I scored 60-something and Tom hit over 90 and I batted with him – my hero. He was an idol growing up as a boy and I was able to play with him in a Test match at Lords.”

Geoff talks passionately about the changes he’s seen in cricket over the past 40 years but the one major difference he points to is the preparation of the pitches and wickets.

“I was very good on uncovered pitches. Most people don’t realise today, that we played on uncovered pitches until 1979 in county cricket.  They have no knowledge, recollection or idea of what playing on these pitches is and it’s difficult,” says Geoff.

“We played Championship matches two times a week for a few days on uncovered pitches. You got a great variety of surfaces with the weather as it is in this country. The weather changed the outlook of the match daily. If it rained and you were playing on an uncovered pitch the whole match could swing one way or another.”

“Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart – they have no idea about uncovered pitches. It was very difficult to stay in on them; there were a lot of low scoring games. You make 50 or 60 on a pitch like that and you win the match but it’s all alien to today’s players.”

Now 67, Geoff has released his ninth book The Best XI and admits he’s happier than ever in his role as a cricket commentator and pundit at Channel Five.

“I love the cricket. I always have and always will. I wake up in the morning and I’m excited to get up and go to work. I watch every ball of every game; I don’t miss anything because I love what I do. The day I stop enjoying the game is the day I need to get away from this earth.”

Kevin Pietersen shares a joke with Geoff BoycottIn his new book, Geoff picks his all-time greatest XI’s for all Test playing nations, but there is no room for any England player since Ian Botham in England’s superstar line-up.

“It was an idea that came to me last winter. We all do it as kids and try and put together the best team ever. Whether it is a British Isles football team, an all-time England cricket team or a dream team, we all do it in our heads and I thought of sitting down and actually researching it properly.”

“It took a long day reading books, watching videos, checking out the stats of every player because I felt it had to be a level playing field. You had various changes to take into account, such as the uncovered pitches and so a high average score 60 years ago could be seen as better than today’s players.”

“Sometimes we are brainwashed by the media and by what we’ve seen, but not many people saw the great players 60 or 80 years ago so it would be unfair on them and there is no video of them actually playing.”

“People won’t agree with my choices but I’d love to hear there arguments if they have any for players to be included. I know a lot of good friends, great cricketers who haven’t made the team – I’ve had to put personal friends to a side and be strong-minded.”

The Best XIThe Best XI by Geoffrey Boycott, published by Penguin Books is available to buy at all good bookshops for £20, or online at Amazonfor £12.

By Mark O'Haire

Do you agree with Geoff’s selections? Who would make your greatest XI of all time?

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