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Born 21 October 1940 to Jane (Jenny) and Tom Boycott, a miner at Hemsworth Colliery, the eldest of three boys, he is eight years old when a fall off railings onto a mangle ruptures his spleen which has to be removed and the accident causes illness problems throughout his career. The family suffer a serious blow two years later, in March 1950, when his father is badly injured in an accident at the pit and never fully recovers his health.
These are hard times for the Boycotts but a strong sense of family and community spirit sustain them and young GB starts to make an impact in cricket at primary school winning his first prize, a Len Hutton bat, as an all rounder in a newspaper competiton with 6 for 10 and 45 not out for Fitzwilliam.
A major inflence is Uncle Algy, a seam bowler with the Ackworth club, who takes him to practice and then arranges for coaching at Johnny Lawrence’s cricket school at Rothwell, 12 miles from home.
But money is tight and Algy and GB’s Aunt Annie and Uncle Jack agree to pay half the ten shillings a week costs. Lawrence, a Yorkshire-born leg spinner who played with Somerset, becomes GB’s mentor and friend for life.
Failure of the 11 plus means transfer to a school without any cricket facilities but just over a year later the exam for late developers is passed and brings a move to Hemsworth Grammar School, run by a cricket mad headmaster, Russel Hamilton, who was aware of the young man’s prowess.
In the winter he is good enough to get a trial for Leeds United Football Club, then managed by Raich Carter, and GB played a number of U18 games at half back (midfield) partnering the great Scottish footballer, Billy Bremner.
A WINNING DEBUT
In April 1954 his name is in print for the first time when the Pontefract & Castleford Express mentions he struck the winning runs on his home debut for Ackworth first eleven and in June 1955 is picked to play for Yorkshire Schoolboys against Derbyshire at Queen’s Park, Chesterfield. The following month wins second ‘trophy’ , a canteen of cutlery, when a member of the team which wins the Hemsworth District 20 over Knock Out Cup.
At 16 years of age he joins Barnsley in the Yorkshire League while still playing in the Grammar School’s first eleven and then suffers a crisis of confidence when he realises he needs glasses. GB believes his dream is over before it starts but Uncle Algy talks him round and a letter to Mike Smith, the bespectacled Warwickshire batsman, brings an encouraging reply and eventually the trauma passes.
Early 1957 sees a call to the Yorkshire winter nets which involved a four hour round trip from Hemsworth to Headingley and a first meeting with Arthur ‘Ticker’ Mitchell, the legendary coach, Maurice Leyland, Brian Close, Fred Trueman and Ray Illingworth. School finishes in July 1958 with seven O levels and a desire to get a job which would allow time off for cricket. He joins the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance in Barnsley and works Saturday mornings throughout the winter to bank enough time off to use in the summer. He makes his debut for the Colts in July 1959 against Cumberland at Penrith with 5 and 15 batting at number five in a team which includes Brian Bolus, John Hampshire, Vic Wilson and Ted Lester, the captain.
One other outing follows but at the start of the 1960 season a pulled hamstring while fielding for Barnsley at Scarborough rules him out for ten weeks in the middle of the season.
The following year, 1961, brings a move from Barnsley to Leeds, then captained by Michael Crawford, later chairman of YCCC, along with Billy Sutcliffe, a former county skipper and GB’s mentor Johnny Lawrence. Sutcliffe suggests Boycott, with nearly all of his innings at all levels as a middle order batsman, should open and after a shaky start the runs begin to come. Ted Lester wants him to do the same in the second team and tells him that centuries stick in the mind. At the start of 1962 he makes 126 not out for the seconds against Cumberland at Gargrave in front of the autocratic Brian Sellars, the cricket chairman, is awarded his second eleven cap and at the age of 21 is picked for the first team against Pakistan at Bradford. When selected for the Roses match at Bramall Lane at Whitsun 1963 his dad was in hospital when GB ended the first day 17 not out. He got his dad a TV for the Monday and told him when visiting on the Sunday that he’d try to stay in until the match was broadcast in the afternoon. He did and made 145 in front of 20,000 people.
THE MINISTRY OR YORKSHIRE ?
But cricket was taking up too much time and when an application for leave without pay was rejected GB had three days to decide between the Ministry or cricket and there was only one winner. When John Nash, the Yorkshire secretary, heard he called GB in and as a result an offer of £16 a week in the summer and £8 in the winter was made. Close, now the captain, demanded that GB open regularly and although GB did not enjoy the role at first eventually Close was proved right and at the end of the season he was awarded his county cap, an improved deal of £624 a year plus match fees of £11 for home games and £20 for away fixtures and in addition there was £100 bonus for winning the championship, better than civil service pay.
In 1964 Test caps follow and at Headingley GB is proud that mum and dad are in the crowd for the third Test against Australia. But Grahame Corling, an outswing bowler, keeps getting GB held at first slip by that great catcher Bobby Simpson and GB turns to Bill Bowes, the Yorkshire and England fast bowler, for advice. It works and in the last Test at The Oval the maiden Test hundred comes in the second innings, a knock which brings the present of a case of champagne from Harry Secombe whom the players had been to see on the Saturday night in the musical Pickwick.
For a young man who had never travelled outside the UK the trip to Canada, the USA and Bermuda with Yorkshire and to South Africa with England were eye openers. But it started badly with a reaction to a smallpox jab in New York caused by the earlier removal of his spleen. GB plays on the C.Aubrey Smith memorial ground in Hollywood, a magnificent arena in Brockton Point in Vancouver, which he calls the most beautiful cricket ground in the world, and in the same Yorkshire side as the great Gary Sobers in Bermuda!
In South Africa he takes a home movie of a spell-binding trip which includes an abortive hunt for the white rhinocerous with Bob Barber. Runs are hard to come by but GB takes great delight in taking three for 47 in the third Test at Capetown and enjoys his time under captain Mike Smith who sent such valuable advice to the tear stained teenager nine years earlier and makes a hundred to save the fourth Test.
The next home season is one GB would rather forget, at least the first part of it when runs were hard to come by. South Africa won in England for the first time and GB drove home from Trent Bridge almost in tears at his failure, knowing he would be dropped by England. Yorshire were also in the doldrums and the didactic Sellars was out for blood. All the players were interviewed individually by the cricket chairman and Richard Hutton, in particular, came in for some ferocious stick from the plain talking Sellars. GB, last in, feared the worst but Sellars was understanding and listened as GB outlined the nightmare season where more practice and harder work brought more and more tense, run-less innings. Sellars told him he was trying too hard, to relax, take his time and play naturally. Not what GB expected but it worked a charm. The high point of the season came in the Gillette Cup final when GB’s 146 with three sixes and 15 fours, still a record for a final, was shrouded in myth. The popular version is that Brian Close promoted himself up the order to tell GB to ‘get on with it’ but there is no truth in the story. Close was always going to bat at three to use his left handedness to counter David Sydenham’s swing in to the right hander and at no stage during the innings did GB receive any instructions from the captain. The biggest ribbing was when Doug Insole, the chairman of the selectors who had dropped GB, had to give him the Man of the Match award.
Gastro entritis left GB in hospital in Singapore for eight days on the way to Australia in the autumn of 1965 and when he got there had another two weeks flat on his back with an inflamed sciatic nerve, the result of a badly administered injection in Singapore. While recovering in Adelaide’s Queen Elizabeth Hosptal GB had a visit from Sir Donald Bradman, his all time hero, but, GB said: “Here was a man normally inaccessible simply because of his fame and status, naturally reticent, and I had him completely to myself for the best part of half an hour – too dumbfounded to ask him anything sensible and the more I think about it the more I regret it”.
A damaged finger put him out for another ten days but at Tasmania, against a Combined X1, GB made 156, his first century for 11 months. But the rest of the team, knowing how important it was to him, cracked on that it was not a first class match and GB fell for it. (It was and always had been first class).
Yorkshire won the title in 1966 in the last match against Kent at Harrogate but the season was special for two other events, GB narrowly avoiding a pair against Gary Sobers at Trent Bridge and batting with Tom Graveney, the batsman he most admired as a youngster. Sobers produced ‘the best delivery I have ever faced in cricket’ in the first innings, leg before to a ball which swung a long way and in the second a similar delivery found the thinnest of edges to avoid a repeat. At 39 years of age Graveney made a come back after a three year absence and at Lord’s GB was thrilled to share a century partnership with a man he had so admired.
Nothing to this day has ever wounded GB so much as to be dropped from the England team for slow scoring after his unbeaten 246 against India at Headingley in June 1967. Going into the game on the back of a run of low scores, including his first pair against Kent, he was out of touch but did not expect the pillorying in the Press for making 106 not out on the first day in six hours and 140 on the second in three hours. Contrary to the myth, he did not disobey orders from Brian Close, the captain, and England won the game by a country mile yet the witch hunt was on the back pages for the best part of week and, as Boycott says, it is a millstone which was round his neck forever afterwards. All manner of far fetched stories appeared, some of them leaked by the selectors, and GB just could not understand the acrimony. As he said: “My slow innings was unfortunate but I did not consider it treasonable”. His sense of fear pervaded the rest of the season as if playing out a maiden would bring another volley of vitriol from the pens of men who knew no better and a hurtful season was made significantly worse with the death of his father. The awful season left him mentally and physically shattered.
Extra hard work in the nets and running on the icy roads were the preparation for the West Indies tour at the start of 1967 and GB put all the doubts of the previous year behind him – as well as a cracked finger courtesy of Wes Hall early in the tour – to make 1,154 runs. Six centuries in the early part of the summer at home kept the good run going and angered Tom Cartwight enough to call GB ‘the poor man’s Compton’ to which GB responded with asperity that he was ‘the poor man’s Shackleton’
But increasing problems with his back led to serious fears that his career could be over. Ultimately the diagnosis was a swollen and damaged disc and he had to wear a specially designed corset running from armpits to abdomen for three weeks. His mum served meals which were balanced on his chest as he lay immobile on a bed of boards at the Fitzwilliam home. His rehabilitation was supervised every inch of the way by Paddy Armour, the physiotherapist Boycott rates among the best. Fit enough to return for the Scarborough Festival it was a relief for a very worried opener to make 93 and 131 for an England X1 against the Rest of the World and 25 and 102 not out for Yorkshire, again champions, versus MCC. Ray Illingworth left and possibly as a result of his discontent new agreements were drawn up and now GB was on £1848 if he played in all matches plus bonuses of £5 for a win.
GOODBYE TO GLASSES
In the home season of 1969 after the South Africa tour was cancelled because of the D’Oliveira affair GB wears contact lenses for the first time and after a good start has three ducks in four Test innings and the season falls away. After an MCC tour of the Far East GB develops a muscle spasm in the neck and has to wear a surgical collar for three weeks and misses Yorkshire’s pre-season. Against the Rest of the World team standing in for the Springboks GB makes 157 on a wearing pitch at The Oval where the odd ball went through the top. He rates it as one of his finest innings. GB is in Australia when Brian Close is sacked as Yorkshire captain and is phoned with the news that he is the new skipper. Only Yorkshire tell him Close has resigned, not that he was sacked.
Most of the tour is spent trying to work out John Gleeson, the Australian off and leg spinner, but the runs keep flowing until he has his arm broken by Graham McKenzie in a one-day game on a poor, under prepared pitch in Sydney. He misses the last Test and is out for ten weeks but spirits are lifted with the 2-0 win.
The same cannot be said during GB’s first year as captain of Yorkshire. He sees Richard Hutton as an opponent who foments discontent in the dressing room and although GB has a stack of runs and averages over 100 Yorkshire do not do well and at the end of the season GB, deeply disillusioned, wishes he had resigned.
The discontent rumbles on into the winter and a private meeting with the players fails to clear the air. Further problems come with a four-man selection committee who ask GB’s opinions and then ignore them. GB suggests that Ted Lester, former player, second team captain and scorer should be given a role as manager but it is rejected. A glimmer of hope comes with reaching the B & H final in its first year but Bob Willis smashes GB’s finger to pulp – he nearly lost the end of it — in a championship match at Headingley and he is out for four weeks, misses the final and Leicestershire win. Controversy continues to rage with GB bewildered by leaked stories and the lack of support from leading players, chief among them Hutton. There was a public bust up in the White Rose Hotel at Southampton when Don Wilson berated GB and a meeting with the committee ended with GB close to tears.
Another row blew up when he turned down the tour to India and Pakistan because of his susceptibility to illness caused by losing his spleen as a child but MCC thought that excuse might upset the two countries by casting aspersions on their hygiene. England fared badly on their tour and while GB was in South Africa coaching remarks were made about players picking and choosing their tours. Trouble over his Yorkshire contract fuelled more headlines and eventually GB signed for one year; the committee respond by saying that his promised benefit in 1974 is not certain!
With Wilson dropped after a disastrous loss of form and Hutton absent for business reasons the air in the dressing room improves even if the sniping from ex-players doesn’t end. On the international front there are ill tempered exchanges with the West Indian tourists at Edgbaston, a row with Brian Luckhurst at Lord’s and then Mike Denness is appointed captain for the tour to the Caribbean, what GB calls one of the ‘worst England tours I have made’.
PEACE OF MIND AT LAST
In Yorkshire the discontent rumbles on and after trouble with his benefit and a poor run of form GB withdraws from the England side after the first test at Manchester. He gets so low he considers giving the game up altogether and turns down an invitation to tour Australia and New Zealand under Denness. Apart from all the worries over Yorkshire, a raffle for his benfit which went wrong and Yorkshire witholding money, his mother’s rheumatoid arthritis is becoming worse and causing anxiety.
GB decides to withdraw from Test cricket to concentrate on sorting out the chaos and duplicity at Yorkshire and for the first time in 18 months has some peace of mind. Success follows, Yorkshire are second in the championship and GB completes a century against each county with 152 not out against Worcestershire – and has to pay for the champagne.
A broken finger in 1976 and a ricked back keep GB on the sidelines until mid July and Yorkshire’s results fall off. He winters in Australia playing for Waverley in Sydney grade cricket and makes a stack of runs.
GB turns down Kerry Packer and after missing 30 Tests returns to England and scores a century on his comeback followed by the hundredth hundred at Headingley what GB calls ‘the greatest moment of my cricketing career’
Illingworth is appointed manager, the rumour mill starts up again and the rift with John Hampshire ends up in the infamous ‘go-slow’ at Northampton and an inquiry by the committee.
GB’s mum eventually succumbs to cancer in September 1977 after a painful illness and GB is stripped of the captaincy before her funeral and four days later is replaced by John Hampshire, a move which causes a storm of protest.
Ironically, GB takes over as capatain of England when Mike Brearley breaks his arm in Lahore but is then replaced as vice captain for the following winter’s trip to Australia. While things at Yorkshire don’t get any better the tour to India under Keith Fletcher as captain and Ramon Subba Row as manager is a disaster and GB resigns from the tour after a bout of illness and a bust up with the management. The rebel tour to South Africa follows in 1982, causing another furore and a three year ban from international cricket. GB has played his last Test. Averaging 102.53 in the 1979 season made GB the only man to top the three figures in two seasons. In 1981 GB is suspended by Illingworth before the last match of the season over a TV interview and there is chaos at Scarborough. The honeymoon with Hampshire as captain ends after two years and Chris Old takes over but he has his epaulettes torn off in mid season at Middlesbrough and Illy returns as captain.
A SACKING AND A REVOLUTION
Another row flares up over a so-called ‘go-slow’ at Cheltenham and in October 1983, GB is sacked, a move which sparks off a revolution in the club. After a special general meeting the committee is forced to resign and GB is reinstated as well as being elected to the committee as the member for Wakefield, Illingworth leaves and GB is awarded a testimonial in 1984.
In November 1985 GB visits a medium who warns him of a titled man who will do him harm. Sir Brian Walsh QC gives Boycott the news that he will not be offered a new contract on the 23 September 1986 and GB goes for fish and chips with close friends on the committee. The Press call it the Last Supper.
GB continues to serve on the Yorkshire committee until 1992 when it is reduced to 12 members, three each from four districts.
Becomes respected commenbtator with BskyB, and BBC as well as a columnist for The Sun.
1996 Is accused of assaulting Margaret Moore in a hotel room in the south of France and is found guilty in his absence. A second hearing in 1998 results in a three month suspended sentence and a £5,300 fine. Throughout GB protests his innocence and claims the womean fell. She is awarded one granc in damages.
The case ahs immediate repercussions and The Sun and BskyB drop him as well as the BBC. But GB continues his works abroad and has great success with The Sunny and Boycs show in Asia.
As the fuss of the French farce fades from memory he is back in favour and becomes a columnist for the Daily Telegraph as well as working for Channel 4.
In February 2003 he marries Rachael Swindlehurst, mother of his daughter Emma, at Wakefield Register Office and in August the same year is given a standing ovation when introduced to the crowd at Trent Bridge during the celebration of their 50th Test. But in the same year he is diagnosed with throat cancer and spends five agonising years fighting the disease.
In 2005 he is back on BBC’s Test Match Special and covers the 2006-7 Ashes whitewash in Australia.
In 2009 GB, along with 54 others, is inducted into the ICC’s first Hall of Fame.