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May have to review hero-worship of Geoff Boycott in light of his Mike Yardy comments

Posted on 24 March 2011 | 6:03pm

Geoff Boycott was one of my childhood heroes. Growing up as a sports nut in Yorkshire, I loved his technique, his attitude, his cussedness, and the focus he brought to Yorkshire County Cricket Club, whose players back then all came from the county.

So taken was I with his brilliance that I started a Geoff Boycott fan club, and made the point of telling him so as he emerged from the changing rooms one day at the end of a match against Lancashire at Headingley. ‘What do I want one of them for?’ he asked, before walking on to his car.

Undeterred by the brush-off, I continued to support him, and defend him to his many detractors, who seemed to grow in number and volume the further I travelled from my home county.

By the time of my student years, my family lived in Leicester, and I wangled my way into a golf day where the touring Australians were having a bit of r and r. I met legendary wicket-keeper Rod Marsh in the gent’s. We got chatting and he was talking away quite the thing till I confessed my early efforts at Boycott fan clubbing, at which he described my hero as a ‘shit and a total disaster’, and stomped out.

I subsequently heard all sorts of stories from Marsh’s team-mates, and later from British cricket journalists when I spent a bit of time on the Test circuit, but still I defended him. I have also met him several times, and though his political views are several pitches to the right of mine, I have been able to put all that to one side, and summon up memories of watching him play when I was younger. I was there at Headingley when he hit the four off Greg Chappell to bring up his 100th 100, a wonderful wonderful day.

I defend too his cantankerous and often self-obsessed media commentaries. Ok, he reminds us too often what a great player he was. But he was. He can be a bit harsh on lesser mortals, but surely that is what we want from former players turned pundits.

However, I have just picked up a discarded copy of the Evening Standard on the Northern Line, and read what the Great Man had to say about current England cricketer Mike Yardy, who has withdrawn from the World Cup because of depression.

‘I’m very surprised but he must have been reading my comments about his bowling,’ said Boycs. ‘That’s must have upset him because it’s obviously too much for him at this level. I’ve been, with respect, a better player, I’ve been able to hold my place in the team for Yorkshire and England, so I’ve always got picked, played pretty well, so I’ve not been in that position where my quality of play has been poor and it’s got to me mind-wise.’

The best thing I can say for that is at least we should be happy that Geoffrey doesn’t get depression. Because if he did, he would never say such a thing.

Indeed, I had a drink with him in a Manchester hotel where I was speaking, and he was staying for the Old Trafford Test a few years ago, when he was recovering from treatment for cancer. I have no doubt that his mental resilience helped him through that experience.

But how would he have felt if I had suggested to him that his cancer had resulted from poor performance as a sportsman or sports commentator? He’d have been non-plussed I expect. Yet that is what he is saying of Yardy, that poor form and criticism by his betters had made him depressed. I’m afraid that is not how it works. For Mike Yardy to have taken the decision he has, he must be seriously depressed, and the chances are that would have happened supposing he had taken a double hat-trick last time out. For depressives, depression just is, the same as for cancer sufferers, cancer just is, and if you catch a cold, you just do.

People who know me and work with me would probably put mental strength high up any list of attributes. But I had a breakdown in the mid-80s, and I have had depression many times since. There is an irony in this too. If you ever saw the BBC documentary I made on my breakdown, Cracking Up, I told the story of how I used Boycott as one of the strategies I had when I was trying to stop drinking after my breakdown. I saw myself as the Yorkshire opener, standing at the crease, determined not to be budged, oblivious to pressures around me, and I saw every day without alcohol as one run. I was beyond 2,000 when I finally stopped counting, and declared.

So without even knowing it, Boycott helped one recovering mentally ill person back then. He might help a few more if he adopted a more enlightened attitude to Mike Yardy. I will always put ‘Sir Geoffrey’ in my list of all-time great players. But his attitudes to mental illness could do with joining the century he commentates in, not the century he played in.

  • Simon Amangham

    The difficulty here is the voice of mental illness. To be honest I do not care how it is talked about. I just want to laugh about it. That is the way I am able to deal with it. GB on Radio 5 made me laugh.

  • Graham Kennedy

    well put….I wouldn’t have been so polite

  • Having experienced depression myself, I wholeheartedly endorse what you have said. I think Mike Yardy deserves huge admiration for what he has done, and the honesty with which he has done so. Why is cricket taking the lead here? First Marcus Trescothick, who has done a huge amount to break done the taboo of mental illness in sport, now Yardy. Perhaps other sportsmen don’t have such long periods to turn things over in their mind whilst waiting to come into the action…? The whole area needs a searchlight turned onto it – so thanks for what you are doing.

  • the idea of a time slip allowing he and Fred Trueman, great cricketers though they were, to be on TMS together makes me shudder…
    media present little Yorkshiremen are bad enough – having them do one public interface job badly because they used to do the sport associated well, is nuts.

    can you think of any where – any little Cornish, little Devon, little Somerset, Little Derbyshire – ANY other county – where a nationalistic arrogant pride that comes across like Nick Griffin exists –
    I can’t…
    only in Yorkshire – makes me ashamed of it.

    Boycott hating was not just southern bias – he has always been a git.

  • Mtwaterhouse

    I’m from Yorkshire Ali and in Boycott I recognise my own humour. Yes at the outset it appears unfeeling. but that is how Geoff deals with such things … when you’ve been thro’ cancer and survived, your outlook on life changes markedly.
    I myself have suffered depression for twenty years or more AND had a heart attack. We from Yorkshire are not without sympathy about such things but recognise that life’s too short to be too serious and a laugh now and then can actually help ALL sufferers of every ailment. Please, don’t rush to judgement.

  • Lainey

    Very interested to read this. As a huge cricket fan and a sufferer of depression, it interested me greatly.
    I, too, have shared your admiration of Boycott as a player but I’m afraid that was tainted by the domestic violence slur that was visited upon him several years ago. I’m also dismayed, but not surprised, at his archaic and, frankly, rude comments regarding Yardy. He may have been great at the crease, but he’s not a great man, in my opinion.

  • I’m afraid this just confirms my impression of Boycott. But then, I was at Trent Bridge in 1977 when he ran *my* hero Derek Randall out!

    As one who has suffered depression, I agree that Boycott has no idea what he is talking about.

  • You write so bravely and freely about the truth of depression. Something only a person who has been there could ever do. The rest of us do well to support you and keep quiet. That goes for all illnesses – if you haven’t been there, be caring and take care, please.

  • Sionedmair

    I have never forgiven him for running out Derek Randall at the Trent Bridge Test match in 1977! But seriously doesn’t it just confirm what we all know about him, self absorbed & totally without feeling for anyone but himself whereupon he is enormously thin skinned. He is unable to empathise with Mike Yardy which I suggest is a problem for him not for Mike Yardy or anyone else.

  • Empatt

    Wonder why you don’t mention the domestic violence?

  • Indeed

    These comments disgust me greatly. It is, as sad as it sounds, my mission in life to educate the world about mental health disorders, in particular depression – they are illnesses, cause, often, by a biochemical imbalance in the brain, triggered by environmental depression. People are so ignorant it makes me sick.

  • Thanks for this heartfelt piece Alastair. Geoff is on a planet of his own a lot of the time I suspect.

    There is quite a history of cricketers suffering from mental illness of course, and not just Trescothick or Shaun Tait. David Frith’s book ‘Silence of the Heart’ details how cricketers are 75% more likely to take their own lives than the rest of the populataion. David Bairstow and Arthur Shrewsbury being examples through the ages.

    So it’s odd that Geoff hasn’t a better understanding of what pressures some of his colleagues have suffered. In fact Shrewsbury was the best player of his generation, not quite fitting Geoff’s poor performance analysis.

  • Carolynj17

    thank you for such an honest and open examination – its no fun to feel your heores have disappointed you. and whilst he is just one man and “only human” his inability to recognise others experience other than by reference to his own, and to cast others as failures if they dont live up to his standards is just ignorant actually. But worse it serves to support the notion that Mental Ill Health can be avoided if you could just keep a stiff upper lip and pull yourself together. I dont expect him to be an expert on mental Health – just to be able to recognise his own lack of knowledge in this field and therefore to keep his mouth shut

  • Johnacrowley15

    I’ve never felt any great hero worship for Geoff Boycott and I totally endorse what you have said here about his comments today and his attitude towards a man who is ill and has had the courage to confront his illness publicly. Those who battle against depression and addictions are really more deserving of acclaim. Despite his bravado I do recall that he absented himself from test cricket between 1974 and the start of the 1977 series. There were personality clashes with senior players but he did cite stress as one of the reasons at the time. He constantly refused to go on tours to India and Pakistan. In 1976 I recall the physical battering that England’s openers Brian Close and John Edrich took from the West Indian pace attack during a series from which he had absented himself.

    There is a well documented history of mental illness in sport and particularly in cricket-including a very comprehensive book by David Frith. One of Boycott’s county colleagues, David Bairstow, committed suicide as have other cricketers in the past. The pressures and insecurity can become unbearable.

    I recall my late father, a doctor who himself struggled with depression and alcoholism talking about being a GP who in the 1950s had a significant number of professional footballers from the local top division club on his books. These were the days of the maximum wage and before clubs developed their own medical structures. He used to say that on Thursdays and Fridays many would arrive in the surgery with what would now be clearly recognised as symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. They were only one tackle away from losing their livelihood.

    Many GPs in the 50s would write LMF (Lacks moral fibre) on patient notes at that time and they later deeply regretted their ignorance and insensitivity as they learned more about the condition.

    The profile that you have given to this topic can only help. I have been much more impressed by the words of another Yorkshire batsman, Michael Vaughan today.

  • Boycott has never really been very bright you know.

  • Cardicam

    Alastair, well said. I cannot claim to have started a GB fan club, but I was in the crowd, like you, at Headingley in 1977 and admired Geoffrey hugely in the sixties and seventies when it wasn’t always fashionable to do so. He clearly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (to put it mildly) but I think he has become a very good broadcaster and works well with Jonathan Agnew, slightly surprisingly. But like you, I have suffered from depression and it really is not something to treat with such shocking flippancy. GB presumably must have known David Bairstow very well and you’d think after that he’d really be a bit more caring. To call these comments insensitive is perhaps the most charitable I can be.

  • I don’t see what the problem is. Geoffrey is merely stating the truth as he sees it; that Yardy isn’t up to the job. Many millions of people will share his views about depression, and its relationship to failure.

    If I were younger and actually had any talent and were offered the opportunity to play for England in the World Cup my response wouldn’t be ‘Nah, go away, I can’t be bothered…I’m depressed.’

  • Boycott’s comments

  • Twirler

    What an absolutely heartfelt and sincere account of your experiences. I am, what some might consider, a positive and motivated person. With an honours degree to boot (soon) but share (and, unfortunately) am aware of the pain of a breakdown. I totally sympathise and am in awe of Michael for coming out with his depression.

  • I often wonder if antiquated and ill informed opinions on depression such as that of Boycott are privately held by more people than one may imagine. It is opinions such as his which inhibit depressives from opening up about their condition. On the positive side, his comments will add to the general discourse on the subject. I’d like to think that ‘all publicity is good publicity’ in that sense, and it would certainly seem to be borne out in the media response to his comments. The battle of raising awareness, understanding and removing the stigma associated with depression continues unabated.

    Alastair – I’m so glad that we have you batting with us!

  • Kd1958

    All very well said.

  • Gilliebc

    Geoffrey Boycott, good cricketer,crap human being.

  • Liam

    Alastair I do hope you read these comments. I kept quiet about my depression for 20 years. In the last year I finally physically gave up, my depression over whelmed me. Ive spent a year in and out of hospital i have look after a large team. I try to be honest but its oh so difficult When people like yourself stand up it and speak it makes it easier for the rest of us. I thank you

  • It doesn’t sound sad at all. Very noble and worthy mission.

  • Poetjanstie

    I admire your magnanimity in recognising his quality as a cricketer, but it is sad to recognise that however professionally – and with such clarity – you have stated the case for recognising depression for what it is, I doubt that it will change his attitude one little bit.

  • Plaingoldband

    I’m afraid I reviewed my opinion of him after he was convicted of repeatedly punching a woman in the face….

    …this man is not a particularly ’empathetic’ person!

  • John in Leeds

    I’m sorry Mr. Graham but your post is utter Big Society.
    You’re taking one ex-Yorkshireman and holding him up as a representative of 5.5 million people… and comparing us to the BNP. Absurd and beneath contempt.

    Yorkshire arrogance, if it exists, is nothing compared to English arrogance, which is WORLD famous. And we have to put up with a level of prejudice from people in the south of England that is akin to racism (for eg. my mum’s friend went down to London with the Harrogate Choral Society, and the hotel where they were staying sent out for fish and chips – the other choral societies stayed in 5* accommodation and got free meals in top restaurants).

    As for Boycott, he may have been a great cricketer but he is also a thoroughly ignorant man.

    • smileoftdecade

      Parkinson, Trueman, Boycott, and many others (including my mother) demonstrate that yes – there is a distinctive county thing going on…your mum’s friend’s story reads as an illustration of what? – choosing a bad hotel because they were tight fisted idiots?

      Certainly doesn’t help your point.

  • Will

    Spot on.

    (I’m finding his comments on the world cup difficult to take serious: he was a poor fielder, a slow scorer and unlikely to have got near the England team of today.)

  • Scooke7

    There are some of us who desire a quiet life. We don’t want to be in the spotlight for any reason. But some of us, like GB, end up in the spotlight because of our profession. All GB ever wanted was to play cricket for his county and country WITHOUT any fuss or adulation. Similarly, he didn’t make a fuss about the cancer. His view & a few others is, you fight it and if you win, fine, if not, well it’s been a good life and goodbye. And even when he was convicted of assault, all he wanted was for the truth to come out. His sentence was suspended in a French court and the “damages” to his victim was 1 French Franc.
    The problem GB & a few of us who have seen a bit of the world have with Michael Yardy’s illness is this. How do you get depression as an England cricketer when you see the poverty in places such as India where the cricket world cup is taking place? Mr. Yardy chose to play cricket. If he were to quit playing cricket today and start treatment for depression, there is a chance for him to come back to cricket or do something else. When you see the poor millions of people in India, do you stop to think about them getting depression? Where would they go and what would they do? Do they choose to be poor? Some of us are a bit fatalistic about life. If something bad happens, it happens. We don’t question it because no one has a right to a trouble-free life. Here I digress a bit. There is an on-going inquiry about the events of 7/7 and at the end of it, other than the bombers, someone will be blamed for it. The inquiry of the Mumbai attacks of 2008 was completed in 2009 and no one, other than the terrorists, was blamed. It just found fault with the Police Commissioner’s lack of leadership during the crisis.
    Millions of people would rather be in Mr. Yardy’s depressive state than their poverty-stricken, no light at the end of the tunnel life.

  • Ehtch

    Geoff Boycott is like an old hill farmer, who are the definition of belligerence. You won’t get any change from them in sensitivity and understanding on anything that preoccupies modern minds on modern matters.

    I don’t think he has a driving licence even – has he? Or is that Dickie Bird I am thinking of?

    Take him with a pinch of salt Alastair, he’ll never change, and there aren’t many people like Boycs left – a dying species to be looked after.

  • Anna

    I’m not a cricket fan and have no opinion on Geoff Boycott as a cricketer. His comments on depression, however, are ignorant and ill-informed and are really not worth giving publicity to. The comments by others here, Scooke7 and Lee Firth, also betray an ignorance of the illness. Depression is an illness that is often physical in origin – a malfunction of body chemistry which may be inherent or may be triggered by stress. Telling a depressive to think of the poor in India to cure their depresson is as silly as telling a diabetic that they should think of the starving millions to avoid slipping into a coma. .We really need another name for the disease; we all use the word ‘depressed’ when we feel a bit low, but clinical depression is a very different matter, as doctors now recognise. It is a serious illness and needs to be treated with more than robust advice to buck up.

    Ed Smith has a very sympathetic and wise piece in today’s Times (Murdoch rag – sorry!) about the correlation between stress and performance. He expresses understanding of Mike Yardy’s condition and wishes him well. He also notes, alarmingly, that more than 150 test cricketers have committed suicide over the years. Mike Yardy’s courage in admitting his condition is to be praised: but the real breakthrough will come when it will need no more courage to admit you have depression than to admit to appendicitis. You’re ill and you need medical care, that’s all.

  • Rynn

    Sadly, Geoffrey Boycott falls into the “I say what I like, and I bloody well like what I say!” category of people!

  • Gilliebc

    You are spot on there Anna. The comparison of a diabetic’s need for insulin to stay alive is equivalent to some peoples need for SSRi’s to achieve the same purpose.

  • Hello, I agree people have poor understanding of depression, untill it happens to them or someone they love, they remain uneducated. Indeed ignorant seems to fit the bill totaly. I just read some of the feed back on yahoo and this quote made by “Jenny” struck a major chord ,,,,,.Depression is not a sign of weakness, its a sign of­ trying to stay strong for too long.

  • Hello, I agree people have poor understanding of depression, untill it happens to them or someone they love, they remain uneducated. Indeed ignorant seems to fit the bill totaly. I just read some of the feed back on yahoo and this quote made by “Jenny” struck a major chord ,,,,,.Depression is not a sign of weakness, its a sign of­ trying to stay strong for too long.

  • Quinney

    Where was “Sir Geoffrey” when Lillee and Thomson were at their peak? Where was “Sir Geoffrey” when Holding, Daniel, Roberts and Marshall were battering England?
    Boycott fabricated an excuse with the England selectors because he knew he would have been humbled like the rest of the England team. Boycott was only ever interested in one thing and that was Boycott , he scored a century in a world cup final and cost us the game.
    Quinney from Lancashire.

  • Gilliebc

    Hi Mark, I don’t know whether or not you are new to this commenting lark, but here’s a site that you and some others also may like: Hopi Sen – A blog from the Backroom. It’s slightly less formal than AC’s estimable site in that posts go up instantly and unmoderated. Sometimes to poor Hopi’s detriment. Anyway, check it out, see what you think. Just a suggestion.

  • Richard

    No, no, no!
    Until we live in a world where people cease to revere the Boycotts and Gascoignes of this world, women can continue to look out for the good hidings they are going to get from such scumbags.
    “Ah, but he was a great cricketer/footballer or whatever..” and continued ” in the public eye employment” lets them voice their other ignorant and abusive opinions, and belittles their women beating past.
    The BBC should not employ Boycott and give his opinions air time, or the causes women and mental health will continue to be trampled by he and his ilk.

  • Grin! yes i was a virgin commentator then i found AC website through twitter! cheers for the link.

  • Bigsplash

    I see on the census forms we have a question in mental health, how may will answer truthfully and how many not and how this might effect future provision and given that these details will be available to future generations.

  • I find Alastairs comments about Geoff Boycot and his comments rather laughable.
    How dare one of the inventors of New Labour talk about a serious illness such as depression when New Labour have done nothing for those suffering with such a serious illness.

    The conservatives are continuing with their Welfare Reform Policies which in turn will harm many people suffering with depression and more serious disabilities, New Labour have a huge cheek and so does Mr.Campbell.

    Does Mr.Campbell agree with the cuts to all the disability benefits about to come into place or will he just remain silent like all the Labour ministers I have written to? New Labour are no different to the conservatives, they no longer represent the average man or woman on the street, they have betrayed the working class and are now using eugenic policies as far as welfare reform is concerned, William Beveridge would be so proud for he was the biggest supporter of eugenics in politics….

  • Arjun

    i simply do not know how anyone can find geoff boycott in anyway an interesting batsman.

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  • Lord Retford

    Dear God….. why does everything have to be ‘over-analysed’ these days ?
    It’s a fact of life that you cannot be at your best 100% of the time whether it’s for England or the village second team, but it’s a team game and at the lower levels everyone supports and helps players through tough times. If that doesn’t work then you have to accept that you aren’t good enough and expect to be dropped. I agree with Sir Geoffrey and find it totally refreshing in this day and age that there are still ‘real’ people out there who are not afraid to say what the majority of us are thinking, pity the same cannot be said of our politicians !

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