The opportunity to get to meet sporting legends doesn’t come along that often. When it does it’s always something to look forward to for days beforehand. It can generate lifelong memories.
I can recall meeting Ivan Marks as if it were yesterday as I’m sure can many of our readers who experienced that privilege. Sometimes things don’t quite work out as you expect with sporting heroes. I found that out recently on the Shropshire Union towpath when interviewing another one of my angling heroes, Alan Scotthorne. Suffice to say we have slightly different views on the merits or otherwise of the Shropshire Union Canal as a national championship venue.
Scanning the invitation to the opening of Knottingley hydropower station that dropped through the letterbox recently, you could have knocked me down with a feather when I read that it would be cricketing legend Geoffrey Boycott OBE cutting the ribbon. I hastily re-arranged my diary as this was an opportunity not to be missed. As a youngster, I’d spent many an hour listening to John Arlott’s radio commentaries when the Yorkshire cricketing god was occupying the crease. In games with my brother and cousins, I would always take the role of Sir Geoffrey, desperately trying not to give my wicket away cheaply and bowling with my cap on back to front.
Thanks to Barn Energy, the big day arrived with maybe 150 guests looking on in anticipation as the great man, immaculately dressed, emerged from his car. There was something of a Yorkshire chill in the air and with much applause he announced his speech would be a lot shorter than the average length of one of his test innings. The adjective forthright summed up the speech. Geoffrey made it clear he would not want a nuclear power station built in his back garden and green energy, when done properly was a good thing, especially when it opened the route to spawning grounds for migratory fish. How things move on, for Geoffrey’s father, a Salopian by birth, had spent his working live in the power industry, in his case as a coalminer. Like so many, he suffered a serious industrial injury which must have had an impact on Geoffrey’s childhood. Watch the opening video of Knottingley Hydropower Station.
It’s better to be lucky than good. My luck was certainly in when I found myself in the queue for refreshments immediately behind the great man. As the coffee was served and plucking up courage, I asked Geoff what his greatest single achievement was. He replied that scoring his 100th first class century at Headingley in 1977 was his proudest moment. I still recall Jim Lakers voice: "That’s it, the bat goes up in the air" as Greg Chappell’s half volley sped towards the boundary rope past the bedraggled Australian fielder at mid-on.
‘I was the first man to get to 100 hundred’s in a test match and in front of my own folks too’ he was quick to remind me. And then he asked me ‘and what do you think made that series extra special? Before I had time to answer, with a clenched fist and huge grin he pronounced ‘stuffing it up the Aussies, that’s what’s mattered the most’. It has oft been debated as to whether Geoffrey was truly a team player. His elation as he recalled winning the Ashes 40 years ago totally convinced me that the teams result mattered even more than his personal cricketing statistics, or maybe, if his negative critics are correct, then middle age is having a mellowing effect on the man once known as ‘Fiery Boycott’.
It’s always fun, or maybe pointless, to speculate how well sporting stars might have fared in another sport. Geoffrey could have made it as a professional footballer by all accounts. I reckon Geoff has all the personal character traits of the successful match angler. Dogged determination, self-belief and single mindedness to the point of obsession, the ability to keep concentration for hours at a time, an ordered and structured mind, massive attention to detail and the desire to do everything in your powers to win. His kit would have been neat and tidy and maybe, like Ray Mumford, he would have graced the canal towpath with true sartorial elegance. Unlike cricket, fishing would not have set him up financially, though. Dicky Bird, another Yorkshire cricketing legend quips that Geoffrey is a miser and that he (Dicky) will dig up his coffin because he’s bound to take a few bob with him. Umpire Bird might be right, or there again it might just be banter. I do know that on this occasion Geoffrey donated all his Knottingley appearance fees to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is more generous than he lets on.
Boycott is 77 not out in the age game. He nearly died as a youngster following an accident and lost his spleen, thus the strength of his immune system is not as he would like it. He revealed to me that following cancer he had lost the use of his salivary glands. This explains why he needs to drink copious quantities of water. ‘The River Aire won’t go dry as long as I am around’ he stated in his speech ‘so the residents of Knottingley won’t need to worry about their electric supply for a few years yet’.
As a kid I used to think if I had to choose anyone to bat for my life, it would be Geoffrey. Nearly half a century later, nothing has changed my mind.
The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.See more blogs from this author