Geoffrey Boycott Versus George Best

Today I’m delighted to welcome Harry Turnbull to TFT. He recalls the day that he saw the greatest sportsman that ever drew breath in the flesh …

Dad picked me up every Saturday when I was a kid. We would rumble off in the Ford Anglia with its gleaming white bonnet and black tail wings, invariably headed for the indoor bowling centre where he played every week.

I would watch him curling bowls down the artificial turf whilst nursing a Dandelion & Burdock and contemplating what time to have the establishment’s premier dish, a hand-crafted, hot pork pie. Every couple of weeks during the football season, at 2.50 p.m., I would walk 50 yards from the centre to watch Hartlepool united.

Saturday the 22nd of June 1974 wasn’t the football season, but the World Cup was on. I was somewhat surprised when dad picked me up and instead of the bowls centre, the car headed out of town.

“Where are we going dad?”, I asked.

“We are going to see one of the greatest sportsmen in the world, lad”.

“Oh” I responded, mystified.

“Is it Georgie Best?”.

I had been a Manchester United fan since the 1968 European Cup win, the first game I had ever seen on TV after a return from the colonies where dad was an RAF quartermaster.  In 1971 dad took me to Newcastle where we saw Besty score the winner in the last few minutes. It was a game famous for an IRA threat to assassinate Best on the pitch. He later said it was the only game he ever played without standing still for a microsecond.

“George Best”, he said disdainfully, “this feller is better than Best, Law and Charlton put together.”

This gave me food for thought.

“Pele or Muhammad Ali”, I ventured.

“No lad”, he rejoined, as the Anglia speared it way towards the Transporter Bridge over the River Tees to Middlesbrough.

“It’s Sir Geoffrey Boycott”.

The only time I had ever seen cricket was watching dad play for the RAF once during a charity match at the Changi air base in Singapore.

“Who is he dad?”

“Yorkshire and England opening bat, the finest of his generation. And we are going to see him play today.”

That explained the bundle of corned beef sandwiches and sausage rolls broiling under the sun on the backseat. Food safety hadn’t been invented then so eating meat hours after it had festered in blistering heat was not regarded as harmful.

And then something struck me. Hard.

“Will it be finished by 5 ‘0’ clock?”

“Nay lad, Geoff will just be warming up by then”, he cackled.

I thought about this. Scotland v Yugoslavia was due to kick off at 6.30 p.m.

By the time we arrived at Acklam Park I was praying for rain.

Yorkshire v Middlesex, the home team to bat first.

After an hour of watching Boycott caress the occasional single, I was getting restless.

“Enjoying it lad? Better than footy isn’t it? Look at that forward-defensive, it’s a thing of beauty.”

By now I had gathered Boycott was not yet a Knight of the Realm. 

After what seems hours of excruciating drudgery, the great man was dismissed for 24. Yorkies all out for 116 in 61.5 overs. Fred Titmus took 7-39, which in hindsight, was an awesome performance but not on appreciated by dad at the time. And I guess on a testing pitch, it must have been a typically resolute Boycott performance.

He insisted on staying till close of play. I got back home for the second-half of Scotland’s 2-0 World Cup victory.

As he dropped me off, he asked, beaming: “You going to support Yorkshire now?”

During the day I had got talking to another kid who seemed to know a lot about cricket. I’d asked him whether there was a team based in Manchester. When he told me there was, Lancashire, just a couple of hundred yards from the footballing Old Trafford, I knew where destiny lay.   

I pretended to think about it and eventually said: “Sorry dad, I like Manchester United so I think I’ll support Lancashire.” And so I did – and still do. He drove off muttering to himself.

Harry Turnbull


  • Chalk and cheese eh?
    Saw Bestie a few times, but Boycott a lot. Wish it could have been the other way round.
    Still hoping Messi might put in a season in the premiership to get a good look at him.
    Thing about George was he put bums on seats like no one before or since.
    If Southgate had ever done a Grealish on him there’d be a national outcry.
    If you’re putting a cinema cert on them, George was a ‘U’ , Boycott definitely a ’12’, maybe even a ’15’.

  • I saw Viv Richards in the flesh twice. Both times he made 20-odd before being dismissed by medium-pacers (Dermot Reeve and Trevor Jesty). The time I saw Brian Lara he was out in single figures.

    Fred Titmus played for the International Wanderers XI put together by Richie Benaud in apartheid-era SA (he did very well – Phil Edmonds and Bob Taylor were the other England players. Glenn Turner and one of the Chappells also featured). For some reason, it seems less remembered than the ‘rebel’ tours of the 1980s – presumably because it was a composite team rather than nominally national.

    BTW I would urge all rugby fans to look at these “pillars” of the game that were announced recently. They are going to be used to destroy the game.

    • As a Warwickshire man saw Lara on numerous occasions, but only ever saw him make 1 fifty and never a hundred.
      Do remember taking my partner’s son to a one dayer at Edgbaston and him nearly being decapitated by a Lara flat 6 into the Hollies stand which smashed the chair he’d wisely vacated seconds before. We got Lara to autograph a piece of the chair and have it to this day. He was quite apologetic but young Sam thought it was great. We went again to the next match but when the ball didn’t come anywhere near us he became disillusioned with the experience and never bothered again.

  • The first time I saw GB play was in a benefit match for David Bairstow in 1982. A Yorkshire XI were playing Rotherham Town. Yorkshire batted first and Boycs opened the innings. My abiding memory is of him hitting a huge six over square leg to what is now a few houses but what was then nothing more than a patch of grass.
    After he was out (for 108), I, along with scores of others queued for his autograph.
    Years later, after Geoff had retired, I remember my dad saying, fondly, “it’ll be a long time before England, let alone Yorkshire, see his like again.”

    • As previously intimated on another post, I am privileged to have watched the greatest batsman* of all time. Sir Donald Bradman, score a 100 against very strong Surrey bowling attack in 1948 and to my mind, the greatest English batsman* I have seen, Sir Dennis Compton score a ton against South Africa at Lord’s in 1947. One stroke out of this wonderful innings, scored between Lunch and Tea, was of his dancing down the pitch to Toey Tayfield and late cutting him for 4. Who knows how many runs Dennis would have many and tons he would have scored but for the war. He might even have overtaken the other all time great, Sir Jack Hobbs. No one else will now!

      *apologies to the PC brigade



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