Today Marco talks about his Yorkshire roots and what the county’s return to York this summer means to him. It’s a touching tale about cricket, life, and above all, family.
Yorkshire are playing Warwickshire in a County Championship game at York this season. There’s nothing unusual about that except that Yorkshire are playing Warwickshire in a County Championship game at York this season.
York. The county’s traditional home ground is Headingley (Emerald Headingley, if you like) while Scarborough is a familiar outground used year in year out. There is a feeling amongst Yorkshire supporters, and cricket fans in general if those I’ve spoken to are anything to go by, that there should be more games played at outgrounds. Certainly, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed days watching Kent at both Tunbridge Wells and Beckenham, and saw Middlesex at both Radlett and Merchant Taylor’s School last year.
But York? Not since 1890 have the White Rose county played in the city from which it takes its name, when they beat my now-home side by eight wickets. While I might have a job on travelling up to York myself, I would hope to fare better than the three Kent players absent at the start on 9th June nearly one hundred and thirty years ago; Walter Hearne (surely the least celebrated of that much-vaunted family) arrived after Kent had been bowled out for 46, while Hugh Spottiswode and Stanley Christopherson – who had not received a telegram telling him to set off – missed the start of their first ever and last ever first class game respectively.
The crowd flocked to York then as they are expected to do later in the year, as they do to most outgrounds; which is why Yorkshire have pencilled in Bradford’s Park Avenue ground and Sheffield’s Collegiate as future venues for the county side to visit. Neither is ready in time for this summer, so York will get a Championship game before what is likely to be fifty over games the next couple of summers.
York, despite its modest size amongst some fairly titanic settlements within the county, remains important and has been since Roman times. The University of York is well-established, only recently dropping below Leeds in the rankings, and retaining a slight advantage in certain sectors over its bigger neighbour. Equally, the Bishopric of York is one of the foremost in the country, and will remain so.
Perhaps more pertinently, behind Leeds, York has the second biggest Yorkshire County Cricket Club membership. It is one of those cities.
That said, York is not a city famed for its sport. But then those big religious cities seldom are. Canterbury has Kent, but little in the way of football, while the likes of Salisbury, Durham and Lincoln (the honourable exception there being the Imps) have hardly ripped up the sporting history books. Indeed, Bootham Crescent is being vacated at the end of the season as the Minstermen move to a local community stadium that one assumes will bear the name of a sponsor by the time it is in use.
Yorkshirefolk are proud of their heritage to often comic extent. One of my best friends’ dad tells a joke – “How do you know if someone’s from Yorkshire?” “They’ve already told you”, and like the best jokes, it carries more than a kernel of truth.
It is perhaps a little weaker in the modern age, but Yorkshireness is something recognisable across the UK in a way that few counties are nowadays. In its most extreme, cartoonish form, it is present in Geoff Boycott, but if you look at any of the sports stars from the county that thrive, they have a certain dour pugnaciousness, a willingness to kick against the pricks, that sets them apart in their field.
I think of Jonny Bairstow, so manically driven he railed against a press who had done little but praise him, Nicola Adams, whose boxing career has been almost flawless to date, of the Brownlee brothers, whose main rivals in triathlon have often been each other. I’m certain their success is not down to their birth county, but particular aspects of how it has come about are sure to be; that wisdom and lack of acceptance of the ordinary that famously led to Wilfred Rhodes noting of Hedley Verity “He’ll do”. Rhodes was singular in many ways, but the way he trained himself from coming in at number eleven for England to opening the batting is a fine example of his bloody-mindedness; one must always improve, always strive to be better than everyone, especially one’sself.
Too much is made of the “Wars of the Roses”, as though a half-millennium old series of battles between factions that represented not the modern day counties that carry the symbols but their houses (there is overlap, but nowhere near as much as is often implied). In truth, that animosity sprung up far more recently, and was borne from the success of the two counties at cricket, both at first class and club level.
It is one of those insular rivalries that those outside of never quite understand. I am happy to cheer a Lancastrian taking a wicket for England, sure, but be damned sure that if there’s two players fighting for a spot, judgement can sod off, my vote goes for the White Rose man. Consider it like the British Lions. A Welshman might cheer a Scot who scores a try, but you’ll be sure he’d be arguing his own man’s place in the side ahead of him.
That Yorkshireness is a mindset I was brought up with, and it is a way of thinking that brings the best out in me. As such, I was steeped in Yorkshire cricket from a young age. My first visits to Headingley came courtesy of a head teacher who wanted company and seemingly understood that I would be better served watching Martyn Moxon and Paul Jarvis than doing crafts, and while I was never a regular, cricket is not one of those sports that counts its passion in attendance. It goes on over the summer whether you’re there or not, you just have to feel its progress, those inexorable innings that dominate sunny days.
I say to people that I can feel Yorkshire playing in my blood, and in a way, that’s true. When they’re on the field, especially in Championship games, I have a restlessness, an antsyness, I can’t settle without them doing well and, as explained above, they can never do well, or at least not well enough.
As a child, I used to visit my Grandma and Grandad of a Sunday morning, I’d sit and talk sport with him while my mum spoke to my Grandma (maybe getting parenting tips) and while he liked his football, and kept his eye on all the teams his offspring followed, he really came alive with talk of cricket, particularly Yorkshire.
It was there I learned of all the great names, of Hutton, of Trueman, and heard tales of those sides gone by. He always held that the side of the 30s was best, conceding that the 60s vintage were worthy as well. I loved the team I’d seen of course, but the team at the turn of 20th Century became my favourite – Tunnicliffe, Denton, Haigh, Hirst and Rhodes. I love Rhodes. Not a thing I’ve heard of him fails to fill me with joy. Let him be the bastion of the county, his determination for better rather than the belligerence of Boycott.
Cricket was our thing, I guess, though I never really thought of it that way. I just enjoyed talking to my Grandad, and that was one of the things we really had in common. I suppose I’d grown up with him watching cricket with me – around my early schooling, as a single parent family, my sister and I had spent a lot of time with our Grandparents as they lived so close to us. That was in the days of free-to-air cricket and, while I’m fairly sure we never got as far as Headingley, I know we must have spent a fair part of the summer of 1990 watching Graham Gooch bat India to death. I always preferred Robin Smith from that team for reasons I’m not entirely sure of now. In that famous Lord’s Test, there were no Yorkshire players involved (Tendulkar was to join a couple of years later – he made 10 and 27); nor did there deserve to be.
The day that test finished, a Jonathan Agnew-inspired Leicestershire completed an eight wicket win at Abbeydale Park, Sheffield, which raises a relevant point to the game scheduled at York. In 1990, Yorkshire played home County Championship games at the following – Headingley (4), North Marine Road, Scarborough (3), St George’s Road, Harrogate (1), Acklam Park, Middlesbrough (1).
That’s a fair range without even looking at the outgrounds they visited: the heavenly Nevill Ground, Tunbridge Wells, the beautiful Saffrons at Eastbourne, Uxbridge Cricket Club, and even Cheltenham’s College Ground. I saw Middlesex play four times last year, at four different grounds, and Uxbridge was not one of them.
So the two of us shared Yorkshire, but it was a poor Yorkshire that we shared. None of my friends really followed cricket, not at that time, so my Grandad was really the only person I talked about it with. Now I have a few more, and I’m not above leaving answerphone messages to my mum ranting about selection of a team and predicting how they will come to ruin. I am, sadly, frequently correct.
History rather conspired against the two of us, in that I was born in an unusually barren period of success for the White Rose; although we had the careers of Moxon, Gough and a few other names to enjoy (Richard Stemp might not have torn up the County Championship, but he was excellent on Brian Lara Cricket on the Mega Drive, or my Richard Stemp was, anyway) it took until I had left for Norfolk university before there was a County Championship triumph to celebrate.
I remember that day well. I cried in a farm shop somewhere in mid-Lincolnshire when I found out. My first thought was of my Grandad, and when I eventually got back North, we concluded that this was no vintage side, but they were better than a lot of those that had come before.
To flesh the story out a little, he came from York, my Grandad, born in Acomb. Came from a long line of York folk, going back as far as they could tell. He was steeped in Yorkshire, too, though in knowledge rather than play. He did tell a story that he faced some Yorkshire Second XI bowling during the 30s, gloved up as a wicket keeper, but I’m not sure how much truth there was in it. It was me Grandad, so I believed it. He certainly had the pouching technique and bloody big hands, too. His brother was the better player, he said, but he would say that.
They might have moved to Guiseley when they had children, but we still look to York as the ‘seat’ of our family; I have cousins who have moved there, and I know when my mum meets her siblings, it is invariably in York; I’ve bought train tickets for my mum for Christmas before now. The city is interwoven into my family history with a thick thread, and our story is told through its prism. There was placemats with scenes of York, the Shambles, the City Walls, various gates of the city. It felt natural, it felt homely. If I go to see York, and I have a few times, against anyone other than Huddersfield, I go in the home end. That’s my right, I feel.
For all of this, I never went to see cricket that often, not until a while after I moved down to Kent. We lost my Grandad back in October 2009 – he was 90, and that was a year after I’d left the north for good. I’d not been up for too long before then to chat to him, and that’s a sadness I carry with me, as you do; wondering what he’d have thought of the development of Bairstow, of Root, of some titles actually coming back. I’ll never know, or at least, he’ll never be able to tell me. I’m pretty sure I know what he’d think. We spoke enough.
In a twist of bad fortune, I spent many years after my arrival in Kent with my new home side languishing a division below Yorkshire, unable to see the two face off nearby. Last year, I’d had enough of the near misses and the close calls, and took myself off from home to Chelmsford on a Saturday morning. Typically, Yorkshire had collapsed the day before, all out for 50, but had managed to hustle Essex out for 142 before the close. As I sat on my train to Stratford, the score stood at 161/2 overnight in the visitors second innings. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it was the first time I’d seen Yorkshire since 2009, and the one thing I always used to do when I went to Headingley was to go to my Grandad the next day and tell him about it. You don’t realise, do you, at the time?
By the time I was on the trundler out to Chelmsford, I’d noticed that people were moving away from me in the carriage and I’d got no idea why, until a kindly older man came to sit with me. He asked if I was OK, and I asked him why he asked. He told me he’d been watching me with tears rolling down my cheeks for a few minutes, and I admitted I’d not even realised. It took a little working through, but maybe it was a delayed grief of some kind. I just thought it was the nicest thing, for him to take the time to look after me. Reminded me of someone else.
I cry a lot nowadays, like that train journey released the floodgates. Quite often, something cricket-related triggers it, remembering who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be, and all the things that went between. I’ve spent a lot of years in a lot of different places in England, so many we struggle for weekends away in towns I don’t know – St Albans was the most recent, Bedford another suggestion. Cricket, I suppose, provides me with a safe space, with a catharsis. It, like York, is home, and I can let go while I’m there.
I had a lovely day in the end at Chelmsford, saw Harry Brook complete his maiden century in a style that had a touch of Sir Leonard Hutton about it, as well as Joe Root and Alastair Cook batting; the day after I was there, Yorkshire completed an unlikely win. But that was in Essex wasn’t it?
I’d pencilled in the game at Canterbury this year, so Kent’s promotion has been handy for me in that regard, but then when the fixtures came out, and there’s a game in York?
It’s a long way to travel back from on a Monday, but so much of my personal history is tied up in Yorkshire, and in York, that I almost feel obliged to go. 100 years on since my Grandad was born as well. I invited my mum along; it only feels right. I never used to get on with my mum, but as I’ve grown up we’ve found we have a bit more in common. We had a lovely day a few years back at the Tate in Liverpool at a Magritte exhibition (she was always arty – used to do my homework, I might be able to write, though my handwriting might suggest otherwise, but I certainly can’t draw). We have cricket, too – we got that from the same person, from the same place. Seeing Yorkshire at York would be fine tribute. There’s just one problem. I can’t get the day off work.
So that’s what this is really. It’s a long, heartfelt rant about the personal importance of that one day of cricket to me, completed with a shake of the head and a rueful smile that I won’t be able to see it. As if the lack of weekend games this summer isn’t bad enough.