Beer and skittles Geoffrey Boycott launches his own ale for charity
At the crease in his 1960s flannels and county cap, the pastel drawing of Geoffrey Boycott evoked a lost world of English cricket.
For not far short of 60 years, his name has been one of the most recognisable and marketable in the sport, but never before had he lent it to a product, and certainly not one he hardly touches.
He had been won over, he said, by the promise of a donation to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance for every bottle and pint sold.
Boycott’s Best, brewed in Leeds and available all summer, is a pale beer of a type familiar in every pub during Boycott’s and Yorkshire’s golden era, and now fashionable once more.
It was a time when pubs were almost as much a part of a cricketer’s life as the pavilion.
“You’d drive up and down the country to a match, book in somewhere at 1am, then get up next morning, bowl 20 overs and get 100,” he said. “On the way back, we’d always stop somewhere.
“Pubs are wonderful places – they’re not just drinking holes. They were where we’d go to chat.”
The camaraderie extended further than the end of the bar. Yorkshire’s Doug Padgett and Gloucestershire’s Arthur Milton used to make a night of it at the greyhound track. “We were competitive only on the field. It was English in every way,” Boycott said.
His favourite haunts were the Original Oak, near Yorkshire’s Headingley HQ, or a Berni Inn on the road, where service within 35 minutes was guaranteed.
He rarely drank beer, preferring a soft drink. As a result, he was a first choice as designated driver when Yorkshire’s travelling arrangements extended only to paying for six cars between 12 players.
It was a better option than travelling with his captain, Brian Close, he recalled.
“When you were a youngster you had to go with somebody, because the seniors wanted the independence of their own cars. And woe betide you if you got Closey – that was a ride to hell and back.
“He smoked with one hand turned the racing page over with the other. You’d sink lower and lower in your seat, not daring to look out of the window.”
He added: “It’s very different now. There’s physios, doctors, a padre, all sorts. More backroom staff than players.”
Commercial endorsements by cricketers had been part of the sport since Denis Compton lent his name to Brylcreem in the 1950s, but Boycott said he had seldom been approached to follow suit.
“Sports people in Britain don’t do as much as India, where it’s everywhere. Indian cricketers are the richest in the world.
“People like MS Dhoni are doing 10 different things on TV every night. So was Tendulkar when he was playing. It’s not just cricket for them.”
Geoffrey Boycott is patron of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, the beneficiary of Boycott’s Best, produced in bottles and on tap to a new recipe by Leeds Brewery, the largest in the city. A summer of fundraising will culminate in a live event which Boycott will host at the city’s Weetwood Hall Estate on October 24.
The air ambulance depends on donations to keep its two helicopters, based at Thirsk and near Wakefield, in the air at a daily cost of £12,000.