Chris Waters: Stand up for Boycott to prove county is now united

FOR the members of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the most important vote of the year has now taken place; there is no need to wait for June 23.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 28th March 2016, 5:36 am
Updated Saturday, 2nd April 2016, 8:28 am
Geoffrey Boycott.
Geoffrey Boycott.

The vital question was not whether Britain should leave the European Union, but whether Geoffrey Boycott should be elected to the Yorkshire board.

As with the EU debate, there were strong opinions on both sides and the outcome difficult to call.

In the end, 758 Yorkshire members supported the board’s desire that Boycott should not be elected, with 602 backing the former Yorkshire and England opening batsman in a postal ballot announced at Saturday’s annual meeting at Headingley.

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Those statistics scarcely tell the tale of a saga as lively as the EU in-out debate.

Those who did not want Boycott, led by the club’s board, feared that it would be destabilising and potentially disruptive to go back to a man who could scarcely divide opinion more were he a jar of Marmite belonging to Donald Trump.

Their argument – explicitly outlined in a quite possibly unprecedented letter to members ahead of the AGM – was this: Yorkshire have just won back-to-back County Championships under coaches Jason Gillespie and Martyn Moxon, and they feared that another voice – specifically one of the strongest and most strident that the game has known – would potentially upset the apple-cart.

The board noted, but ultimately disregarded, Boycott’s insistence that he had no intention of interfering with the cricket and wanted only to champion members’ interests, with cricket clearly his overwhelming forte and field of expertise.

More importantly, they did not think that he had the particular skill-sets they are looking for at this time – namely, those that would help with the construction of the new Football Stand at Headingley, and to fight debts of £20m-plus that Boycott has warned are “killing the club”.

The pro-Boycott brigade, on the other hand, felt that Boycott should be on the board to stand up for members and to bring his experience to bear in all areas of the club.

Boycott fears a Leeds United situation – the classic example of a club that fell from grace amid financial difficulties – and does not want Yorkshire to take their eye off the ball while everything is rosy on the field.

Yorkshire insist they are on top of their financial situation despite the debt, and welcome any fresh ideas as to how they might reduce it.

Such are the issues that have been strongly outlined on both sides in recent weeks, issues that have dominated the build-up to a season in which Yorkshire are bidding to win a hat-trick of County Championships for the first time since Boycott was a player.

In the end, though, it has perhaps been a bit more simplistic – both in terms of Yorkshire’s desire to keep Boycott at bay, and in Boycott’s desire to have a voice in the corridors of authority.

Yorkshire feared that Boycott’s particular personality would have a negative impact at a time when the club have rarely seemed more harmonious, while Boycott’s motive for standing – allied to his concern for members – was surely that Yorkshire cricket is his life and that he desperately wants to be actively involved in it, something that many will understand.

To that effect, there will be those who feel that the actions of both sides are not unexpected. They will sympathise with Yorkshire’s concerns, and also with Boycott in that he has spent 60 years deeply involved in Yorkshire cricket and does not want to just walk away from it; he is, after all, one of the club’s greatest players.

In the final analysis, it perhaps came down to a question of timing.

Right now, Yorkshire are doing extremely well on the field – consistently so for the first time since the 1960s.

Under Gillespie and Moxon, and captain Andrew Gale, the cricket side of things has rarely, if ever, seemed more stable, more united.

After decades of under-achievement, punctuated only by the 2001 Championship success, Yorkshire are the best team in the country again and the side to beat once more this year.

Off the field, the staff are united, and rather than any great desire by members to keep Boycott off the board, there is just not sufficient appetite for change at the present moment, no burning desire to turn back the clock or look elsewhere; he can at least console himself with that.

Whether the situation changes in the future remains to be seen, and Boycott has made it clear that he has no intention of walking away from Yorkshire cricket.

His demeanour at the meeting on Saturday was impressive, he stayed until the end even though his fate had been determined much earlier, and he has always respected that Yorkshire are a members’ club.

Boycott said he will still be at Headingley for the first match of the season, and that he has already booked his hotel for Scarborough. He still has much to offer.

The club want him to be their first global ambassador, but whether that is the best role for him is open to question.

It has perhaps been an attempt to mollify him in keeping with the wider picture, and although former club president Boycott has not rejected the overture, he feels that he is already an ambassador for the club.

Far better, perhaps, to make outgoing president Dickie Bird Yorkshire’s first official ambassador – a role to which he would be ideally suited – and to pay tribute to Boycott in another manner.

The new Football Stand at Headingley is due for completion in 2019.

‘The Geoffrey Boycott Stand’, in my view, would be an appropriate title, and prove that Yorkshire County Cricket Club really has embraced a new era, one in which higher standards are displayed not only on the field, but in all areas.