OPINION: Lessons on Yorkshire County Cricket Club racism row are close to home - former headteacher Dennis Richards

In the unlikely event that BBC Mastermind had ever asked me to participate, I would have chosen Yorkshire County Cricket Club as my specialist subject.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 4:41 pm
2 September 2020 Yorkshire Vikings v Leicestershire Foxes T20 Blast at the Emerald Headingley Stadium abandoned due to heavy rain. Picture Tony Johnson

I first went to Headingley when I was eight years old with my cricketing grandad. I came within ten yards of Leonard Hutton, later Sir Leonard, England’s first professional captain and my destiny was sealed.

Like Azeem Rafiq, I would play for Yorkshire. I had the main qualification. I was born well within the county boundaries. I never did play for Yorkshire, of course. I might have had the birth right. I most definitely did not have the required talent.

What I did have, was enough ability to play in the tough semi-professional multi-racial Huddersfield League. And finish my playing days in the rather more sedate arena of Division 6 in the Nidderdale League. I still love the game, and retain with some pride my honorary presidency of Pannal CC.

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I suspect most teachers are shocked as to how “out of sync” with the modern era the furore at Yorkshire CCC all seems. Azeem’s claims as to what happened in the dressing room at Yorkshire over many years seem largely uncontested. Were it to happen in a school and OFSTED came a-calling, the school would be placed in “special measures”. Modern technology, international travel and trade and globalisation in general have made change inevitable.

Stop the world and get off might suit the OAPs. Not their grandchildren.

For the vast majority of them, certainly while at school, racism and homophobia are anathema. Of course they are; because both might well hurt their mates. Bang out of order, as they say.

In my interview for the post at St Aidans, the governors in that era took more interest in my cricket than they did in my theology. They also asked me what I thought of the Yorkshire puddings at the pre-interview dinner. I didn’t think they were very good. And I said so.

My southern competitors were far too diplomatic. I got the job.

Once in post, observers quickly concluded that my main educational policy seemed to be to put the school on the cricketing map. Within a short space of time, I found myself appointed to the role of chairman of the Yorkshire Senior Schools Cricket Association.

Meanwhile, by 1992 a seismic change had become inevitable at Yorkshire CCC. Anecdotal stories of expectant mothers being rushed across the Yorkshire border became a thing of the past. It was clear that Yorkshire could no longer compete with the other counties, which by now numbered among their ranks some of the world’s best players. In 1992 Yorkshire joined the trend and signed a brilliant young Indian teenager - and 29 years on, we can now reflect on what Yorkshire Cricket Club could and should have learned from that first signing. His name was Sachin Tendulkar. Future captain of India.

Along with Hutton and Sutcliffe, certainly the greatest batsman ever to wear the White Rose. And in case that verdict is queried on Mastermind? Tendulkar has 51 Test centuries to his name, Geoff Boycott has 22.

Race never featured in any discussion I can recall with Yorkshire Schools CA; at the time we were obsessing more about the state school, independent school imbalance among professional cricketers, which has barely changed to this day.

Indeed, Azeem speaks warmly of his cricketing days up to the age of 19, when he was captain of England U-19s. And perhaps we can take a moment to remind ourselves that Headingley is home to another sport. Both codes of rugby have been multi-racial for decades.

Sometimes the lessons are closer to home than we think.