IT had been a memorable interview, with Michael Parkinson talking about his relationship with Muhammad Ali and George Best. Now, it was time for a couple of great sportsmen closer to his home and his beloved Yorkshire: Geoffrey Boycott and Fred Trueman…
PARKINSON: Let me describe him to you (in the early days); he was thin and he wasn’t very big, but had a nice spread to his shoulders. He had those unfortunate National Heath spectacles- – remember those, like Denis Law used to wear – which he used to tape to the back of his head. Playing against Scarborough, he walked out with his specs on the second wicket down – I was batting at the other end. The wicketkeeper said, loud enough for Geoffrey to hear, to the opening bowler: “They’re sending in f****** short-sighted dwarfs.”
That would be a bit unfair, but nonetheless it summed up the situation. I thought: “Oh, shit!” Bill Foord was the bowler, I always remember; he used to play for Yorkshire – bloody good bowler. He ran in to bowl to Geoffrey and I always remember – this was the first time I’d seen this kid with a bat – he went onto the back foot and creamed this guy through extra cover. Foord said to me: “Christ, who is he?” I said: “His name’s Boycott. That’s all I know.” At that moment, I could see he had all the attributes to be a very fine cricketer.
The problem was that he couldn’t field. And he turned himself not into a great fielder but a very good one, good enough to play county cricket. The thing about Geoffrey, more than anyone I’ve ever met, is that he has an extraordinary resolve. If he says he’s going to do something, he will do it. Of that there is no doubt. He’ll do anything to get there. And that marked his career as a sportsman.
I’ll tell you when it was at its most admirable. That’s when he was diagnosed with cancer. Then you saw the way that his mind applied the same principles of being a great player to being a patient but not a victim. He fought that. I mean, he had this awful form of (mouth) cancer; they would put this lead mask on him; the treatment was almost worse than the cancer. And he used to write letters to you explaining what exactly had happened to him that day. You could tell that what this was a kind of therapy. He was getting on paper the practicality of dealing with his illness and sharing it with somebody else. Somebody he knew and liked.
But, more than that, it was a form of defiance; you ain’t going to get me. These documents are remarkable; how he pulled through. Against all odds and against all medical opinion, he pulled through. And look at him today. All right, he has no saliva glands and all that sort of thing; he has to be very, very careful, and has to go for regular check-ups, but you would never know by looking at him what he’d been through. It did help, of course, that he’d never smoked or drank in his life. He has a strong constitution. But the mind…if ever you believe, and some doctors do, that there’s an ingredient, an added dimension to the mind that somehow helps them through a situation like that, then he was the classic example of that.
I never felt prouder of him than I did at that time. In a sense, you could forgive him all his faults, the way he could be dismissive, single-minded and selfish, all of those things swung him through in the end. Strange, isn’t it?
COONEY: You patently have a deep liking for him.
PARKINSON: Oh, I love him. He’s one of my best friends. I mean, we argue and all that, and sometimes he says things that make me cringe. I go: “Geoffrey…” But, nonetheless, he’s a very remarkable boy. I always think of him as a boy. I could never love him like I loved George Best; I adored Bestie; we had a very close and fond relationship. And, in the nicest sense, a loving relationship that two men can have. I never thought that about Geoffrey. But my admiration for Geoffrey is…I don’t think anyone could admire him more than I do.
COONEY: If I didn’t have any luck with Boycott, I redressed the balance with Fred Trueman. I visited him at his lovely home in Yorkshire, not so long before his death. Among other things, we discussed his feud with Boycott. Also, the rapprochement.
PARKINSON: It did both guys great credit when they did that, actually. It was silly the stand-off they had; they were two great cricketers, you know, and two very bloody-minded individualists. They should actually have understood each other better than they did. Freddie was an awkward bugger. The saddest thing about Fred – I couldn’t quite believe it; this would have been about three or four years before he died – was when I went up to Leicestershire to do a gig for youth cricket. Fred and I were speaking. We had a panel, me and Fred and somebody else. We did it. Fred’s wife Veronica was there, too. We were chatting away and I was thinking how nice it was for Fred to come and support this thing.
We had done our gig and then up stands the auctioneer. And he says: “And now we’re going to sell some of Fred’s memorabilia.” I thought: “What’s this?” ’Cos it wasn’t on the programme. I asked him if it was for the fund. He said: “No, no, it’s for me.” I didn’t dare go any further. Up came his boots in which he took his 300th Test wicket. They went for – I don’t know – very little. It wasn’t the right place to do this. I mean, if you wanted to raise money for Fred, you’d have had a big event where this would have been the centre point. I ended up buying his last MCC touring blazer which I intended to give it back to him, or to the Yorkshire cricket museum.
But I suddenly understood that he was broke. They were selling off the Crown Jewels, in a sense. And I thought: “This is so sad; it shouldn’t be like this.” We are careless with our heroes. There’s nothing worse than a great sporting hero in that kind of trouble. Listen, he got through it; of course, he did. As Fred always did. But it was a very poignant moment for me, sitting next to my mate, and thinking: “Christ, he’s selling his gear.” He was a funny man. And also, of course, like Geoffrey, too.
Yorkshire was extraordinary at that time. In that dressing room, there were Brian Close, Raymond Illingworth, Geoffrey Boycott and Fred Trueman. You can’t find me in the history of the game four more awkward, argumentative, great players, nor four people who knew more about the game than they did. I always said: “If you four could have got together and stopped pissing each other off, you’d have been unbeatable as a motivating force in the team. Unbeatable.”
COONEY: And what was their response?
PARKINSON: They told me to fxxk off! What did I know about it? Oh, I knew nothing. But they were extraordinary and they were in the dressing room at the same time. Yorkshire, you know, never used them, never utilised them, never managed to bring them together. Bad man management, really. Somebody should have banged their heads together and made them put all their positive energy into thinking about Yorkshire cricket. One thing is certain: I was so lucky growing up with those people.