The omission of Boycott’s name… and the row thereafter

For his cricket work, Geoff Boycott deserves more recognition than he has received. But, a knighthood, like great scientists, outstanding politicians, brave generals and admirals, painters, sculptors, explorers, doctors, physicists, and the rest? Well, I am not so sure. By Ted Corbett.

Should any British sportsman, however successful, however noble, be given a knighthood? I ask because it is clear that in the recent Honours list the omission of Geoff Boycott’s name was far from an accident. The row that followed filled all too many newspaper columns around New Year.

Even though the Home Secretary Theresa May — one of the senior members of the government — had suggested him for a tap on the shoulder he was overlooked because he had a conviction for striking a lady — repeatedly so it was said by her in the French court which tried him — and that violence ruled him out.

Actually it was a strange time for honours because there were several names leaked that did not receive a gong of one sort or another and an inquiry into the way these leaks got into the wrong hands has been opened.

How very different from the days when I wrote about such matters. When Dennis Lillee received an MBE I quoted him as saying he was “delighted and honoured” by the appointment and was hauled in front of the editor to explain why I had invited Dennis to comment on the decision.

Thank heavens time change. In those days, before Princess Diana shone a bright light into the ways of the Royals, any mention of their name needed some sort of official stamp. (Did you know, by the way, that the BBC is not allowed to announce the death of a Prime Minister of any country without the sanction of a Cabinet Minister. I wonder if I will get a new warning for revealing this piece of information.)

Of course the Boycott story is complicated by his assertion that if he had hit the lady as often as she alleged he might have done her very serious damage indeed. Instead the pair had dinner together that same night. He was annoyed by the conduct of the appeal trial. “It was all in French,” he told me a few days later. “I didn’t understand a word.”

I have known Boycs since 1969 and like almost everyone else I find it difficult to relate to him. He is an imperfect human being but so am I and I admit he is a more reasonable person after his dice with cancer. Well, who would not be?

For his cricket work, he deserves more recognition than he has received. But, a knighthood, like great scientists, outstanding politicians, brave generals and admirals, painters, sculptors, explorers, doctors, physicists, and the rest? Well, I am not so sure.

Let us think of other England cricketers who have not been knighted. W. G. Grace, Wally Hammond, Peter May. Perhaps one day there will be an invitation to kneel in front of the Queen for David Gower, or Graham Gooch; but will there ever be for Nasser Hussain? Only time will tell.

There is one other great cricketer who probably ought to have been knighted. Frederick Sewards Trueman was named for greatness even though he was also born, like Boycott, in the shadow of an old fashioned coal mine. Now Trueman was a great, great cricketer; perhaps the finest of all the Englishmen who bowled flat out, faster than you could see, for every day of his career which stretched from Headingley to Melbourne and back for a quarter of a century and collected 307 Test wickets along the way.

Not just a wagonload of wickets, but a sackful of sixes too and after he had also held every catch within his reach too. Fred gave BBC’s Test Match Special one of its memorable phrases with “I have no idea what’s going off out there”. He was a natural speaker, a perfect fit in the days when John Arlott and Brian Johnston were part of the BBC team.

I don’t know why he did not receive a knighthood. He told me — to be more accurate he told everybody — that the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson had promised him a Sir to his name. The intellectual, sophisticated Wilson had not much in common with Boycott and Trueman except that he was a Yorkshireman and you cannot imagine he would have broken his word to a fellow Tyke unless there was a good reason. I have to admit he was a politician in every sinew of his being and some of them are not perfect humans either.

Perhaps authority thought Trueman was a racist, based on a tale that he had once said “Pass the salt, Gunga Din” to an Indian VIP at a dinner. I know a different version of that tale and one day I will tell all; but not yet.

It might seem to you that those who think they rule the world pay far too much attention to gossip, tittle tattle and the like. I agree. In the high days of Trueman and Boycott it was whispers around the committee rooms that caught their attention. Now it is Twitter. What is the difference?

The serious question is whether it is right to give a man an honour because he can chuck a leather ball to greater effect or utilise a 3lb bat for more runs during what is essentially a pastime. Think of the engineers who can machine a piece of metal to tiny margins of accuracy.

It seems to me that too many sportsmen, actors, movie stars, fashion icons, models strutting their stuff on the catwalk and even those who write for a living, have gone before the Queen, knelt and, having felt that tap on the shoulder, got to their feet to hear the words “Arise Sir.”

It’s time to call a halt and, in my opinion, the sooner the better.