“SIMPLY the best captain a young player could ever have wished for.” So proclaimed Sir Ian Botham, England’s greatest all-rounder, at a thanksgiving service today for the life of Brian Close, words that provide a perfect epitaph for the legendary Yorkshireman.
Close, who died on September 13, aged 84, was Botham’s captain when the young all-rounder burst on the scene at Somerset in the 1970s, along with West Indian star Viv Richards.
And in front of several hundred people at St Chad’s Church, Leeds, Botham acknowledged the debt of gratitude he will always owe Close, who joined Somerset after being sacked by Yorkshire in 1970.
“If it wasn’t for Brian, who knows where Vivian Richards and myself would have ended up,” said Botham, who announced that Richards had intended to be present but was forced to pull out at the last minute due to personal reasons.
“Closey was an amazing man, a man who never asked you to do something that he hadn’t, or couldn’t, do himself.
“Yorkshire’s loss was Somerset’s gain because we hadn’t won anything, ever, but Closey revamped the side and we started winning.
“He moulded that side, no one else, and he was simply the best captain a young player could ever have wished for.”
With a private family funeral having taken place earlier in the day at Rawdon Crematorium, the mood at the thanksgiving service was sombre but also upbeat, reflecting the positive nature of the man himself.
Under Close, no cricketing cause was ever lost, no task insurmountable, no mission impossible, and he unashamedly lived his life on the edge.
“One thing you never wanted to do,” quipped Botham, “was to be a passenger in any car he was driving because he was a cross between Ayrton Senna and James Hunt.
“I remember one trip down to Taunton. He was doing 85 in the outside lane, a flask of tea and some beef sandwiches on his lap, holding a Benson and Hedges cigarette out of the window and with a copy of the Sporting Life draped across the steering wheel.
“But Closey wasn’t reading the headlines (Botham stooped and squinted for effect), he was reading the form.”
In a moving tribute, watched by Close’s widow, Vivien, son, Lance, and daughter, Lynn, Botham also remembered a curry one evening with Close in Taunton.
“There was a big debate going on at the time as Muhammad Ali was fighting Joe Frazier,” he said.
“Suddenly, at the end of the meal, Closey stood up with his knife and fork.
“He shouted, ‘‘Which one of those buggers is going to knock me out?’
“It was typical of him.”
Botham said Close should have played more often for England - “he only played 22 Tests, and it should have been more like 82” - and he was present at the church with his wife, Kath, son, Liam, and daughter, Sarah, who is Close’s god-daughter.
Another warm tribute was delivered by Bryan Stott, Close’s former Yorkshire team-mate, who also reflected that Close’s greatest challenge in life was “the car in front”.
On a sun-soaked day, with a light wind rustling the first leaves of autumn, Colin Graves, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, also spoke movingly.
“Closey was my boyhood hero,” he said.
““He was undoubtedly unique, and a people’s man.”
• THE great and good of the cricketing world came to pay tribute to Brian Close.
Among the many former Yorkshire players present were Ray Illingworth, John Hampshire, Richard Hutton, Bob Platt, Geoff Cope, Mike Cowan, Dickie Bird and David Byas, as well as current Yorkshire pace bowler Steve Patterson.
Other ex-players included Micky Stewart, Pat Pocock, Harold Rhodes, David Smith, Roy Virgin, Roy Kerslake and Jim Cumbes.
Yorkshire chief executive Mark Arthur and chairman Steve Denison were present.
The Queen was represented by Dr Ingrid Roscoe, Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, and the MCC by its outgoing president David Morgan.