SPORT – and especially cricket – is suddenly showbiz with leading modern-day ‘celebrity’ players set up for life and able to bask on millionaires’ row.
But money doesn’t always buy you love and if you asked Don Wilson and his legendary White Rose colleagues, you can bet your bottom dollar they wouldn’t swap their Yorkshire glory days for all the riches in the world.
The fates decreed that his playing days coincided with a time in which Yorkshire – under the captaincy of first Ronnie Burnet, then Vic Wilson and finally Brian Close – ruled the roost with the Tykes claiming a staggering seven County Championship titles and two Gillette Cup victories between 1959 and 1969.
And for that, Settle-born Wilson, now 73, feels well and truly blessed.
If it was a pleasure to watch a line-up which resembled a Who’s Who of cricketing greats – from Trueman and Illingworth to Boycott and Close, not forgetting the likes of Wilson, Jimmy Binks, Ken Taylor, Philip Sharpe, Doug Padgett, John Hampshire and Geoff Cope, who all played their parts in a regal silverware trail – imagine what it felt like to play in it.
The cricket and comradeship was perhaps unsurpassed in White Rose history – mates on the cricket pitch, firm friends for life off it. Mostly anyway.
The sepia-tinted images may be fading slightly, but in mind’s eye, the memories haven’t dimmed, not for every manjack of that remarkable Tykes line-up, whose exploits will be passed on from generation to generation from anyone who has Yorkshire cricket close to their hearts.
The achievements of left-arm spinner Wilson, capped by Yorkshire in 1960 and who played 396 first-class matches – taking 1,104 wickets at 20.49 – and his decorated colleagues are chronicled in a book entitled: Magnificent Seven; Yorkshire Championship Years – The Men, The Magic, The Memories, and the tome will one day serve as a glorious sporting epitaph for each and everyone who played.
Harkening back, Wilson, who retired from playing in 1974 before turning to a successful coaching career, said: “I look now at the world of sport and cricket and say to myself: ‘Thank God, I played when I did.’ Because it was magic.
“It’s quite strange to think we were a great side because at the time, we didn’t think that. We just thought that’s what Yorkshire did – win the Championship! It was a magnificent seven, no two ways about it.
“All I can really say is that over the years of being involved with Yorkshire cricket, it was the most unbelievable pleasure. What we really had was pride.
“In my day, if you were going out with a girl or married, and she was expecting, you used to make sure they were here (Yorkshire) in case it’s a son, as if he’s born in Yorkshire, he can play for Yorkshire!”
He added: “It was a wonderful side in every way. We were such a good fielding side for instance – Ken Taylor at cover and I was at mid-wicket, while Philip Sharpe was at first slip.
“Playing with the likes of Raymond Illingworth who I bowled with for many years – a wonderful bowler and great tactician and great helper – and Fred Trueman was fantastic. Now it’s ice baths and living like this that and the other.
“We couldn’t wait to come to the nets in April because Fred had come from Australia or West Indies or wherever it was. We’d go to the Skyrack (pub) and have a pint just to listen to what he was telling us about the stories and the magic.
“We had some brilliant days. I remember we won the Championship three times on the final day of the season at Harrogate.
“We also won it with just a few minutes left at Hull (in 1968), when it was really tense.
“I remember Closey getting hit and blood coming out of his boot. We all wanted him to go to hospital, but he said: ‘No way!’
“But one of the great memories I have is winning that one-handed match at Worcester (in June 1961) when I’d broken my left-thumb – you can’t forget that. I remember Vic Wilson turning to me and saying: ‘If you go out to bat, you’ll never play for Yorkshire again!’
“But I wanted to and I won the match (scoring 29 not out) and it was a marvellous journey from that moment onwards.”
Great entertainers on the pitch, Wilson and his Tykes colleagues also hammed it up off it, with the all-conquering Tykes not averse to captivating an audience when play had finished on those long away-days, which were invariably victorious ones.
Both Wilson and Sharpe started out treading the boards with the Settle Operatic Society, the latter a talented pianist, while Taylor, as well as turning out for Huddersfield Town in the ‘off-season’ was a dab hand on the clarinet, with the post-match sing-song a fixture of Yorkshire’s golden era.
Wilson added: “It was a great camaraderie. Every ground we went on, whether it be somewhere down south like Kent or Clacton, the home teams always wanted us to end up in their marquees or sponsors in those doors and they’d say: ‘Are you going to give us a sing-song?’
There was Tony Nicholson as well who used to sing a marvellous song called 16 Tons and then there was Birdy (Harold Bird), who used to do this song called Aba Daba, while me and Philip used to do the Black and White Minstrels show – that’s what we did in the winter.”
Yorkshire’s current crop – mostly good White Rose stock to the core – are rewinding the clock for many members with their esprit de corps and pride in representing the county of their birth, while playing some hard cricket to boot.
It’s a welcome development for many, although traditionalists such as Wilson remain unhappy with the state of the domestic game and more especially the make-up of the national team.
Wilson, capped six times by England between 1964 and 71, said: “The best time Yorkshire had last season was in the early part when 10 out of 11 were Yorkshiremen. It’s only my view – and lots will be dead against me with this – but the worst thing that was done was bringing overseas players in, It’s not much better with football!
“I was once at Lord’s with Ted Dexter and Colin Cowdrey and they were on the balcony picking a side for England with all the overseas players here. Ted said: ‘Don, could you pick a second team?’ and I couldn’t because all the best players were overseas. That was tragic, now the England side is full of South Africans and for me, you just lose that magic of cricket.
“I remember my dad first bringing me to Headingley to watch Australia and we used to queue up to the church because we hadn’t seen any of them for four years – Lindsay Hassett, (Ray) Lindwall...Fabulous players. Nowadays, you can turn up to a county match and all the overseas will be playing.”
● Magnificent Seven: Yorkshire Championship Years - The Men, The Magic, The Memories by Andrew Collomosse with foreward by Ray Illingworth and afterword by Brian Close, published by Great Northern Books. Hardback: £16.99.