In 1967 Celtic won the European Cup in Lisbon – beating Internazionale 2-1. They were the first British club to win it. The reason why they have legendary status is that they achieved it with a homegrown team – all but one of the 15-man squad were born within ten miles of the stadium. It will never be achieved again. Clubs can’t possibly compete to the standard required without, at the very least, mixing their teams with some imports.
Sports fans love homegrown stars – somehow they carry a greater status than more gifted players. One of the reasons Barcelona carry so much support around the world is their Catalan roots, refusal to have shirt sponsorship, and the legendary La Cantera youth centre which creates the next generation of players playing the Barca way. Of course nothing stays the same for ever and in 2006 the club allowed a sponsor’s name on the shirt, albeit Unicef, and then in 2013 Qatar Airlines became the first commercial sponsor.
In every area of professional sport there seems to be no escape. As a proud Yorkshireman I remember in my childhood in the 60s feeling a pride that I was one of the lucky few who could play for Yorkshire at cricket (barring lack of talent). They had a clear policy that no-one born outside the county could play for them (although there were a few tactical and strange anomalies). It may seem a Canute-like obstinacy but it is worth noting that the County of Yorkshire has more cricket clubs than Australia to select from. It may also be something to do with the legendary Yorkshire thriftiness. There was a real truth though that English cricket was successful when Yorkshire cricket was successful. In 1992 the admission rules were modified to allow players educated in Yorkshire. This allowed Michael Vaughan to play – a Lancastrian to boot! In that year as well, Yorkshire finally hired an overseas player – a very young Sachin Tendulkar.
With this stubbornness to stick to the values of the club there can sometimes be lean spells and an unwavering pressure for success. This isn’t solely because there is a history of success to be lived up to but also a desire for success using the same format in future. The politics around the club seem to be more feisty when there is principle as well as money at stake. Consider too that location in the north of England puts them only behind Durham in suffering from weather prospects and being unable to convert draws into victories – a real challenge some years compared to Hampshire or Surrey.
With this background I am really proud that Yorkshire have won the county championship this year. They have done it with a former player, Martyn Moxon, as Director of Cricket and lots of former players among the staff. They have an Aussie, Jason Gillespie, as first team coach but he has, along with former player Darren Lehmann fitted into the team by demonstrating the same grit and determination and the “no room for egos” attitude. The side that won the game which clinched the title had nine players brought through the youth system. This in a season where Joe Root and Gary Ballance were absent for lengthy spells making key contributions for England. Ryan Sidebottom and Jonny Bairstow are both sons of Yorkshire and England players – Arnie and David respectively and both play a similar position and game to their dads.
They’ve won more games, lost fewer games, top the batting and bowling points, have the leading wicket taker (Brooks), top run scorer (Lyth), three of the top five batting averages, and the best bowling average amongst the major bowlers (Sidebottom).
Maybe some rugby and football clubs could take note, and maybe some fans could learn that patience makes the victory that much sweeter.