One of the great things about being a Leeds United fan – and there are many, it goes without saying – is that we don’t have to stumble along under the crippling burden of embarrassment that afflicts certain Yorkshire clubs, notably in this case, Barnsley FC. I’m referring, of course, to the football-supporting choices of that most loathsome of creatures: the Professional Yorkshireman. Think of that brilliant Monty Python parody, the Four Yorkshiremen – and you’ll recognise the type I’m on about. Now imagine one of those buggers supporting and then betraying your team. Horrible.
There are quite a few of these sad types, notable for their carefully-cultivated air of bluff down-to-earthness. Being down to earth is money in the bank for your Professional Yorkshireman – and of course money in the bank is a subject very close to their hearts, just as it is with genuine Tykes the length and breadth of God’s Own County. Rumour has it, after all, that copper wire was invented by two Yorkshiremen disputing ownership of a penny. So what is it that separates the odious “Professional” from the upright, genuine, sterling Yorkshiremen who, as we all know, are the salt of the earth? I can tell you, in one unpleasant phrase: base, self-serving treachery.
The one major qualification for any Yorkshireman should (to my mind) be a parochial contempt for anything and everything beyond the Broad Acres – and most especially for that land of the misbegotten over the wrong side of the Pennines. There’s just something wrong about that place. The accents are appalling, the cuisine is based on what you can do with livestock blood – and when you finally get to the coast, it’s the wrong way up. It’s true. Just think about it. When you’re walking in a northerly direction, the sea should be on your right, just as it’s properly on your left when you’re heading south. That’s as it should be – as it is with all of those jewels of the East coast like Filey, Scarborough and Brid.
But in Blackpool or Morecambe, it’s all arse about face, you end up disoriented and feeling as though you’re on some alien planet – an impression that contact with the locals will only reinforce. Take David “Bumble” Lloyd, for example. What a pie-munching yonner he is. But it’s a dire place altogether, even without the inbred population – the most welcome sight I ever see apart from a Leeds United goal is that lovely White Rose marker on the M62, telling me I’m heading back into civilisation.
All of the foregoing is just plain common sense to proper Yorkshiremen, people of taste and refinement, to whom a west of the Pennines accent has the same effect as fingernails drawn slowly down a blackboard. But – brace yourselves here – there are some who live, move and have their being among us lucky sons and daughters of the three Ridings – who were actually born here, for Don’s sake – and yet who find it possible to betray us all, in the foulest, most contemptible way imaginable.
Yes, avert your eyes now, for it’s the ultimate in bleak, degraded horror that I’m talking about: supporting Man U. A frisson of shuddering horror there, right? Now do not hasten to judge the weaker vessels; many of these misguided souls are insecure and inadequate, seeking to align themselves with what they perceive as size and success. Their motivations are a subject for fascinated disgust, it’s beyond the ken of the well-adjusted to understand such perversion. But whatever reasons they may have for their aberration must remain between them and Dr Freud, for these are sick people; we may regard them with more pity than anger. They are squandering their birthright, and they will find no happiness in life.
But the very worst offenders are those who have achieved fame, celebrity, wealth by making the most of the place they were born; by capitalising on their God-given Yorkshire heritage. For these people to commit the ultimate sin of selling their souls to the Pride of Devon – that’s beyond unforgivable. It’s despicable, degraded, disgusting – it’s the lowest form of base treachery you can put a name to, especially when perpetrated by one who has made a fat living off his White Rose credentials. There are two chief offenders I have in mind: Michael Parkinson and Geoffrey Boycott.
Both of these are fairly detestable in their own right, even without any considerations of football affiliation coming into the equation. Boycott has developed into the tiresome gob-on-a-stick type, deeply in love with his own exaggerated dialect, relishing every opportunity to be “outspoken” on the radio, as he verbally rips into cricketers more talented than he ever was. Parkinson has descended towards the testy and crotchety hinterland of senility as he has aged, chasing the coin with the avarice of a man who breeds moths in his wallet, inflicting his deadly dull “interviewing voice” on us from naff insurance adverts as he tries to flog us funeral policies with the promise of a free Parker pen. It’s all miserably dispiriting for anyone who was ever a fan of either man, both so identifiable, by their own unremitting efforts, with the county of their birth. But I was never a fan of either, so I can tell it like it is, and with a light heart.
Both have committed the unforgivable sin of giving their allegiance – the unquestionable property of one or other of Yorkshire’s football clubs – to Man U. Parkinson, in particular, is grossly culpable. His anecdotes of Skinner Normanton, as well as other heroes of his widely-publicised Barnsley-supporting youth, made his name for him as a half-decent writer and retailer of funny stories. But, when push came to shove, Michael shoved off, deciding that his favourite team was Man U and that he was chosen by some higher power to write a brown-nosing biography of George Best (for whom he had to delve deep into Paul Reaney’s back pocket). There may well be Barnsley fans who don’t know this, who regard “Parky” as one of their own – but those who are aware of his duplicity rightly view Michael Parkinson with contempt. It’s many moons now since he headed south to live with his showbiz and Man U mates, and grow his eyebrows into two miniatures of Michael Heseltine’s coiffure – much the same as that other famous old Yorkshire curmudgeon and Labour Party betrayer, Bernard Ingham. The south is welcome to Parkinson, a Professional Yorkshireman who started out as a Barnsley fan, made his name as such – and then defected to the Evil Empire. He even tried to get his son into football by pushing him towards Chelsea. Ugh.
Boycott, for his part, also made his name synonymous with that of the great county which gave him birth and entitled him to play for the White Rose – an honour it is impossible to surpass. But for all that he always based his “Yorkshireness” on his achievements in “creekitt”, as he insists on pronouncing it – and although he had football trials with Leeds, playing indeed alongside the legendary Billy Bremner – he never offered his support to a Yorkshire team, preferring instead to follow Nottingham Forest due to the presence there of fellow gobshite Brian Clough. The action, many will agree, of a scab. When Clough departed the scene, Boycott followed the path of the weak-minded and became a Man U fan – something he clearly fails to regard as in any way inconsistent with his heavily-emphasised Yorkshireness, which he continues to play for all it’s worth in his regular radio pundit stints.
Far be it from me, a cricket novice, to criticise Boycott’s views on that sport – so I’ll leave it instead to an expert. Steve Harmison has said of the self-styled “best opening bat” that “…the fact is that within the England dressing room [Boycott’s] views are regarded as a joke. People who only have a passing interest in the game hear the famous Geoff Boycott Yorkshire accent and may think it gives some status to his opinions. But inside the dressing room he has no status, he is just an accent, some sort of caricature of a professional Yorkshireman. Indeed, quite a few of us cringe whenever he comes near.” Damning stuff indeed, and the spectre of the Professional Yorkshireman appears to haunt that insider’s view of England’s former opener.
There are others who might possibly qualify – for want of a better word – to be called Professional Yorkshiremen. Dicky Bird, for instance – but he strikes me as a fairly inoffensive, if overly-lachrymal, sort of bloke. And I believe he still supports Barnsley, if only on the big occasions. He certainly emerged from the woodwork to see them promoted to the Premier League – though I believe he was nowhere to be seen when they went back down, twelve short months later.
Others the accusation might be levelled at, I will not hear a word against. Fred Trueman, for instance. Unashamedly Yorkshire, but as far as I know he never made a sideshow of it, and the stories about him are many and legendary. Fred was an effortlessly Yorkshire character and he’s much missed. One story of when he was dining with the MCC at an exclusive restaurant bears repeating. Apparently, he spotted the date on the menu, written in French after the style of such high-falutin places: Jeudi le deuxième Mai. Pointing to it with a calloused forefinger, he said “Aye – Ahs’ll ‘ave that for sweet.”
When we speak of Yorkshiremen in years to come, I hope and trust that it’s men like Fred, Dave Batty, Harold Wilson (maybe), that we’ll be talking about. Not the likes of Parkinson and Boycott, who made such efforts to establish and profit from a Yorkshire background, only to betray it in the least excusable way possible. I feel a bit sorry for Barnsley FC, being so often linked to their tawdry, shallow sort and yet being abandoned at the first opportunity by hollow traitors for a media circus like Man U. Leeds have been lucky, over the years, to attract the support of proper Yorkshiremen, as well as those enlightened souls from further afield who can see more clearly than others that we’re the best club in the world. Long may it remain so.