The Corridor of CertaintyMartin Chandler |
Author: Boycott, Geoffrey
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Rating: 3.5 stars
I did hope The Corridor of Certainty might actually tell me all about the real Geoffrey Boycott. In some ways it did but I’m afraid there are still areas that Boycott has chosen to keep under wraps. Privacy is something rightly valued by all of us, but those who choose to put themselves in the full glare of the media must expect criticism if, when reminiscing, they choose to cherry pick only those parts of their lives which they wish to share. This applies with greater force when the aspects they keep to themselves have been in the public domain before.
In fairness it is necessary to concede at the outset that Boycott makes it clear, in an admirably written introduction, that the book is not intended to be a continuation of Boycott – The Autobiography, a decent account of his playing career that first appeared the best part of thirty years ago. But I am slightly surprised he has not drawn something from his own motivation to include a chapter about his relationship with one of his great friends, the late Brian Clough*. It is a splendid chapter, and oozes throughout his affection for and understanding of ‘Old Big ‘Ead’, and perhaps there should be a lesson in it for him.
The motivation for the writing of the Clough chapter was the impression created by the 2009 biopic The Damned United. The film was based on a work of fiction, but in years to come those who know of Clough only through history books will accept it as fact. The probability of something similar appearing one day about Boycott must be very high indeed, so he might have been expected to deal here with some other aspects of his life before someone else makes up the story about them, particularly as the libel courts hold no fear in English law for anyone writing posthumously. Some are no doubt painful to recall, although I have no doubt the lengthy account in The Corridor of Certainty of the battle with throat cancer must have been a difficult one to write.
I am thinking in particular of Boycs’ tangled love life. We do hear about his late entrance into the fatherhood game, and his marriage to Rachel Swinglehurst, the mother of his daughter and a source of unflagging support during his illness. But there is no mention of Anne Wyatt, the lady 14 years his senior who he met in 1958, and with whom he jointly purchased a mansion in Sandbanks, a transaction he ended up suing his lawyers over when he realised Ms Wyatt had left her share of the property to her family by will, and that Boycott had not, as he had always expected and intended, acquired the entire interest in the property by survivorship.
Also conspicuous by its absence is any mention of Boycott’s conviction in France for an assault against another former lover Margaret Moore, a story that hit the headlines in the redtops back in 1998, and resurfaced as recently as this year when speculation was rife as to why Boycott, for so long dubbed ‘Sir Geoffrey’ by some had never actually been knighted despite the support of Home Secretary Teresa May. He may well feel bitter about the episode, and his public utterances in the past make it clear he has deeply held grievances about French Law and the French legal system generally, but his own account of the controversy would have been welcome.
The Corridor of Certainty is sub-titled My Life Beyond Cricket so an expectation Boycott might give rather more of himself than he actually does is created. As to the use of the word ‘beyond’ it is clearly not possible for a man whose entire adult life has been spent immersed in the game to not then mention it, but I do question, given that mission statement, just why the last five chapters of the book are unavowedly about the game. It is a great shame Boycott did not tell us more about himself, perhaps helping to unravel some of the complexities of his psyche, and then publish a separate book dealing with his invariably thought provoking views on the modern game.
The above said I must, lest I be misunderstood, add there is nothing uninteresting about Boycott’s opinions on what he calls the ‘Sledging Curse’, the oft predicted demise of Test cricket and England’s humiliating Ashes defeat of 2013/14. He shoots from the hip in typical fashion, a man whose views, as the saying goes, one might not like or agree with but cannot be ignored. No less compelling are Boycott’s thoughts on a remedy for England’s current malaise. His take on Kevin Pietersen, written of course before recent events and prior to KP’s book being published, are worth reading even if they are not entirely convincing. They also, like most things, are taken as an opportunity for Boycott to blow his own trumpet. I am not convinced he will realise even now that in fact he makes a very powerful case for KP being a better player than he was.
And what of Boycott’s beloved Yorkshire? There can be no escape from a look at some of the internecine strife there and Boycott certainly doesn’t hold back. Most of it is old news and little changes – one wonders whether the years estranged from Richard Hutton might ever be healed in the manner in which the rift with Fred Trueman eventually was. That latter tale is really an example of what is most noticeable about Boycott – it seems, in his own mind at least, as if he is never in the wrong. I find it difficult to believe that is entirely true, but he certainly puts forward a good case.
One chapter is particularly out of place, but I will mention it because despite that it was the section of the book I enjoyed most. The title, Exploding the Packer Myth, makes it obvious what the subject is. The reason why I say the chapter is out of place is because, other than the eventual restoration of friendly relations with Tony Greig, all of it could have been included in Boycott – The Autobiography, but in fact that book deals with the subject in a paragraph or two and a few asides.
The obvious explanation for the omission would be that back in 1987 the publisher’s libel readers didn’t fancy putting the full story inprint, but that now Packer and Greig and a number of others involved are no longer with us the removal of the spectre of litigation makes it worth publishing. It is certainly a damning indictment of the affair, and a well-argued dismantling of what Boycott regards as the ‘myth’ that Packer’s actions irrevocably improved the professional cricketer’s lot. Boycott could never be entirely objective on the subject, and I am not totally convinced by his argument, but he does make some telling points, albeit none that I would have thought would have led to litigation if they had been published in 1987. Maybe there is still more to come, but whatever happened at the time Boycott’s views are well worth reading now.
The Corridor of Uncertainty is by no means perfect but, a bit like Boycott’s commentary, it is impossible to ignore even if it is a little irritating at times. Boycott is one of those people who it is very difficult to positively like, but his knowledge and experience command respect and whilst I might not always agree with him he is worth reading. He gets a bit like a stuck record at times, but boring? Never.
*It has been pointed out to me that those outside the UK may not be familiar with Clough. He was a gifted footballer in the early 1960s whose career was ended early by injury. He went on to become a hugely successful and, with all save those who mattered most, popular manager taking two East Midlands clubs, first Derby County and then Nottingham Forest, from the doldrums to the First Division title. With Forest he moved on to further glory in Europe. Sandwiched in between the two was a disastrous 44 day spell at Leeds United, and it is that interlude that was the subject of The Damned United