Headingley Ghosts…an intriguing title for a book, but it got me off on the wrong foot. I half expected stories of spirits strolling – if that’s what ghosts do – around the famous village.
In fact, it is a collection of Yorkshire cricket tragedies, spread over 65 names from George Steer in 1827 to the much lamented David Bairstow in 1998. It is a masterpiece of the researcher’s art, and a great credit to MickPope.
It is his sixth book on various aspects of Yorkshire cricket, coming when even the most devoted fanatic of the Club and game might have expected that the well was running dry.
As far as I am concerned there is only one genuine Headingley Ghost, Eric Harris, who came from Australia in 1930 to play on the wing for the Rugby League club, long before they became the Rhinos. His last match was in September 1939, the day before war was declared.
In those nine years he scored 392 tries in 383 matches, and earned the nickname the Toowoomba Ghost because of his extraordinary skill in beating defenders. I never saw him, but Ken Dalby wrote of his “extraordinary visitations” being woven into Headingley legend.
Mick Pope’s tome is spread over more than 330 pages, and he admits that there is much darkness, with sadness, despair and sorrow being the overriding themes. I would have thought that there were plenty of those ingredients in the world around us today, but I admit the writer has put together an absorbing collection of stories.
My particular interest is in David Bairstow, the incomparable Bluey, and Michael Fearnley, whom I played alongside at Farsley as a boy. I was covering Yorkshire cricket for the Bradford paper among others when the young Bairstow was called to the colours from his school examination desk in the city. Over the years we became good pals.
At the start I picked him up at home, and took him around. I had the great pleasure of telling him that Yorkshire had given him his much coveted cap – they do things differently today. I remember going to the opening of his sports-related business in Pudsey, and meeting him on holiday in Tenerife. Happy days, but I can still recall the horror and disbelief when I read of his untimely death and the circumstances surrounding it. No one who knew will ever forget.
Mike Fearnley, known to us as Pop, was a different kind of man…a school teacher with a slightly arrogant air but a gifted Bradford League bowler and skilful coach. I was on holiday in the Lake District when news came through that he had collapsed and died on July 7, 1979, running into bowl for Farsley at East Bierley.
Strange how you can remember where you were when certain events take place!
All the details of his distinguished career are here, sympathetically recorded, as are the stories of all the other “victims”. Pick where you will: there is a vast variety of anecdotes, many well known to Yorkshire aficionados, others less so.
And not a hint of a ghost-writer in sight! But there is a substantial list of acknowledgments to Mick Pope’s sources. Perhaps there is another book to be written about them. Headingley Ghosts is published by ScratchingShed Publishing at £14.99.