Yorkshire’s players past and present, coaches, members, officials and representatives of the Management Board packed St Chad’s Church, Far Headingley, today, for the Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Don Wilson, who died in July aged 74.
Former Yorkshire and England captains Brian Close and Raymond Illingworth led the squad of the 1950s to the 1970s when Don was in his hey-day as Yorkshire’s left-arm spin bowler, and skipper Andrew Gale headed the representation of 2012. The coaches were led by Director of Cricket Martyn Moxon and the first team’s Jason Gillespie.
The welcome was given by the Vicar, the Reverend Tom Lusty, and the Yorkshire County Cricket Club Chaplain, Canon Max Wigley, was among those to give an address. Former Yorkshire and England batsman and ace slip-fielder Philip Sharpe read the poem The Pitch at Night by GD Martineau, and Philip also read tributes which had been sent by Ian Chappell, captain of Australia from 1971 to 1975, and Dr Ali Bacher, Captain of South Africa 1969-70. The Gospel reading was by Father Felix Stephens.
The tribute from Yorkshire’s Golden Age of the 1950s and 1960s was given by former Yorkshire and England all-rounder Richard Hutton, who said those Championship-winning sides contained players of outstanding talent, but what mattered was the team spirit.
Don Wilson was the cement that welded this group of individuals into the team that they became: there was his wonderful enthusiasm on the field; he was always there for a chat in the bar afterwards and – a natural showman himself with a versatile repertoire of songs - he would be the one to pull together a performance from the choral members of the squad.
Richard told how the young Don had impressed his father, the late Sir Leonard – but not the Sunday benefit crowd – when he bowled the great man in his native Settle, which he was fond of pronouncing SEATTLE. This brought him an introduction to the Yorkshire nets where, although he was a bowler, the formidable Arthur Mitchell began by looking at his batting.
Wilson was despatched time and again by Yorkshire’s fast bowlers, pausing each time to retrieve stumps from the back of the net. “What do you do for a living, lad?” asked the fiery coach. “I am a joiner, sir,” the lad replied. “Next time, said Mitchell, “bring your tool kit and board that lot up.”
MCC President Philip Hodson said Wilson’s retirement in 1974 was Yorkshire’s loss but MCC’s gain. Wilson became Head Coach at Lord’s, a position that was absolutely made for him. He knew how to get the most out of young players, and he could turn a crowd of children who knew little about the game into a happy group playing together on the field and loving it. It was a talent which Don also put to full use during his time at Ampleforth College.
Donations in memory of Don should be sent to Yorkshire Air Ambulance and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.