By Graham Hardcastle
What a difference a couple of years make!
Gareth Southgate and his England stars are just two games from World Cup glory, but the last time we were in a major tournament at Euro 2016, the current manager and national hero was concentrating on a different sport. Club cricket in Yorkshire.
As England’s under 21 manager at the time, the ex-Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough man had some time off and was turning out alongside teenage son Flynn for Harrogate side Pannal Ash in a Nidderdale League win over Spofforth second XI.
Southgate has lived in the area since his days with Middlesbrough and took two catches, including one off his son’s bowling, bowled five overs of medium pace without a wicket and then hit an unbeaten 22 to end a successful pursuit of 179.
Amazingly, son Flynn’s last listed game came for Beckwithshaw under 17s on June 28, the same night England suffered their only defeat so far at the World Cup against Belgium.
Thompson continued: “We have an arrangement with Beckwithshaw that we can use some of their juniors to fill in now and again, and Flynn was one of the players who we got offered. They also said ‘If you need any more, his dad fancies a game’.
“Gareth and Flynn came along on a sort of loan arrangement.
“I think Gareth quite enjoyed it.
“We had a bit of a chat, and he felt it was like back to being a kid playing at home having been in all these big dressing rooms in his football career.
“The other thing, I charged him the full £10 match fee and asked when was the last time he’d paid to play sport. He said ‘about age 13’.
“Flynn’s a nice little cricketer. He has a nice action. There was a bit of competition between them for who was going to take the most wickets, and I think Flynn got two. That went down well.”
Playing for Spofforth that day was Jason Westerman, who recalled: “It was a good game played in the right spirit.
“It was remarkable that there were four father and son combinations playing – the Southgates and the Smiths for Pannal Ash and the Rosses and Westermans for Spofforth.
“Gareth bowled and batted well.
Last April, Southgate, having now been appointed England’s senior manager, had another brush with cricket as he met Jack Brooks, Jonny Bairstow and Australian overseas Peter Handscomb at a Leeds Rhinos game at Emerald Headingley.
Brooks recalled: “Top man!
“He was a nice personable bloke who wanted to chat about cricket and playing for Yorkshire.
“He also had a chat with Jonny about playing for England.
“He just came across as really personable and genuinely interested in what we had to say.”
Southgate has been heavily involved in grassroots sport in Harrogate, scoring some under 13s games and refereeing junior football fixtures. Flynn played under 15s representative cricket for the Nidderdale League last season.
“I seem to remember Gareth playing a couple of games for us,” said Pannal Ash first-team captain James Thompson.
“He was decent. The level we’re at now is village cricket, so second XI sort of thing. But there was a few of us who had played at a higher level, and he fitted in really well. He was very good company and one of the lads, if you like.
“He said that he hadn’t bowled for 20 years or whatever, so we gave him a bit of a bowl.
“After the first couple when he said he was creaking, he put it on the spot.
“You could see that in his youth, he’d been a reasonable cricketer.
“He was running in off 10 or 12 paces, bowling seam up, nothing quick with a nice athletic action as you’d expect. There was some movement here and there.
“Batting wise, he hit a couple of good shots for four to help us win the game.
“The one thing he was saying he didn’t want to do was drop a catch off his son’s bowling otherwise he would never have heard the last of it!”