Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Darren Gough, Yorkshire and England cricketer

'Football was my main sport'
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The Independent Online

Darren Gough, 37, is the Yorkshire captain and England bowler who has taken more one-day international wickets for his country than any other Englishman. He achieved a hat-trick in the 1999 Sydney Test and won Strictly Come Dancing in 2005. He is endorsing the Boots Change One Thing schools campaign for healthy eating.

There was a stone circle in the playground of my infants school in Carlton, near Barnsley, and my first kiss was there. Her surname was Brown and she had red hair. Somebody liked me!

We moved and I remember, clear as a bell, how nervous I was when I was the new kid at St Helen's Primary in Monk Bretton, Barnsley. I got there 15 minutes before anyone else – I've never liked being late – and as soon as people walked in, it was fine. I always enjoyed school, although I can remember getting embarrassed and I never liked putting my hand up. As soon as I got outside, I was the leader; people used to follow me. I was cheeky without being naughty and teachers liked me. I was good at English – not literature but I liked writing stories.

Today, I can sit down and within 10 minutes I have written 700 or 800 words of an article. I enjoyed geography because it was taught by Mr Rogerson, who was very strict indeed and fair; that's why he was popular. He was really old-fashioned and would play cricket with us in his tweed suit and flat cap.

Football was always my main sport and I played at No 8 in the first team. At nine, I played for my town under-11 team. I went to Priory Comprehensive. That's not a place where you'd have wanted to send your children!

Do you know the film Kes? That was one of the schools where they filmed. There were different social classes of boys and different areas mixed in one school. All I did at first was to fight to decide who was top boy and who was bottom boy; if you didn't, you got beaten up.

I've been back since and it's improved. I enjoyed Priory; it always had great sporting facilities. We won all the football and cricket matches; I was captain of the football, cricket and rugby teams. From 11 to 16, I played for the town and the school.

Brian Hague, who had played as a schoolboy for Manchester United, was the main sports teacher. Geography became too hard for me and maybe I didn't like the teacher but I liked history. We liked Mrs Barrett: she was sexy and taught French. I ended up with a couple of O-levels. Judging by my mock exams, they said I should have got eight or nine O-levels but I was away that much with the sport: football courses and cricket courses. My careers officer said: "What do you want to do after you leave?" I said, "I'll be a footballer." He said, "No – seriously?" I said, "I'll be a cricketer."

I went to Barnsley Football Club, where I'd been playing since I was 11, but I was quite small then and probably lacked power. Eric Winstanley, one of the coaches, now says, "My biggest mistake was not taking you on as a professional footballer."

I went to Rotherham United Football Club as a YTS and then out of the blue as an 18-year-old was offered a five-year contract by Yorkshire County Cricket Club.I didn't have a salad until I was 18 or 19. I'd never even thought of a tomato.

Why it changed was that I was eating out in restaurants every night with people who were older and who were were eating better than I was. That's why I'm now involved in the Boots campaign: it's important for teachers to help students understand how making a small change can make a big difference to their lifestyle.

Trying to teach my children the value of nutrition is like pulling teeth but they both eat better now – especially broccoli until it's coming out of their ears.

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