Sport on TV: Jackals have their day in Geoffrey's flaw show

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The Independent Online
Has there ever been a television profile of a sporting personality quite like The Life and Loves of Geoff Boycott (ITV)? This is not, after all, a genre which likes to spring too many surprises. The subject tends to emerge with his Corinthian credentials enhanced, his ego gently massaged and any minor - or indeed glaring - character flaws quietly overlooked.

But not when the personality is one G Boycott, of Yorkshire and England (in that order). The queue of former team-mates willing to do him down stretched from Headingley to the Pennines, and that does not include the girlfriend he was found guilty of beating. You could not even call it a character assassination, because assassins generally work alone. Not so much the work of a Jackal as a whole pack of them.

Some of the contributors appeared to be on the brink of psychosis where Boycott is concerned. Don Wilson, a colleague at Yorkshire for many years, probably has a secret room at home with Boycott dartboards on the walls, a padded-up effigy swinging from the rafters and voodoo dolls skewered by hundreds of pins strewn across the floor.

"He's very self-centred," Wilson said. "He thinks about no one else in this world except Geoff Boycott." And of Boycott's time as Yorkshire captain, he recalled: "Nobody could say anything against him, you were never right. Whatever you said, you were always wrong." Little wonder, then, that even now, Wilson claims: "I never really hear anybody say a good word about him." If he's around, they wouldn't dare.

Interpersonal skills, clearly, are not one of Boycott's strong points, at least not where men are concerned. Women, though, are another matter, a fact which Tony Greig tried to explain. "I have seen him stripped and I can tell you that he's very fit for his age and he's pretty well built," he said. "He might not like me saying that but I know because I've seen him." Geoff, it seems, is packing an extra stump in his whites, or as Shirley Weston, his first girlfriend, put it: "The boys in the team used to pull my leg about him. 'What do you find interesting about him that you don't find interesting about me'?"

All very Freudian, particularly since Boycott lived at home with his mother until he was 40 and, according to Ray Illingworth, "seems to want a mother more than a wife".

The girlfriend that everyone wanted to know about, though, was Margaret Moore, she of the bright blue eyeshadow and, after an alleged beating by Boycott at a French hotel, black-and-blue eyes. Interviewed by Trevor McDonald, he insisted: "She set me up in France because she wanted money. She made a great play about me hitting her, I think the exact quote was over 20 times. If I'd hit her over 20 times, she'd have been half dead. It's just a total lie."

Moore's side of the story came via This Morning and GMTV, though the clash between her makeup and the yellow check sofa rendered the latter interview almost unwatchable. Deciding which of them is the liar, as the French judge must do within the next few days, is not a task which anyone would relish.

Whatever the verdict, though, The Life And Loves ... was a fine study of a sporting monomaniac, and the wildly different emotions which follow in his self-obsessed wake. His team-mates may have loathed him, but the punters on the Headingley terraces begged to differ, and so too about half of the Yorkshire board.

"Some of the membership became so besotted with him," Illingworth remembers, "that if he got out in the first over you'd see them leaving the ground. They'd only come to watch Geoffrey bat, not Yorkshire win. He split the whole lot, right down the middle."

Even McDonald, one of television's foremost journalists, seemed in awe of his interviewee and sent him down some hopeless long-hops. Boycott's admission that "the reason I went to South Africa was money ... [and] I don't feel I have to answer anything basically", passed without challenge. But then, it was just another example of the Boycott effect. His is a character which simply does not allow for any in-betweens.

How different his story might have been if he had picked up something other than a cricket bat all those years ago. Think, for instance, how such a driven, selfish man could have succeeded at something like tennis. He might have been a Wimbledon champion, a true national hero. Always assuming, of course, that he steered clear of doubles.