My lad Edward follows Newcastle United, don’t ask me why, though I believe it’s something to do with Alan Shearer being in his pomp when he was at junior school and deciding which team to follow.
I plumped for Stoke City because Gordon Banks laiked for them and for a while I was enamoured by a West Bromwich Albion centre forward called Jeff Astle. Anyroad, we manage to make a few pilgrimages to St James’ Park each season and we really look forward to it: Edward because he loves the football and the atmosphere in that famous old stadium and me because I love having a lad and dad weekend.
A couple of seasons ago we were in our favourite pre-match pub, The Strawberry, and got talking to an old man from Jarrow.
He noticed Edward’s black and white striped shirt and asked him where he was from. When Edward said West Yorkshire the old man laughed and said: “Oh, you’re a southerner then canny lad.”
I was thinking about this after I wrote about Yorkshire Day last week and, in the light of that, I was wondering about how we identify ourselves in terms of where we feel we come from.
I suppose most people round here would say they were northerners, but to folk like the old bloke from Jarrow and people in Scotland we are southerners.
We are obviously Yorkshire folk, but when do you become a Yorkshire man or woman? Do you have to be born here or can you grow into a Yorkshire person? What then makes you Yorkshire?
Is it your voice, your sense of history or merely the fact that you have settled and work here? The famous test of Yorkshireness was at one time whether you could play cricket for the county. But even that wasn’t 100 per cent true.
Lord Hawke, the man who everybody talks about as the visionary leader of Yorkshire cricket was born in Lincolnshire, so strictly speaking shouldn’t even have been playing for them. I also know people in Saddleworth, near Oldham, who speak with very strong Lancashire accents, but vow and declare that they were born in Yorkshire. Boundary changes and shifting borders knocked their cricketing ambitions for six a long time ago.
When I think about it, if where you’re born is the main indicator of where you are from then I wouldn’t be a Featherstone man, because I was born at Hemsworth and I’m quite proud of that: it says it on my passport.
When you are a long way from home and somebody asks you where you’re from what do you say? If you’re from Ackworth do you say near Pontefract? If you’re from South Elmsall, do you say South Yorkshire or the Wakefield Metropolitan District?
Actually, forget that last one: I don’t know anybody who would tell someone they are from the Wakefield Metropolitan District, do you? Even people from Wakefield don’t say that.
I usually say I’m from Featherstone and if the person who has asked me says: “Featherstone, where’s that?” I usually say it’s a township between Streethouse and Purston Jaglin. I love to watch the expression on their faces.
Last year when I went to China, I found myself trying to explain to people which part of Europe I came from. Most of them knew Britain as an island off Europe’s north west coast, they’d heard of London obviously and Liverpool, because of the Beatles, but nobody knew about northern England or Yorkshire. I ended up telling them that I came from a bit to the right of Liverpool and nearer to Scotland than London.
That phrase, nearer to Scotland than London, has stuck with me since and this past week or so, while the Commonwealth Games have been on, it’s been strong in my mind. I wonder if Scotland gets its independence, they might consider drawing their border just below Sheffield or somewhere and creating Northland. I think I might like to be a citizen of Northland, rather than a subject of a small island just off the north west coast of Europe.
Of course, I would then be a southerner with my government in the north, but I don’t think it could be much worse than being a northerner with my government in the south.