He’s back! Sir Ian Botham takes to the air and the fairways for a special reunion with the West Midlands – and David Johns joins him for the ride
What a fantastic view, said Sir Ian Botham as he looked down on the beautiful rolling countryside of the West Midlands. With the rotor blades of the helicopter chattering out above his head, Sir Ian was getting re-acquainted with the area where he once brought thrills, spills and trophies to cricket fans. His mission on this particularly glorious, not-a-cloud-in-the-sky, summer’s day was driven by his two sporting passions – cricket, of course, and golf.
We joined the sporting legend as he flew between Ombersley Golf Club and The Belfry during the Midlands leg of an exhausting one-day charity challenge. Sir Ian played the 18th hole at the Worcestershire course and the famous 10th, the Brabazon, at the Belfry as part of the ‘Beef v Beefy’ golf challenge in aid of the Beefy Charity Foundation.
The challenge saw Sir Ian, nickname Beefy, take on majors golf professional, Britain’s Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, over 18 holes – each hole in one of the 18 cricketing counties in the UK. Starting at 6am in County Durham and finishing in the twilight after 10pm in North Middlesex it was a punishing schedule, completed on the last hole under the glow of car lights.
“It felt like we were constantly hopping in and out of the helicopter, which we were, and it was all a bit of a blur if I’m honest,” said Sir Ian. But he had time for some special thoughts and memories of the Midlands, and Worcestershire in particular, where he spent five seasons in the late Eighties and early Nineties, leading the county to a clutch of silverware, including two championship titles.
ON THE FARM
“My sister and brother-in-law are farmers just outside Ombersley,” he explained. “So even though I obviously haven’t played cricket in the area in many year, I still know it very well. I’m back here quite a bit and I’m very familiar with what a lovely and special part of the world the area and the region are. It was a delight to introduce Andrew to the area and the beautiful courses at Ombersley and The Belfry.”
The pair met when Beefy interviewed Beef at a test match he was covering at The Oval as part of the Sky Sports team. “Andrew is a huge cricket fan,” said Sir Ian. “We just got talking after the interview, hit it off and decided we’d like to do something together to help charity. He’s a great guy and like me, just enjoys life. It’s took a lot of planning to sort the logistics out for the challenge . I leave all that kind of stuff to my daughter Sarah, she sorts it out… I just turn up and play!”
SELFIES WITH SIR
Ombersley Golf Club was the perfect choice given the family connection with the area, and The Belfry is a famous Ryder Cup venue and has been voted England’s best golf course. Both venues witnessed scores of wellwishers to meet Beefy and Beef and get selfies and autographs. “It was good to be back in Worcestershire,” said Sir Ian, who has hosted a number of Evening With… events in the past. He’s also a visitor with the Sky cricket team to Edgbaston Stadium, home of Warwickshire CCC and the Birmingham Bears and an England test match venue.
Saying that the 62-year-old’s workload is heavy would be an understatement. (The voice message on his phone says it all: ‘Hi, it’s Sir Ian here. Sorry I can’t take your call right now but you know what it’s like… work, work, work, busy, busy busy…) As well as covering England’s home tests, Sir Ian travels the globe with Sky giving his expert observations on the key clashes, including the Ashes series in Australia.
He fits in golf whenever and wherever he can and, of course, his passion to raise money for sick children. Sir Ian completed his 18th and final sponsored marathon charity walk in Australia in December 2017 – having previously trekked in a host of countries over the years, including South Africa, the Sub-Continent and here in the UK. His efforts have raised more than £30million for good causes, mostly for research into leukaemia.
His Beefy Charity Foundation also currently supports Brain Tumour Research and Support, Batten Disease Family Association, Cardiac Risk in the Young, Bloodwise and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. “I’ve always believed in trying to help kids ever since I went into a hospital children’s ward by mistake and got chatting to a couple of kids. I said I’d see them when I went back a couple of weeks later and found they had died. I was told they had leukaemia. That changed my life really.”