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England’s FIFA World Cup campaign saw the team crash out in the semis against Croatia in July 2018. However, for many, the fact that the youthful team even got that far in the first place was a pleasant underdog surprise. In Yorkshire, the achievements of Gareth Southgate’s squad were received especially well. After all, many of the team are from the area, with three alone hailing from Sheffield. That begs the question then, is Yorkshire the most important sporting region in England?
Let’s look at the facts: of the 23-man squad that Southgate took to Russia, six grew up in Yorkshire (for reference, that’s Fabian Delph, John Stones, Jamie Vardy, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire). In fact, more than half the squad come from wider northern England too. You could argue that this is mere coincidence, but Yorkshire was recently ratified by CONIFA as an official national football team (yes, really!). So it seems that the sporting prowess of the northern quartet of counties has been signed and sealed, at least where football’s concerned.
And it’s not just on the football field where Yorkshiremen, women, and non-binary people excel. They also do pretty well at the Olympics, too. Back in 2012, the historic year when London hosted the games for the first time in over six decades, Yorkshire – were it a country – would have finished in 12th place, according to The Guardian. Not too shabby, even for what is admittedly one of the largest county conglomerates in the UK. Then, in 2016, when the games were hosted by Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Yorkshire put on a similarly impressive showing, although they did slide down the ranks somewhat to a hypothetical 17th place. Notably, that was still ahead of Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, reported The Yorkshire Post.
And while we’re speaking of New Zealand, let’s move on to the next sport deeply rooted in Yorkshire culture: rugby, or, to be more precise, rugby league. Founded as an offshoot from rugby union, rugby league came into being back in 1895 at The George Hotel, Huddersfield (which is incidentally still in operation, just next to the Huddersfield train station). Since then, the sport has continued to be played by numerous teams across the north of England and can also be found in New Zealand, French-Catalonia and Australia.
Then you’ve got cricket. Just like rugby league, cricket is a cultural phenomenon in Yorkshire dating back to the mid-18th century. In fact, Yorkshire County Cricket Club is the most successful in British history, having won a grand total of 33 county championships over the years. While Yorkshire CCC’s most recent county championship title came in 2015 though, there has yet to be an era of Yorkshire cricket to rival that of the 1960s. Captained by Brian Close and with the talents of Fred Trueman and Phil Sharpe, amongst others, Yorkshire CCC was as good, if not better, than most Test nations at the time. They even won an unmatched hat-trick of county championships between 1966 and 1968.
So to answer that question posed way back at the beginning, is Yorkshire the most important sporting region in England? Well, the evidence certainly seems to suggest so.