Darren Gough’s new life may be in familiar surroundings, but it is a world away from how he made his name as one of England’s greatest and most entertaining fast bowlers.
‘People don’t really know the real me,’ insists the man known as the Dazzler when he lit up England and Yorkshire in the 90s and early 2000s. ‘Some think I just played a bit of cricket, was the heartbeat of the team and messed about a bit. But I’m deeper than that.
‘Those who do know me see how passionate I am about cricket and how much of the game I’ve watched. I’ve always been an organiser in terms of tactics, recruitment and analysing players.
Darren Gough is the man charged with leading his beloved Yorkshire out of their biggest crisis
‘I look at these drafts now in the big competitions and I’d love to be involved in those. That’s what I was born to do.’
The real Darren Gough has certainly had to stand up over the last two months as he takes on the biggest challenge of a life that took him to the top as a player and then as a radio presenter, out of his comfort zone in a football-dominated world.
For he is the man charged with leading his beloved Yorkshire out of the biggest crisis in their famous history as interim managing director of cricket, in the aftermath of the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal that rocked the sport.
‘It all happened really quickly,’ Gough tells Sportsmail. ‘I had to make a huge decision because I’ve had a successful career in the media, especially at talkSPORT where I’ve survived in a mainly football world for 13 years, so I must have been doing something right. I was working a lot more with Sky and really enjoyed the Hundred. I’d got that buzz back being around cricket and then this came like a bolt out of the blue.
Gough says he could not turn down the Yorkshire job despite a successful media career
‘The club were in a real emergency and wanted someone to come in and use their cricket knowledge to help them move forward. It’s just something I couldn’t turn down. So I took it and here we go!’
The image of Gough sitting at a desk may be an unlikely one to many, but he was an obvious choice for the role both as a Yorkshire legend and for the way he reacted eloquently and passionately when Rafiq’s allegations first came to light.
‘I wouldn’t say I know Azeem that well but I gave him his debut, picked him up from his house as a young lad and took him to his first game. That gives you a connection with someone,’ says the former Yorkshire captain.
‘After I finished playing I didn’t see him for a few years but then we did our level-three coaching course together and I helped him with some of the parts on fast bowling.
‘We never talked about any of the stuff he experienced but when I heard about what happened I reached out to him again. My big concern came when I read he was having suicidal thoughts and he talked openly about that to me.
Yorkshire are dealing with the aftermath of the Azeem Rafiq racism scandal that rocked cricket
‘It’s obvious the allegations were handled badly and the club absolutely recognises that. I just wanted to play a part in rebuilding this huge cricket club both on and off the pitch. I wanted to be part of it. It hasn’t been easy and it’s not going to be. It won’t all happen overnight and people still might make mistakes.
‘Clearly things happened that shouldn’t have and education is the biggest part of all this for all of us. I’m being educated every day and we have to move forward together and create a culture that everyone can be proud of and everyone else can aspire to.’
Gough returned to his old stamping ground at just about their lowest point.
‘The club made the call to sack 16 people and on a human level I was concerned about that because I know quite a few of them,’ he says. ‘It was a massive decision and I have huge empathy for them.
‘I’ve spoken to a few and it was horrible but the club thought it was necessary in terms of the culture to make that call. I had nothing to do with it because I wasn’t here then and I wouldn’t have wanted to be part of that decision.
‘I came in purely to try to rebuild and we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity now to learn and create a model that will be a leading light in cricket and the sporting world. It’s been about people learning from what happened and becoming the best, most forward-thinking club in the country. That is the aim.’
Gary Ballance is part of a new of an inclusive environment despite being caught in the scandal
It has meant Gough learning a completely new trade at the age of 51. ‘I’ve spoken to a few directors of cricket and they’ve been really helpful, especially Alec Stewart. He said I’ve probably done more in two months than he’s had to do in all his time at Surrey.
‘I’ve been dealing with a club that’s been in turmoil that has been slaughtered around the world of sport. The game was in pieces and being criticised from all directions. The players didn’t know if they were coming or going and some people wrongly said they all wanted to leave.
‘Of course there was uncertainty around the team and they didn’t quite understand what was happening. You wouldn’t expect them to. There were some nervous people when I met them.
‘I remember sitting in that first meeting with the players and there was a look of fear on their faces because it had all blown up into a big storm. But they’ve been superb.’
That includes former captain Gary Ballance, who found himself at the centre of that storm. ‘It was a difficult situation with Gary,’ admits Gough.
‘He was disciplined by the club, he admitted the use of racist language and apologised for it. It’s crucial all forms of discrimination are eradicated from our game and society and we talked to Gary about his actions and behaviour. He understands and he’s educating himself. He’s going to be part now of an inclusive and welcoming environment that we’re building at Yorkshire and that’s obvious already in our recruitment on the coaching side.’
New coaching staff will be led by former West Indies and South Africa coach Ottis Gibson
That recruitment of a completely new coaching staff is now complete and is headed by vastly experienced former West Indies and South Africa coach Ottis Gibson.
‘We had 80 applicants just for the coaching roles and over 200 for all the jobs within the club,’ says Gough. ‘There were some huge names in there but when I was thinking about it at the start, Ottis would have been in the top three, without a doubt.
‘I was so pleased I got him because he knows the game inside out, he’s got terrific experience and was the stand-out applicant.’
Clearly Gough was the stand-out applicant when new chair Lord Patel considered who should be the face of the new Yorkshire, but the role is only interim. Would Gough like to make it permanent? ‘That’s a really good question,’ he says. ‘So far I’m absolutely loving it. I want to help the club as much as I can and if I’m the best person in six months I’ll be honoured. But that will be up to the club.
‘I think they’re pretty happy with the way things are going so far and what we’ve got in place. We have to be there for everyone now, give everyone the chance to make it at Yorkshire and then get them to play the way I used to — with a smile.’
Smiles are at last coming back to Yorkshire cricket.