YORKSHIRE captain Andrew Gale last night insisted he is not racist as he reflected on “the toughest time” of his career.
Gale admitted there were times he did not want to leave the house after he became the first county cricketer accused of racism.
Gale told the Lancashire batsman Ashwell Prince, a black South African, to “f*** off back to your own country, you Kolpak f*****” during a heated, two-sided exchange in last month’s County Championship match at Old Trafford.
Kolpak players are overseas stars who have taken the places of home-grown products, which has led to some resentment among county professionals.
Gale, who deeply regrets his conduct, was banned for the final two games of the season and prevented from lifting the Championship trophy.
The storm escalated when the England and Wales Cricket Board decided there might have been a racist element to his remarks, and the case was referred to its own Cricket Discipline Commission.
However, the ECB’s case effectively collapsed when Prince insisted he did not consider Gale’s comments racist, and the governing body accepted as much while at the same time handing him a further two-match ban at the start of next season and ordering him to attend an anger management course.
Gale, who declined to comment on the ECB’s verdict, last night spoke for the first time about the emotional turmoil he has felt throughout a saga that has cast a shadow over Yorkshire’s title-winning celebrations.
“At a time when it should have been one of the happiest times of my career, it’s turned out to be the toughest time,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“I am not a racist, and that tag was what hurt me most throughout the whole process.
“I have coached cricketers all over the world, and the work that I’ve done within the Yorkshire community and charities backs that up; that’s why it hurt so much.
“There were times when I didn’t want to leave the house after being branded a racist, but my family showed me great support that helped me through.”
Gale, 30, has also received great support from the wider cricketing community and from Yorkshire CCC in particular.
Although the club have disciplined him internally, they have also defended him vigorously against any suggestion his words were racist and have pronounced themselves unhappy with his latest ban.
Gale will miss the traditional curtain-raiser to the English season when champions Yorkshire take on MCC in Abu Dhabi next Spring, followed by the opening game of the Championship programme.
Yorkshire are seeking talks with the governing body in an attempt to review and improve county cricket’s disciplinary process.
Of his conduct at Old Trafford, Gale added: “I regret the way in which I reacted that day and I have always prided myself on being a role model to my fellow pros and all young cricketers I coach, particularly the ones I coach with Pro Coach Cricket Academy (Gale’s Headingley-based academy).
“I’d like to think that I have always played the game hard but fair, and I always endeavour to play every game to win.
“I am still immensely proud of what we have achieved this season, and I hope the whole situation hasn’t detracted from Yorkshire’s success. Yorkshire were brilliant throughout the whole process, particularly (chief executive) Mark Arthur.”
Gale, who effectively came to a compromise agreement with the ECB, now wants to put the matter behind him.
He has played a key role in turning Yorkshire into the best team in the country in four-day cricket, along with director of cricket Martyn Moxon and first-team coach Jason Gillespie.
Gale’s leadership has been integral to the process since he became Yorkshire’s youngest captain since Brian Sellers in the Thirties when he was appointed in December 2009, and he has the respect of players and supporters alike.
He is also highly regarded by the Yorkshire hierarchy, with chairman Colin Graves paying him a glowing tribute last week at the club’s end-of-season dinner at Elland Road.
With Gale maintaining a dignified stance in the wake of the storm that has engulfed him, it is for others to comment on the whys and wherefores of the ECB’s handling of the case.
The board’s actions have been widely condemned, with Gale’s second ban having been perceived as an unsuccessful attempt by the ECB to save face rather than any justified sanction.
Although Gale’s conduct was, by his own admission, inappropriate, Prince’s was not too clever either and it was he who is understood to have instigated the ill-feeling by sledging Yorkshire batsman Adam Lyth.
There are also those who will perceive irony in the fact that Gale has been ordered to attend an anger management course while the likes of England’s James Anderson are apparently above such censure themselves.
Gale and his Yorkshire colleagues were last night honoured at a civic reception given by Leeds City Council in recognition of the Championship triumph.
Leeds Rhinos were also honoured following their recent success in the Challenge Cup.