John Spencer is the manager of the British and Irish Lions rugby team touring New Zealand this summer. The 69-year-old solicitor and former Headingley and England centre lives near Grassington and is president of Wharfedale RUFC.
What is your first Yorkshire memory? I just remember being pleased to be born in Yorkshire having come from grandparents who were Lancastrians. I was born in Grassington and I thought as a young boy I’d like to play cricket for Yorkshire, but that was never going to happen. I can remember the first time I picked up a rugby ball. That was for the junior colts at Wharfedale. I’d be under 16 and then I played for the colts and from there into the first team at 17 or 18. It’s a huge honour to manage the Lions because they are so special. You look back and think I got this through England but it all started with Yorkshire. I get ribbed everywhere I go for being a Yorkshireman and I don’t let them forget it.
What is your favourite part of Yorkshire? I love coming home to the Dales. I like Wharfedale and I’m very fond of Malhamdale. I think it’s a privilege to live in an agricultural community where any sensible person understands that the people responsible for the protection of the Dales are the farmers. The outstanding thing about people living in this dale is their humour and respect for each other.
What is your favourite view? One of my favourite is the view from Netherside, just outside Threshfield, looking up to the dale at Kilnsey with the river Wharfe winding down the middle. Another great view is from the top of the hill at Fancarl on the Pateley Bridge road looking back up Wharfedale.
Do you have a favourite walk? I like walking over Lea Green and down through Grass Woods because that’s where I used to train in Grassington and I also like the walks on Threshfield Moor.
Which Yorkshire sportsman or woman, past or present, would you like to take out for lunch?I always had respect for Freddie Trueman and Brian Close and the other Yorkshire cricketers from that era. I admired the courage of those guys, particularly Close against the West Indian fast bowlers. But of those living, Sir Ian McGeechan has been a good friend all my senior rugby life. I respect him greatly for his philosophy of the game and his achievements, especially as a British Lions’ coach. I always enjoy listening to Ian and have already had long conversations with him about the Lions tour on what works and what doesn’t.
Which Yorkshire screen or stage star, past or present, would you like to take out to dinner? That’s a difficult one. I’m not a film buff at all. JB Priestley, a Bradford man, would be a good person to take out. I used to enjoy reading JB Priestley and would be fascinated to discuss things with him.
What do you think it is that gives Yorkshire its unique identity? They always say that if you meet a Yorkshireman and you don’t know he comes from Yorkshire, he’ll tell you within 10 minutes. I think it’s our character, humour and friendliness. I’m biased but I do think we do things well in Yorkshire. We have the mixture of the industrial and the rural world and we have beauty in the Yorkshire Dales that not a lot of people know about. The farming community is important to me and they adopt the right core values in life. We are forthright and I’ve often been accused of being ruthless, but I’d rather be straightforward than be disingenuous.
Which other sports do you follow? I’ve followed football for quite a long time and when I got injured playing for England, I went to Leeds United for treatment. I got to know Billy Bremner and Eddie Gray when they were at the peak of their achievements under Don Revie. Hopefully, Leeds are now coming back. I played cricket for Upper Wharfedale and Gargrave. I used to watch Yorkshire play at Fenner’s when I was at Cambridge and David Bairstow, the Yorkshire ’keeper, became a good friend.
Do you have a favourite pub or restaurant? There are one or two I’d like to go to! I’d like to eat at the Crab and Lobster at Asenby, but I do enjoy my local pub, the Fountain Inn at Linton, because they always keep a good pint of draught beer. It’s great in the summer because you can sit on the grass and in the winter it’s a great community pub.
Who is the Yorkshire person you admire the most? One of the persons I’ve admired the most is a former president of Wharfedale RUFC, John Harrison. A farmer, he stood for all the right values in sport and life...humour, dedication and commitment. With his family, the Harrisons have put in so much work into the club. More recently, Gary Verity who has promoted Yorkshire more than anyone else.
Has Yorkshire changed for the better or worse? It has probably changed for the better. We are less trusting of each other nowadays, but I think the cosmopolitan world we have in Yorkshire is a much better world than a lot of other places. We don’t live in fear and we don’t go hungry. We’ve been lucky we’ve had work and a community to support us.
What is your idea of a perfect day out or weekend out in Yorkshire? It would be in one of the National Parks. A relaxing day out for me would is to go from Wharfedale right into Bishopdale and then to Langstrothdale and over the top to Hawes and Aysgarth.
If you had to name your hidden Yorkshire gem, what would it be? Threshfield Moor where there’s absolute tranquillity. I can hear the grouse and you can walk without anyone disturbing you.
If a stranger came to Yorkshire and had time to visit one place only, where would it be? It would be Threshfield Moor. I took John Inverdale, the television presenter, up there. If you were driving, I’d go through Kilnsey, past the Crag, and go to Litton right to the end of the road. That would show someone the true nature of a dale in Yorkshire.