EX-INTERNATIONAL cricketer Steve Harmison launched his benefit year at a star-studded event in Newcastle last night.
Proceeds from the benefit – a tradition where cricket clubs hold a year of fundraising events to celebrate long-standing players – will go to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation for cancer research and support.
Former team mate and friend Andrew Flintoff spoke at the launch in Newcastle’s Bar Livello.Related content
“This year’s all about giving back to a cricketer who’s done a lot for a lot of people,” said Flintoff, who was with Harmison in the team that won back the Ashes in the dramatic 2005 series. “There’s none better.”
Former and current Newcastle United players John Carver and Steve Harper also turned out to support the former world number one bowler.
Harmison, who has two Ashes wins and two county championship titles to his name, said he had chosen the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation because of his close personal relationship with the late England manager.
Sir Bobby invited Harmison to train with United in 2003 to help improve his fitness levels. After the period of training with the likes of Alan Shearer, he went on to play some of the best cricket of his career.
“Sir Bobby was a big cricket fan,” said Harmison, who still plays for Durham at a county level.
“Whenever he came to a match he would come and see me. You always knew when he was in because of his big Rolls Royce.
“He was so easy to speak to. He had time for everybody, even to the end.
“That’s why there’s only one charity for my benefit year,” he said.
Sir Bobby’s widow Lady Robson thanked Harmison for deciding to support the foundation.
“Bob always enjoyed spending time around anyone who shared his passion for sport and Stephen was someone he particularly liked as they also shared a passion for Newcastle United,” she said.
“I’m grateful that Stephen has chosen to support our work in his testimonial year. Sadly, too many people experience the pain caused by cancer and we are doing all we can to help the experts find better ways to detect and treat the disease.
“This will be an exceptional year in Stephen’s cricket career and we hope he enjoys every minute of it.”
Sir Bobby’s sons, Andrew, Mark and Paul, gave short speeches at the launch.
Martin Filson, chairman of Harmison’s benefit committee said that while much thought had been given to where proceeds for the year would be donated, “it became obvious very quickly where we would focus our donation.
“Sir Bobby Robson had a real impact on Stephen as a youngster and the generosity he showed helped propel Stephen to the peak of his international career.
“Stephen was very keen that we used the benefit year as an opportunity to reciprocate the kindness of Sir Bobby and supporting the charity he was so passionate about.
“We have a fantastic calendar of events planned this year which will give us an opportunity to help raise awareness of the charity as well as raising some funds to help contribute to the great work they do.”
Events will include a comedy evening, black tie gala dinner, golf days and cricket matches.
Harmison spoke for the first time last year about periods of depression while touring for England.
In Flintoff’s tribute for the benefit, he said that while the pair were on tour together, Harmison would often talk of “missing his family, friends and Newcastle United”.
And he quipped: “I wasn’t entirely sure what was coming out of his mouth, as in those days I wasn’t fluent in Geordie.”