How Gareth Breese fell in love with Durham County Cricket Club

A trip to see an old friend inspired Gareth Breese to start a relationship which has transformed Durham County Cricket Club

Durham cricketer Gareth Breese, who is retiring at the end of the season after ten years at the club
Durham cricketer Gareth Breese, who is retiring at the end of the season after ten years at the club

It is a cold and wet Chester-le-Street morning and Gareth Breese is being forced to talk about his least favourite topic of conversation: Gareth Breese.

Asked to pose in front of a huge picture of Durham’s 2007 Friends Provident Trophy win, Breese’s first thought it that he does not want to block out any team-mates. As soon as our interview ends he says: “I know it was a lot about me but I’d like to you stress I wish the club all the best in the future.”

Breese is about to move on to make space for the young spinners he has spent the last few years developing. Soon – it may already have happened – he will play his last game.

Yesterday of all days made you wonder how a West Indian with a Welsh passport should fall so head over heels with the North East, but it was love at first sight.

“My first experience of Durham County Cricket Club was when Somerset were playing Durham and I was playing at Etherley in 1999,” Breese recalls. “I came up to see Nixon McLean, who I’d played some domestic cricket with in the Caribbean and he invited me onto the balcony – the stewards even let me come up! We sat outside the away dressing room.

“I was only playing league cricket at the time and I thought, ‘Jeez, how good would it be to play cricket in a facility like this?’

“To join the club five years later, which I never thought I would, is amazing. The ground has changed so much and the culture of the club has too. It’s great to have felt a part of this development.”

Breese arrived in 2004 at a club used to losing. They finished bottom of the County Championship Division Two in 2002, and again in his debut season.

In 2005 they won promotion, consolidated in 2006 by the skin of their teeth, and ended each of the next three campaigns with silverware. The mindset of the club has been transformed. Breese would have you believe his presence was coincidental.

“Geoff Cook, Mike Hussey, Dale Benkenstein, Michael Di Venuto when he came a couple of years later, Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood – those are the people who changed it,” he insists. “All I tried to do was to support those guys as best I could.

“I’ve never been the big gun player, I just try to do my job in the best way I can and make my team proud.”

Breese’s team-mates cannot speak highly enough of his selfless contribution to the dressing room. Last week coach Jon Lewis described him as “a bit of a legend”.

“I’ve not tried to be that sort of person, I’ve just tried to be myself,” he says. “Eleven seasons is a long time to be something you’re not.

“You’ve got to be able to fit into the dressing room. You spend six months of the year with these guys and it becomes like a close-knit family. In a family you’re going to stand on people’s toes and it’s not always going to be perfect, but you just have to roll with it sometimes.

“A lot of people ask me what am I doing here when I’m from Jamaica but there are other things than the weather.

“I’ve got a young family. My little girl (Savannah) speaks as much Geordie as anybody else. I’ve been a part of the community for 10 years. They joined me later, so seven years.

“Callum Thorp got married to my wife’s cousin so we’re actually family now, even though he doesn’t want to admit it!

“What happens on the field is a big reflection of what happens in the dressing room. Hopefully we can maintain the link between a happy dressing room and happy results.”

His favourite memory is winning Durham’s first major trophy, the Friends Provident Trophy.

“It put us on the map,” he says proudly. “That’s when people started to take notice of us. To win it at Lord’s as such a young First-Class county, it meant so much more.

“It’s probably one of the best one-day sides I’ve played in. All the parts just clicked. We had a close shave getting to Lord’s when we played Essex at home (in the semi-final) but we’d bred an environment, not only that year but the previous few years, where players backed their abilities. We had the likes of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dale Benkenstein, Ottis Gibson, (Phil) Mustard, who was in fantastic form. It was hard not to feel you were a big gun too.”

The dream is for Breese’s Durham career to end at Lord’s too. A fitful four-day presence for years, the Royal London Cup offers his most realistic chance of a farewell game. Durham will find out this evening if they have reached the quarter-finals. Only a win for Nottinghamshire and a big win for Somerset can stop them.

“A Lord’s final would be a fantastic send-off but we’ve got a few tough games to go before that,” he cautions.

“My future’s important but I want to finish my time here first. You never know what playing opportunities might present themselves. I’ve made a few calls but I haven’t explored any playing options yet.

“My main focus is a quarter-final place, and then if we win that it is delayed by another week until the semi-finals. If we win that it’s on hold again until the final.”

Had he left earlier in his career, Breese could easily have played a lot more four-day cricket.

“There are going to be times when you might not be in favour or playing in all formats,” he reasons. “But there’s a competitive part of you that thinks leaving might be the easy way out. If you fight for your place, you might get it.

“Also, we’ve been getting one-day success so I felt I was a part of that – not a major part. I’ve never lost my one-day place (only Mustard has made more Twenty20 appearances), touch wood, so I was playing the majority of games if not the majority of days.

“I’ve been lucky enough to squeeze into some of the Championship successes, playing a few games.

“Last year when we went through a little bit of upheaval it crossed my mind to leave because initially there was no place for me and a few of the other lads, which eventually changed. But I was coming towards then end of my career and of the opportunities that presented themselves, Durham was the best option.

“I tried to contribute a little bit off the field with the youngsters in the academy. I thought it was best for me to give a little bit back to the wider community and try and stay in the area, which I want to do when I’ve finished.”

Stephen Harmison used his most recent Sunday Sun column to call on Durham to make Breese’s part-time coaching role permanent, but playing on is an option too.

“I think back and there’s nothing to be sad about,” he reflects. “A lot of people play their entire career without winning any silverware and I’ve been lucky to be a part of five major wins.

“A big part of my life has been spent here. Eleven years out of 38 is a big chunk. I would love to stay in the area.”

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