Remembering how England's youngest first-class cricketer made history - and never played again

·5-min read

Some 16,000 people have played first-class cricket in England - but a recruitment consultant from Leeds achieved something none of the others can surpass, writes Josh Graham.

In 2011, wicket-keeper Barney Gibson became the youngest player to feature in an English first-class cricket fixture, at 15 years and 27 days old.

However, five years ago today - without having played again - he announced his retirement and left Yorkshire’s senior academy aged 19.

“I’ve heard the term falling out of love with the game,” said Gibson. “I 100 per cent stick by that - part of it was just genuinely not enjoying it anymore.

“I started to question what else was out there because from the age of seven I was playing sport at the highest level.”

Gibson showed promise as a goalkeeper in the Leeds United academy, until he opted to focus on cricket at 13, playing alongside stars of the future including Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie.

“I had always been in a serious environment without much ‘me’ time,” added Gibson.

“A lot of my friends were doing completely different things which I was missing out on.”

Calling it quits was a decision that took everyone by surprise.

Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire’s director of cricket since 2007, said: “We were shocked when Barney decided he wanted to finish. I think it became all-consuming for him - the time that he was going to spend on professional sport.”

Barney Gibson is England's youngest first class cricketer but his career was destined to be just one game
Barney Gibson is England's youngest first class cricketer but his career was destined to be just one game

Gibson admits it took his parents a while to adjust to the news - particularly because their son was on the verge of a professional contract, having impressed for the academy and second team in the years following his headline-grabbing debut.

“After years of traipsing me up and down the country, for me to say I didn’t want to do it anymore was difficult,” said Gibson.

"They were concerned about what I was going to do, but they have always done everything possible to help me and I am extremely grateful.”

Five years on, would he have done anything differently?

“I wanted to experience life as a teenager without any restrictions, which at the time may have seemed like quite a rash decision but I wouldn’t say I regret it,” Gibson explained.

“My experience with the cricket club is a memory that I will cherish forever, and I don’t think it’s anything that can be taken away from me.”

On April 27, 2011, Gibson should have been in year ten lessons at school in Leeds. Instead he laced up his spikes, threw on his junior keeping gloves and took to the field for Yorkshire, shattering a record that the aptly named Charles Young had held for 144 years.

First choice gloveman Jonny Bairstow was rested, and Gerard Brophy was injured, handing Gibson the opportunity to impress against a Durham MCCU side captained by future England Test batsman Tom Westley.

Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Gibson’s Yorkshire team-mate on the day and current Warwickshire bowler, recalls how word was going around the club about a phenomenal young talent called Barney.

“My resounding memory is of this cheeky chappy, happy-go-lucky lad who was a brilliant keeper,” Hannon-Dalby said.

“The first wicket he caught was actually off me within the first ten overs and it was a screaming catch. We were all like ‘Blooming-hell the rumours are true, he is a ridiculous keeper!’”

For 15-year-old Gibson it all happened so quickly.

He said: “I don’t remember anything other than diving and the ball sticking in the web of my glove - I think everyone was a bit gobsmacked when it stuck.”

That day feels like a lifetime ago for Gibson, 24, who now works for Sellick Partnership as a senior recruitment consultant dealing with legal professionals.

After turning his back on cricket in 2015, he threw himself into the events industry - running student nights in Leeds before spending six months in Marbella.

Barney Gibson had only just turned 15 when he made his first class debut for Yorkshire
Barney Gibson had only just turned 15 when he made his first class debut for Yorkshire

“My friends joke that I kind of lived the university lifestyle without actually having to go,” Gibson said.

The drive and passion that helped him succeed in sport at such a young age still resonate in his voice, except now he’s speaking about entrepreneurial endeavours rather than cricket.

“Professional sport has helped my people skills more than you ever could imagine,” Gibson added.

“I am working on going into the fitness industry with a friend- we have a sustainable activewear brand launching in August.”

He took 18 months away from cricket entirely before dusting off his gear to play Saturday league with his friends.

Recently Gibson returned to boyhood club Pudsey Congs - previously home to 2005 Ashes hero Matthew Hoggard and Indian batsman VVS Laxman - where you can find him batting in the middle order when his work commitments allow.

Success was always on the cards for Barney Gibson. Although his life has not taken the route that many had carved out for him, you would not back against him, having already defied the odds, from prevailing in the future.

For better or for worse, Gibson testifies that he has always been one to try something and then see what happens.