Written by Jen Offord

In The News

So long to a trailblazer of women’s sport

Rachael Heyhoe Flint was a pioneer of women’s cricket. But, says Jen Offord, she also tore down barriers for women in all sports.

Pioneering cricketer and sports presenter Rachael Heyhoe Flint, who has died aged 77.

England cricket legend Rachael Heyhoe Flint, who died this week aged 77, was arguably one of the first ever sportswomen anyone had heard of. As well as having possibly the best surname ever.

She first came to the public’s attention making her Test debut for the England cricket team in 1960, aged 21. After quite the career in cricket and beyond, she was made a Conservative life peer in 2010, taking a seat in the House of Lords as Baroness Heyhoe Flint – the second Lord’s to which she was admitted.

Heyhoe Flint captained England from 1966 until 1978 – including for the first women’s game at the world-famous Lord’s ground in 1976. She played 22 Test matches and was unbeaten in six, including hitting the first six in a women’s Test match, as well as playing in 23 one-day internationals.

She became the first woman to be inducted into the ICC’s Hall of Fame in 2010, but she wasn’t just important for her skills at the crease. As well as blazing the trail for other women in sports, she was instrumental in organising the first women’s World Cup in 1973 and was admitted to Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) as one of its first 10 female members in 1999, arguing: “I’ve played cricket all my life, I got to the top, and I just wanted to become a member of this club.”

More so still, she increased the visibility of women in sports by becoming the first ever female sports presenter in 1973 with ITV’s World of Sport, and forging a successful career in journalism. In fact, even during her time captaining England, she was said to have been busy writing up her team’s day’s work for the press, to make sure the spotlight fell on women’s cricket, as well as men’s.

“Heyhoe Flint played 22 Test matches and was unbeaten in six, including hitting the first six in a women’s Test match, as well as playing in 23 one-day internationals.”

Her influence in sport extended beyond cricket, too. Born in Wolverhampton, Heyhoe Flint put her journalistic talents to good use, heading up Wolverhampton Wanderers’ PR department for a decade, later serving a stint as vice-president of the club. At a time when women still, in 2017, have a marginalised role in sport with female board members few and far between, Heyhoe Flint also served on the boards of the MCC and England Cricket Board (ECB).

It’s almost impossible to read the tribute by Wolves football club without shedding a tear, referring to a unique verb, used at the club: “To ‘Rachaelise’”, the explanation of which I’ll roughly translate as to “get shit done.”

“Still revered, still loved,” the club’s tribute remarks. “Her passing leaves a gaping Rachael-size hole which it is impossible to fill.”

Speaking to the BBC, Jacqui Oatley, one of the growing number of female sports pundits to undoubtedly owe a great debt to Heyhoe Flint, described her as “an extraordinary woman” who “made such a positive difference in everything she did.”

With the England women’s cricket team now fully professional, Oatley said all of this may never have been possible without Heyhoe Flint, who back in the day secured funding to the tune of more than £40,000 for her team, as well as her numerous other duties. She was a woman who “ruffled feathers,” she said, because that was the only way to make the difference she wanted to make.

Following her death, the England Cricket Board’s Director of Women’s Cricket, Clare Connor, said: “It is hard to find the words to fully pay tribute to Rachael. She was one of our sport’s true pioneers and it is no exaggeration to say that she paved the way for the progress enjoyed by recent generations of female cricketers.

“I will always remember and continue to be inspired by her fortitude, her deep love of the game and her wicked, wonderful sense of humour. We are all in her debt on this very sad day.”

You can read a thousand obituaries of Heyhoe Flint, but the words will largely be the same: “trailblazing”, “pioneering”, “larger than life” and “good humoured.”

What a legacy to leave us.

@inspireajen

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Written by Jen Offord

Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen

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