AZEEM Rafiq’s autobiography went on sale late last week in which he discusses the highs and lows of his more than two decades in Barnsley as well as his experiences of racism in cricket.

The 33-year-old’s revelations of institutional racism in the game and Yorkshire CCC led to sanctions against the club, a major change in staff, official apologies and various investigations and hearings.

The book is called ‘It’s Not Banter, It’s Racism: What cricket’s dirty secret reveals about society’.

In it, Rafiq describes email threats to trash Lundwood Post Office which he had owned, people racially abusing him in the fish and chip shop he owned in Barnsley town centre, in the street or in supermarkets, as well figures standing outside his family home at night. There was also a police investigation into someone defecating in their garden.

The family eventually left in 2022 after more than two decades in the town. 

Rafiq told the Chronicle: “That is one of the things that hurts the most. My life was in Barnsley and we grew up in an amazing neighbourhood. I have good memories.

“But I came over last summer, went into town and got racially abused. The second day someone tried to start a fight with me.

“I have lost a lot of friends but, if they have a problem with me speaking out against racism, that’s on them.

“I can’t see a situation where I live back there.

“My son is buried there so I will go to the grave.”

In the book, Rafiq describes spending his first ten years in Pakistan, the son of a successful businessman, and living a ‘very privileged life’.    

He says the family had to leave after witnessing a drive-by shooting then one of his father’s business partners was killed.

They eventually applied for asylum in England and were in a hotel waiting to be processed when the 9/11 attacks took place, which he says increased anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. 

They were moved to a house in Gawber Road, Barnsley and Rafiq describes it as a ‘really lovely area’ where they received a warm welcome. 

But his father later felt he had to trim his beard to stop people calling him ‘Bin Laden’ while a brick was thrown through the window of his grandmother’s bedroom - in an incident he suspects was racially motivated. 

His parents wanted to leave the country but Azeem - who had thrived at Barnsley Cricket Club - was accepted into Yorkshire CCC’s academy, so they stayed. 

He made a huge rise, winning BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year, captaining England at youth level and breaking into the Yorkshire first team as a teenager - being picked up for games by fellow Barnsley man Darren Gough - then being the club’s youngest and first British Asian captain. 

But he outlines the racism he was subjected to throughout his time at Yorkshire, and mental health issues which led to him considering suicide multiple times including on the balcony of his flat in Barnsley. 

He also discusses the heartbreaking drive from Headingley to Barnsley Hospital after learning during a match that he and his wife had lost their baby son Alyaan in 2018. 

He offers an apology for anti-Semitic comments he made on social media. 

Rafiq now lives in Dubai. He has been working as a public speaker, recently launched a podcast about cricket and has worked for Arab News covering the Twenty20 World Cup in the USA.

“I love cricket.

“The podcast is a way to re-own my place in the game.

“I won’t lose my love of the game because of racism. Cricket has given me scars but I love it.

“I played a game at the Hay Festival which put a massive smile on my face and it hasn’t gone away.”

On the process of writing the book, he said: “It’s been really difficult. It has taken two-and-a-half years.

“There have been delays but they have been helpful because I’ve had some time to heal and embrace my purpose which is to help make cricket a game for everyone.

“I am really happy with what I ended up writing.”