Appendix 3: UMPIRES

It is one of cricket’s ironies that umpires only gain prominence in controversial circumstances yet they are quintessential to cricket’s reputation for fair play.   The original concept of the umpire is unknown, although players down the years have offered their own theory!   One line of thought is they came into existence after a veteran player was asked for a ruling during the course of a match.   In 1706 William Goldwin writes that “some grey veteran intercedes”.   Umpires were an integral part of the 1744 Laws in days when they carried a bat that had to be touched by a batsman to signal completion of a run.   No doubt the bat was a symbol of authority.   Might even have proved a useful weapon in moments of extreme dispute.

The earliest local reference is when Yarm and Stockton each had two umpires in 1814.   By 1828 each club provided its own umpire and they were often complimented for their control.   Human nature being what it is, however, there were also accusations of bias and mistakes.   Most famously when the Lumley umpire sought the opinion of Lumley fielders before giving his verdict.   Two umpires were substituted in 1866 following two lbw decisions and six years later Hetton wanted the Chester-le-Street umpire removed after one of their players was given out lbw.   Hetton walked off the field after he refused to go.

DSL recently demoted two umpires to 2nd and 3rd XI matches only.   President Ray Pallister cited as reason the pressure upon umpires when surrounded by players of Test Match calibre.   The two umpires had consistently received poor markings and it was hoped they might improve away from the spotlight.   The decision caused an umpires’ strike in 1995.   North-East Umpires Association chairman, Peter Brown, accepted their poor ratings but he opposed their demotion and criticised the League for dragging its feet in the matter.   All but one of their 36 umpires refused to turn out on May 6 so the Appeals Committee was forced to convene an emergency meeting.   They reinstated the two umpires and the deadlock was broken.

Players’ injuries assumed critical importance once umpires could be held liable if an injury was caused when it was deemed conditions were unfit for play.   NYSD, on the other hand, got embroiled in lengthy and costly litigation after a ball ricocheted off a non-striker’s bat and fractured an umpire’s right index finger.   The League’s insurance covered only loss of earnings but even though the umpire was unemployed he sued NYSD because the injury prevented him bowling leg-spin.   Even more absurd, he had retired from the game but said he still played the odd friendly and furthermore claimed he had pain when shaking hands.   He claimed £5,000 compensation and £1,600 legal costs.   “It was an experience I could have done without,” said secretary Stewart Clarke.   For three years he wrestled with claimant, two solicitors, insurance companies and brokers.   Finally, after waiting all morning and sitting through a hearing all afternoon, the claim was dismissed.   NYSD’s legal costs were £800; the claimant’s considerably more.   It is a far cry from days when club administrators set out to ensure their members continued to enjoy cricket.   Cricket authorities have to be so wary nowadays.   If we are honest, given that posts are accepted on a voluntary basis out of love for the game, officials are not fully equipped to deal with legal minefields.

Neutral umpires increased with the introduction of league cricket and were common after World War I.   They had to pass an examination to be appointed .   For no apparent reason standards of umpiring have fluctuated over the years.   League reports usually highlight negative aspects of umpiring.   DSL received 130 adverse reports in 1925, 108 in 1926.   The umpire who never made a mistake has yet to be born but how strange, in a game vaunted for fair play, so many have been mobbed by spectators who disagreed with a decision.   Lighter moments highlight their famed eccentricities.   Mr Milburn did not return after going home for tea during the interval.   Mr Essert contravened rules in 1896 : he was tipsy and charged one shilling more than the NYSD fee of five shillings.   He later apologised and refunded the shilling.

Fees gradually increased but were reduced in times of hardship like the depression.   NYSD reduced the fee to three shillings and sixpence in 1940 and the number of umpires dropped immediately.   North-East Umpires Association had 84 members that year.   They agreed a war-time fee of two shillings and sixpence but claimed an increase from seven shillings and sixpence to ten and sixpence in 1947.   Twenty years later, other leagues followed DSL’s lead to increase fees to £1.   DSL immediately raised their fee to thirty shillings, an action that emphasised a shortage of umpires.

By then umpires wore the ‘shortie’ coats favoured in Australia.   At the time of the first match at Raby, umpires wore frock coat and beaver hat.   They continued to dress in the fashion of the day until the long white coat was adopted when league cricket began.   The only notable change since then is to headgear.   Bowler hats were not uncommon but the flat cloth cap was favoured in Durham until the advent of the white cap made fashionable by Dickie Bird.   Tom Fiddes remained faithful to the flat cap until his death in 1997.   Lovable and well-respected, Tom stands as symbol of the great characters in white coats who, on top of their necessary arbitration, added enormously to the game.   Tom was an efficient organiser and extremely funny after-dinner speaker.   It was sad to hear him say in his last days that he no longer could remember the punch lines to his endless fund of stories.

Among rarities, brothers Cecil and Leslie Knox umpired in tandem for twenty years from 1948.   NWD players referred to them affectionately as ‘Nervo and Knox’.   The first woman umpire was Anita Hood in D.Coast in the 1970s.   A second, Mary Price, umpired with husband Ray in D.Co., conceivably the first couple to officiate in league cricket.   Stockton-born Sharon Lewis umpired in Langbaurgh League in 1987.   Terry Just stood for 25 summers.   For 23 of them he travelled from Oban!   He left home on Friday morning, caught the first train to Glasgow, and arrived in Darlington in time for tea.   He umpired in NYSD on Saturday, took a ‘C’ Division match on Sunday, and got back to Oban in time for Monday tea.   In his last season the 700-mile round trip cost almost £200 for hotel accommodation and travel.   Travelling expenses could have been prohibitive but, Just in name and nature, he claimed only bus fares from his native Durham village to the ground.   Terry decried notions of dedication : “It’s just my hobby.   It’s what cricket should be.   I do it for fun.”[1]

[1] Mike Amos in his Backtrack column (The Northern Echo)

Bibliography

Appendix 2

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