That Umpire’s Looking Peaky!

It’s nearly 10 years since I hung up my cricket boots. A decision born from my bowling being hampered from a bicep tear the previous season, which along with a nagging knee problem was diminishing my matchday fulfilment. Consequently, ceasing playing the game ex-Yorkshire batsman Geoff Boycott calls ‘crickit’ wasn’t a difficult decision to reach.

Over the previous 30 years I’d participated with as much enthusiasm as I could muster for clubs in Gateshead, Great Missenden and Leeds. If truth be told though, even without the niggling injuries, my enjoyment at playing became more capricious as I hurtled towards middle age like an overpitched delivery smashed toward cover boundary.

I’m unable to put my finger on why a game I loved playing suddenly lost it’s appeal; the spark it once ignited now on the wane. But when the gods of cricket yelled “Have a spell, Gary!” after I bowled my last over, I wasn’t overly fussed.

Although then unfulfilled by cricket participation, it was with melancholy I stored my cricket bag into the loft after my final game that summer. After all, this time my kit carrier wasn’t hibernating in my roof void, in the company of hoarded football programmes, awaiting the following season. No, that year it was laid to rest, never to be used again. A final resting place amongst my Leeds United keepsakes from the previous four decades.

No more would GJ Strachan raucously appeal for the batsman’s dismissal as a slow left arm ball brushed his front pad. Never again would I chunter under my breath “Your chuffing joking umpire!”, a consequence of his subsequent negative reaction to my shout of “Howzat”.

This would be my last year experiencing linseed oil and muscle heat rub competing with the smell of sweat for dominance as primary changing room scent. A perennial struggle that lasts from April to September. Conflicts in which linseed oil/heat rub’s stoicism wins many battles, but alas for them not the war.

No longer would I encounter the erratic quality of cricket players teas. A lottery where, depending on which club hosted the game, you took your gastric health as well as cricket ball in your hands.

My mum used to be a tea lady when, in my teens, I played at Gateshead Fell. Thankfully, I was never subject to the embarrassment of my mum berating me at the players table in the pavilion. An old school scolding for leaving my salad, not wearing a vest or, a real bug bear of hers, not washing behind my ears.

Deeming salad as ‘rabbit food’, my younger brother Ian would generally have fifty jelly wriggler sweets for his cricket tea. If mum was one of the tea ladies that day, he’d be forced to use cunning slight of hand to clandestinely consume these sweets.

At the same time as his confectionery illusion act, our kid had to ensure mater didn’t witness him filling his trouser pockets with lettuce, radishes and hard boiled egg. An attempt to fool her into believing he’d eaten his salad. Ordinarily, it paid off for him; apart from the time he forgot to empty his pockets prior to throwing the trousers in the laundry basket.

As I said “au revoir” to my cricket bag, I further mulled over the consequences of finishing playing the club game I’d played over three decades.

Cricket umpire with pile of helmets.

Amongst these fleeting thoughts was a realisation I’d never again be distracted mid-innings by scorebox inhabitants being admonished by an elderly club committee member. A timeless matchday ritual, a consequence of the scoreboard being about as accurate as the Warren Commission’s report into the JFK assassination.

In the near decade since I hung up my cricket boots, tape measure, spade and embalming fluid***, I’ve not really missed playing at all; probably endorsing my decision to call it a day.

As a 60+ year old Gateshead Fell 3rd team cricketer once told me in 1979, “It’s a young man’s game, son.”

*** – The tape measure, spade and embalming fluid were precautionary items stored in my sports bag. Present should an elderly umpire take a turn for the worse during a rare sweltering summers day in the north of England…… Saying that, though,  on reflection it was a misguided precaution. In hindsight I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been allowed to dig an officials grave on the cricket square mid-match….. Or indeed any other time!




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