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NEWSPAPERS, who tend to have skeleton staffs these days due to drastically reduced income from just about all of their traditional financial streams (about the only growth area these days is from the internet), have taken to re-printing pages from days gone by.
Some would say that was a benefit to older readers, despite the print being small as they are frequently a broadsheet page shrunk to fit a tabloid page.
Cynics would say that it is a cheap means of filling a page in the same way that re-producing old team pictures are – be they soccer, rugby league, cricket or rugby union.
The answer probably lies somewhere in between but what caught my eye from the Telegraph & Argus edition of Wednesday, November 30 was the re-printed page from Saturday, November 29, 1975.
Under the headline “Bradford League profit trebles” (to a record £616) what really caught my eye was the annual report by league secretary Eric Sharpe.
Apart from criticising the standard of grounds, Sharpe remarked that the shortage of umpires had become a serious problem.
He said: “Unless we can encourage new recruits, I can envisage that before long we shall only be able to allocate one umpire to second eleven league games, and the home club would then be called upon to provide an assistant umpire to ‘stand in’ at square leg.
“What a sorry day this would be.”
So there you have it – a shortage of men in white coats for league matches in the Bradford League has been an issue for nigh-on 50 years!
The usual annual plea about persuading players near the end of their careers to start umpiring has consistently fallen on deaf ears – whether that be because players are retiring later or because of family pressure who knows?
But it all means that leagues are having to take more extreme measures to recruit umpires.
A year ago, Bradford League umpire Richard Jones suggested to me that maybe leagues were looking in the wrong places in terms of recruitment and that maybe they could do with getting in touch with schools, leisure centres and gyms.
Now, a year on, Neil Johnson, chairman of the Bradford Premier League Match Officials’ Association (MOA), has warned in his annual address that the league only had enough umpires to staff first-team matches.
He revealed that his association had 70 registered umpires but only 54 of those were regularly available.
Johnson said: “Each year we lose around seven umpires due to a combination of old age or illness and we desperately need to boost our numbers.
“Each weekend we require 46 umpires to staff all first-team matches but the number of available umpires is often reduced by holidays or other reasons.
“Without an increase in our umpiring numbers, the MOA will only be able to commit to staffing first-team cricket.”
The Huddersfield League have finalised a new initiative aimed at combating the crisis in staffing matches with qualified umpires with more onus placed on clubs to help plug the gap in officiating first team competitions.— Huddersfield Cricket League (@HuddCricket) November 17, 2022
Read more: https://t.co/fEB7AV53pK pic.twitter.com/yp00HV4z1o
Meanwhile, the Huddersfield League have also admitted that they are suffering from an umpiring crisis.
There are less than 40 on their independent list of panel umpires – a figure which is expected to reduce further in the future – and they need a minimum of 36 to staff matches in their top three divisions.
Their third tier (Conference League) was frequently staffed with only one umpire in 2022, a situation which they admit “is far from desirable”.
The league will use club umpires on a rotation basis to staff Conference fixtures in 2023, while there is a proposed rule change going to the league’s annual meeting on Wednesday, December 7 that all regular club umpires should be qualified to at least ECB ACO Stage One.
The league also want umpires to undertake ACO training, which is free and can be done online, before the start of next season.
However, if an umpire wishes to become a member of the ECB ACO, which the league strongly recommend, then that will cost the umpire £30.
Other venues are available early in the new year, but there is an in-person training course at Broad Oak Cricket Club on Saturday, January 14 (9.30am-4pm).
The fee for that is £30, which includes ECB ACO membership (the fee is reimbursed if someone umpires at least 10 matches next season, and a contribution of £30 is also made towards the cost of umpires’ clothing), and there is a discount available for those on the course who wish to progress to Stage Two.
Places can be booked via David Haikings, of the Huddersfield Cricket League Umpires’ Association, at [email protected]
There are also courses available locally, which can be booked via David Haikings, for Stage Two and Stage Three.
Leagues could hardly be doing more than that.
Not everybody umpires because they need the money, but it does come in useful – I know from personal experience as it provides spending money for the week ahead.
Another issue is that the top two divisions of many leagues are fully or nearly fully staffed and it is the lower divisions (invariably involving second teams) who have to use club umpires.
But what if, as was pointed out at the Yorkshire Southern Premier League annual meeting at Phoenix Sports Club in Rotherham, clubs who do supply umpires to the panel in the lower reaches have no umpires to their matches due to them being too far down the pyramid… but clubs in the top flight who do not supply umpires to the panel get two panel umpires because of their elevated league position?
It is a tricky situation and not one that is easy to solve, but the ENCO Halifax League grasped the nettle a year ago and, after setting up a sub-committee, came up with a bold trial plan for the 2022 season to concentrate clubs’ minds when it came to providing umpires.
If clubs did not provide an umpire or umpires for at least 12 weeks by the last Saturday in August (and 15 overall during the season) then that club’s first and second XI will each be deducted 12 points, to be shown in the league tables on August 31.
Only two clubs fell foul of this in 2022.
Meanwhile, the Bradford League MOA’s administrator Nigel Thornton (and their executive committee) has worked on a five-year development plan to raise numbers, which has been well received by the ECB.
The nirvana is to have 96 umpires per week, which would be enough to fully staff all first and second-team games, with good mentoring and assessment programmes also in place.
Ideally panel umpires would be available to officiate at all levels of cricket within the league, and there would be a list of ancillary club umpires, all educated to at least Stage One, who could step in when needed.
However, there would also be a Premier Division umpires’ panel, based upon education and performance, whose suitability would be measured by things such as captains’ marks, match feedback and assessment.
These criteria would also apply lower down the system to ensure that the best umpires get the best matches, but it would be possible for umpires to be promoted or relegated depending upon their competence.
A team of assessors, working in line with senior mentoring umpires, would enable this to happen.
There would also be a training programme to develop new officials and existing members, and scorers have not been forgotten in the process as, after all, they form a team alongside the umpires.
Scorers should know, for example, how to operate their respective programmes, how to use a laptop and how to implement Duckworth Lewis Stern.
They will also receive help from mentors and assessors and be assessed by the umpires, while scorers will likewise provide feedback on umpires.
What do you think? How is the umpiring situation for your cricket club or league?
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Henry McLaren says
Depressing to read but think this situation is countrywide.Firstly l think the bad behaviour is overstated.Not as bad as it was five years ago..Standard of the game. is biggest deterrent .Players haven’t got the same interest so games tend to drag on.
Steve Cartledge says
My suggestion would be to make mandatory for all teams to provide at least 1 person to make the step through the approved training to stage 1 or stage 2 level. Then put forward say a 2/3 lead in to make this possible with the introduction of penalty points if not implimented.
D .Howsam says
some older generation cant be arsed to do criteria to become a league umpire. i-e DBS an other stuff which involves computor work.they just not up with this sort of stuff. i know that for a fact .
John Fuller says
I think it’s fair enough not to want to do all the courses, it depends what level you want to umpire at.
For higher level umpiring (Prem League etc), current and former players is usually quite fruitful.
John Fuller says
Hi Steve, well, clubs have to do all kinds of training like first aid, child protection etc so umpiring would make sense. Challenge for some clubs to find the volunteers, particularly at smaller clubs. You’ve gone for both carrot and stick I see!
I’ve just finished my second full season of umpiring in the Huddersfield League. it’s one of very few environments where I can be considered a young man (of 50) any more! That said, I recommend it as a way to stay involved, and for me I get to umpire a better standard of game than I played. I’ve certainly enjoyed it
it’s difficult to see what the solution is though. The umpires we have are committed but ageing and as the article states getting ex-players to continue giving up their weekend post retirement seems very hard. Whether we can look at junior parents or even recent juniors who have enjoyed the game but not made it in to senior cricket I don’t know. The money to a 20 something might be more of an incentive than it is to someone at the end of their working life.
John Fuller says
Glad the umpiring is going well. Have you got those Payntrs for umpiring grip?! Yeah, no easy solutions here. I don’t know if recruiting more umpires is proving trickier than ever before, it feels like it’s been a slow decline with more desperate calls for help over years.
Stewart dakin says
I’m a club umpire in the Shropshire league and we have gone down a slightly different route as the league offers clubs a bonus point if a team can provide a level one qualified umpire, this seems to be quite popular rather than penalise them for not having one, reward them for providing one, it’s a great way to stay involved with the game and also give something back, I umpire for my third team and feel just as involved as I was when I was a player
John Fuller says
Thanks Stewart, as incentives go, a points boost for providing a qualified umpire is a novel idea. I like the positive approach.
Happy umpiring in Shropshire next season.
John Francis Fisher says
As long as mediocre players are getting paid more for their 300 runs and 15 wickets a season than are Umpires it will always continue to be a problem. Minimum wage is now £9.50 an hour. Umpires are expected to turn up at 12.00 and stay until 8.00 for what?, £40.00? £50.00?
John Fuller says
The issue there is individuals/backers paying players while the fee for umpires is set out by the league. If the issue was truly about how much umpires get numerated (I don’t think it’s that simple but it might be a factor) then I guess they argue that case. Or don’t umpire.
Aden Biddle says
I think the club providing their umpire is a good idea, when I played in Kent only Prem,1,2 had panel umpires from then on you had to provide your own umpire, I have said before many people (including my own father) don’t mind umpiring a game and have been on the course but they don’t want to travel all over and having to not see their friends and club mates in addition you are not available to play if your on the panel. I have a slightly more modern outlook similar with scorers the game can happen without them and umpires but for everyone involved it easier if they are there I think it should be home teams responsibility to provide both but not necessarily the away team, people have their own minds and lives. One key point is also ever increasing retirement age the umpiring community has always been sourced from this pool of people in the main but with people working much later into life I think this also impacts attitudes, many retirees I know form my work have then lived a wanderlust life of travel and leisure because they can.
I have umpired for the last 15 years and really enjoy it and having a few quid in my pocket afterwards is a bonus. However I can see why my older mates don’t want to do it. Leaving home early to arrive before most of the players, slow over rates means 7 hours on your feet, often doing both ends with a junior at square leg, every discission queried by batter or bowler, hanging around for your fee and barely a word after the match, and when you get back to your club they have all gone home as you are late -;and that’s on a good day.
Despite all of the above, I will be back next year, and I am warming my index finger up even now, sheds that way lad off you go…….
Bernard Thornton says
We have to find new sources and routes into umpiring.
From a playing perspective, the women’s game is booming, so why should umpiring be any different? We need to encourage more female participation in umpiring both women’s and men’s cricket. Recruitment methods will need a good deal of thought. Most importantly, male or female, young or old, we all have to start somewhere, so we need patience and support from clubs and players alike. Even the best umpires have to start somewhere!
John Fuller says
Couldn’t agree more Bernard, particularly around starting in umpiring…