Dickie Bird

'Umpiring is done by machines these days'

Back in Dickie Bird's day the officials got respect and gave it. One of cricket's iconic umpires looks back

Interview by Jack Wilson |

Dickie Bird collects his OBE at Buckingham Palace in 2012

Dickie Bird collects his OBE at Buckingham Palace in 2012 © Getty Images

My first job was working down a coal mine. That's what I was doing before I got into cricket. I worked as a fitter from the age of 15 to 19.

If I had to describe myself as an umpire, I'd like to say I was honest and fair. I treated everybody on the field as human beings and as professional cricketers. If I had the respect of the players, then marvellous.

My final Test, with the guard of honour from the England and India players, was marvellous. I didn't know what was happening but I had an idea that something was going off. I walked through the Long Room at Lord's and everyone was off their high seats, clapping. Both teams were lined in a channel for me to walk through. I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. People who saw Don Bradman's last appearance in cricket at The Oval said he got a tremendous reception, but they tell me mine were better. It's a day I shall always remember.

If I could turn the clock back, I would have stayed at Yorkshire as a player. I couldn't see myself nailing a place in the Yorkshire team. I was in and out of the side. That's why I left but I wish I hadn't. It's my biggest regret.

We had to look down for the no-ball, we had to look at any edges, where it pitched - we had all those decisions to make. Now I think all the authority has been taken away from the umpire. It's like umpiring is now done by a machine. It's made by electronic aids. It's very, very sad that umpiring as we knew it is finished. If you asked me who are the best umpires in the world right now, I couldn't tell you because umpiring is done by a machine.

I don't mind the guys that don't walk. There's nothing in the laws saying that a batsman has to walk. He can stand his ground and wait for the umpire's decision but he must walk off when he's given out. And that's the key. He mustn't show any dissent. It's the umpire's decision, and whether it's right or wrong, he mustn't show dissent.

If Yorkshire could put their best team out on the field for every game, we would win the County Championship ever year. We are the envy of every county side in the country, with so many magnificent young players. It's just like a conveyor belt of young players who are so talented. They just keep producing these lads who go on to play for England. It excites me tremendously, seeing all that talent. There's a lad, Matthew Fisher, he will play for England, that boy. If he's sensible - and I think he is - and everything goes his way, he will be an excellent player. Jason Gillespie, Martyn Moxon and Ian Dews have done a tremendous job.

"The conductor said, 'Fares, please.' He had a white cap on and I thought it looked like one of mine. I said: 'Excuse me, sir, where did you get that?' He replied: 'Haven't you heard of Mr Dickie Bird? It's his hat'"

Whatever you say about the technology, it's here to stay. Everyone seems to want electronic aids, so we have to have them.

The World Cup final in 1975 between West Indies and Australia was the best game of cricket I've ever umpired - but I had to be wary of the West Indies fans. I had to have a box of white caps made for me every time I umpired them, because they used to run on and nick them. At the end of the World Cup final, someone whipped my white cap off and I saw him run through the thousands of spectators who used to go on the field.

My first love was football. Cricket was very much second. I played football and cricket when I was at school, both for Barnsley. When I left school, at 15, I signed for Barnsley at football. I was an inside-right. I was there until I was 16 or 17 before I decided to stick to cricket. I don't think you could play two games. It's hard work. Cricket gave me a longer career.

The best cricketer I ever saw was Garfield Sobers. He was a truly great player. He was three cricketers rolled into one. A great entertainer, and on top of that, he was a gentleman.

One day I caught a London bus because my car was off the road. The conductor came on and said, "Fares, please." I looked at him and he had a white cap on and I thought it looked like one of mine. I said: "Excuse me, sir, where did you get that?" He turned round and replied: "Haven't you heard of Mr Dickie Bird? It's his hat. I ran on the pitch and got it and I am so proud of it." I thought it was great. I never let on that it was me.

In the modern-day game, I loved watching Jacques Kallis. He was a fine player. Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara were incredible to watch. But those three are now finished. They would be three outstanding players in any era and now they are gone. It's sad.

Geoffrey Boycott is a good friend of mine but I don't think he was right when he said I suffered from nerves when I played. I think I worried a lot, and that's what he's probably thinking about, Geoff. I got low scores and I used to worry.

I had to have a word with Merv Hughes once. He was bowling to Graeme Hick and he kept playing and missing. Merv's language was getting worse and worse and I had had enough. I turned to him and told him: "I want you to be a good boy. Don't swear anymore." He looked at me and said: "Dickie Bird, you're a legend. I won't swear again." He came in next ball and Hick played and missed again. Never swear again? I've never heard language like it after that!

I'm about to become president of Yorkshire - and what a tremendous honour that is. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd be president when I walked through those gates as a 16-year-old for the first time. It's one of the greatest honours of my life.

I was walking off the field in a Test match at Old Trafford once. There was a Lancashire supporter right at the top of the members' enclosure. He'd had so much to drink he couldn't stand. He shouted at me, "Bird, it's the best day of the year, it's blue sky, red hot, the sun's shining, you can't take them off. What is your problem?" I said: "I have no problem - but it's lunch!"

I didn't have any superstitions. I had faith in the Lord. That was good enough for me.

One man I cannot wait to see develop is Will Rhodes. I watched him play for England Under-19 over the winter and he looked a real prospect.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club is the greatest club in the world.

The funniest thing I've seen on a cricket field was when the drains burst at Headingley. There was torrential rain before the Test match and they were all saying the match would be delayed. The ground staff worked through the night to get the pitch fit because it was like a lake. Somehow we started on time and England won the toss and batted. Curtly Ambrose went to bowl the fifth ball of the day and stopped and said: "We've got a big problem here, Mr Dickie. You better come and look, man." Halfway through his run-up there was spray, like a fountain, the water coming up above his boots and mine. We trooped off and the crowd were shouting: "Same again, Bird, what is your problem?" I told them: "We've got a big one, we need some plumbers!"

I did 25 years as a Test umpire. If you worked it out, with all the Test matches played today and ODIs, I think if I'd have done 25 years now I'd end up standing in 500 international matches.

With Prince Charles by the statue of Bird in Barnsley

With Prince Charles by the statue of Bird in Barnsley © AFP

There were so many great players in my day, it's hard to pick a favourite that I umpired. Barry Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards, Graeme Pollock, Garfield Sobers, Alan Knott, Shane Warne, Lance Gibbs and Abdul Qadir were all enjoyable to watch. Then there are the quicks: Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Waqar Younis and so on. The left-armer, Wasim Akram, was tremendous as was Sachin Tendulkar.

I like talking to people everywhere I go.

In my era as an umpire, players used to have a joke with you and I used to have a joke with them off it. The game was always played in tremendous spirit. Everyone accepted decisions. That was an era that I really do think was the best time in cricket.

When the legends from Pakistan, India, West Indies and Sri Lanka retired, they used to invite me to their homes if I was on holiday. Dennis Lillee, the greatest fast bowler I've ever seen, used to invite me to come round and have a meal with him and his family. How great a thing to do was that? I doubt it happens nowadays.

I go to all the county matches. I will go to every home match and as many away matches as I can as president of Yorkshire.

I'm an honorary life member of the MCC and I'm very proud of that too. I am also an honorary life member at Leicestershire. It's so nice to see so many people who I think might have forgotten me but they still remember and have a chat. It's just amazing.

I enjoy watching Kevin Pietersen. What a fine player. I don't know what's behind England's decision to get rid of him. It's got to be in the dressing room somewhere, but I just love watching him.

In my spare time I go down to watch Barnsley a lot. I'm a season-ticket holder at Oakwell for my sins. It is a bit frustrating, though. I would like to see more Barnsley youths playing, the local lads who have got Barnsley at heart. There's not one boy in the squad that is a Barnsley-born player. We have got one of best academies in the country so why can't we use some of them?



  • POSTED BY John on | May 2, 2014, 2:12 GMT

    Dickie was a character, but as an umpire that was his problem. He couldn't resist getting into the act when he should have been as invisible as possible. He was the worst umpire I've ever seen for interfering with play- taking the teams off and keeping them off when they should have been playing. He forgot the only reason we have professional cricket is because people pay to watch it; it's the spectators who should be the first concern for every umpire and every cricketer.

    Having said that, he seems to be a nice guy and I wish him all the best in retirement. I just don't want to see anyone like him umpiring again.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | May 1, 2014, 15:51 GMT

    No technology at ECB Premier League level and it's still just as much fun and I agree with geoffboyc. Television angles and Hawkeye produce far too many wrong decisions.

  • POSTED BY Abdul Khader on | May 1, 2014, 15:36 GMT

    I am a person who believes that the right decision should be made most of the times, but also agree to Mr. Birds views here. I read a comment from John-Price which says the game is about player. I beg to differ. It also includes umpires and thier judgement. I still get goosebumps when a close umpiring decision looks incorrect to the naked eye, but replay confirms the decision. I feel cricket is a 'whole' experience and it also includes the energy from the spectators in the stadium.

  • POSTED BY Peter on | May 1, 2014, 14:12 GMT

    Always lovely to hear Dickie's musings about the game. No umpire before or since has received such affection and respect from players and supporters alike, and that's an incredible achievement. He wasn't only a brilliant decision maker, but had exactly the personality and charisma to diffuse any volatile on-field situations.

    Even though it's coming up to 20 years since he retired, Dickie is still one of the game's great entertainers. Let's hope he keeps us entertained for many more years.

  • POSTED BY Chris on | May 1, 2014, 14:10 GMT

    If the technology that was originally developed to amuse the TV audiences is now so fundamental to the game of cricket, how come it's not considered necessary to use in all the 4-Day domestic championships in ICC member countries? If it doesn't matter whether umpires make a wrong decision, uncorrected by technology, in an LVCC game for example, why is it so overwhelmingly important in a Test Match, notwithstanding the extra interest in the International game. There's a real debate to be had about at what point the technology changes the whole conduct and tactics of a game to the detriment of the cricket and it's one that is long overdue.

  • POSTED BY John on | May 1, 2014, 13:49 GMT

    "It's very, very sad that umpiring as we knew it is finished."

    Why is that sad? The game is about players, umpires are there only because they are needed. No-one goes to a match to watch umpires, no-one plays for the pleasure of interacting with them. If there is a better way of adjudicating, that is not sad, that is excellent.

    In any case 99.999% of cricket matches do not have access to technology, so umpiring will continue for a while yet.

  • POSTED BY Charindra on | May 1, 2014, 5:18 GMT

    Wow, so he retired in 1996. That was the year SL won the world cup, and before that nobody really cared about us. That's probably why he didn't mention any Sri Lankan players. But I honestly think Bird is respected more as a man manager and a character than an actual umpire. His decisions might not have held up against the modern day scrutiny. Maybe that's why he doesn't like technology. He'd rather have a team lose a match due to a bad decision than have an umpire assisted by technology to deliver correct decisions.

  • POSTED BY rashed on | April 30, 2014, 23:11 GMT

    To err is human, we should not forget this. The mistakes of yester years are the stuff to while away the rains, waiting play to resume. The 1979 match (re Middle Stump) is a good example. Would India have won it? Maybe they might have lost it, maybe the result would not have changed. You can pick any similar match and go on for hours with friends and foes. The modern umpiring, like the modern game (T20) is nothing but farce, made for tv. Where is the human factor?

  • POSTED BY ESPN on | April 30, 2014, 22:18 GMT

    The same stories every time...we've heard them all before...Merv Hughes, the bus conductor, Headingly water leak.., I read his latest book and repeats the mobile phone prank with Botham and Lamb....how true are all these stories...I'm sure with time they have been exaggerated 10 fold!

  • POSTED BY Reji on | April 30, 2014, 22:04 GMT

    Dickie was a good umpire no doubt, but there is no justification in standing in the way of technology. the whole reason that neutral umpires were introduced in the early 90s was because of the bias of the umpires. if umpires were held to high standards many of them would not have had a job. players work jolly hard to make a living and no umpire has any rights to take away the fruits of their labor by howler decisions. umpires and officials have for all too long been hiding behind the "gentlemans game" approach. if they want to breed so many gentlemen then why not sponsor the church or any religious institution rather than trying to run a sport. spectators come to see the skills of the players and not the the poor decisions that was notorious in the 80's of the umpires. wish more technology is introduced into this sport that is lacking global appeal simply cause the administrators like to hold it to its 18th century roots.

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | April 30, 2014, 21:23 GMT

    character and humour, thats what made him special

  • POSTED BY Nitin on | April 30, 2014, 18:21 GMT

    An excelllent person, Dickie. Really the best among the umpires, even better than Taufel. Nice to hear from him.

  • POSTED BY Nadeem on | April 30, 2014, 18:00 GMT

    the greatest Umpire of all time by far. Richie Benued and Dickie Bird will go as greatest.

  • POSTED BY manjula on | April 30, 2014, 16:43 GMT

    TV changed it all. I do not think even Mr. Bird can handle the pressure and importance of subtleties. I think there are greater umpires now a day. I wonder why no Sri Lankans were mentioned. May be he did not umpire many matches for SL.

  • POSTED BY V on | April 30, 2014, 16:37 GMT

    I don't have a problem with machines doing the umpiring. I can recall those days in the 60s and 70s when the umpiring standards overall was low. The 1979 Oval test with India was a joke with so many poor decisions. Viswanath was given out after being caught off a bump ball at extra cover! Nostalgia is fine, but there is a good reason for removing atrocious decisions from the game by taking the assistance of technology. At least technology doesn't produce howlers. Bird was no doubt a good umpire overall but quite a few matches then were decided by umpires.

  • POSTED BY Art on | April 30, 2014, 15:18 GMT

    @Devapriya - probably because he retired in 1996, so didn't umpire those guys much. Of the modern players he only really mentioned Tendulkar, Kallis, Lara and Pietersen.

  • POSTED BY Mahilal on | April 30, 2014, 14:11 GMT

    Why doesn't he mention the Sri Lankan greats - Murali, Kumar and Mahela??

  • POSTED BY Ross on | April 30, 2014, 13:04 GMT

    I don't think he is against the concept of technology as such. But the implementation leaves much to be desired, and his primary concern is what it's done to umpires.

  • POSTED BY Chris on | April 30, 2014, 12:21 GMT

    Surely, as Dickie implies, the game isn't always about getting every decision right. That doesn't happen in any sport. The logical conclusion of that thinking is that there's no need for an umpire. As we are only too aware from recent series, the technology isn't perfect either but we come to believe it is. Players make mistakes and so do umpires. If county cricketers have to accept it, why not Test players?

  • POSTED BY Dummy4 on | April 30, 2014, 11:03 GMT

    A great umpire and a true Gentleman. Wonder if we still have such people around or if it is even possible to have someone like him in modern day cricket. It was a pleasure reading this and I wish him all the best.

  • POSTED BY Prasanna on | April 30, 2014, 10:22 GMT

    "I don't know what's behind England's decision to get rid of him. It's got to be in the dressing room somewhere, but I just love watching him." - And how good is that remark ?? Looks like the England team management is the only entity on this planet that sees something red. A classic case of failed man-management !!

  • POSTED BY Sriram on | April 30, 2014, 9:31 GMT

    I wonder why the interviewer missed to ask about David Shepherd. They both have most probably been working togather in most part of their career. I was expecting this to pop up till the last line and was disappointed not to find. Hope we get his views on David someday.

  • POSTED BY Dru on | April 30, 2014, 9:22 GMT

    Enjoyed the great mans views and with due respect I am not sure if the umpiring was of good quality in them days. Lets face it we would never know as the replays and technology wasnt good enough to know if the ump missed a no-ball or if that pitched outside the leg stump. In my opinon there were probably too many incorrect decisions in the past which no longer effect the game due to technology and 'machines' as Bird puts it. You cant honestly tell me the naked eye could get a correct decision on run abouts or stumpings - its simply not possible. While the game may have been a lot relaxed and everyone respected the everything and game, I am not sure if the decisions were as good as now. Even with technology we see the amount of errors umpires make but imagine in an age where that presure was never on the umpire. Not finding fault with Dickie Bird at all - I have no doubt he was a great umpire and man - just dont think the decisions were as good.

  • POSTED BY Android on | April 30, 2014, 9:12 GMT

    Snambidi even I feel that the quality of cricketers umpires and cricket in general has deteriorated but if we follow your advice then why dont we get rid of cricket broadcasting on tv and cricinfo and go back to 1900 s .Every sport evolves and cricket is no different .Although I feel the quality has deteriorated as most players are useful in only a few conditions and even umpires are not that good.

  • POSTED BY Steve on | April 30, 2014, 9:04 GMT

    Great character, but as to technology, please accept it has improved many aspects of the game, for example LBWs. Finger spin and left arm pace / right arm bowling to left handers is much more fairly umpired nowadays, nobody ever gave front foot LBWs before technology highlighted how many times batsmen should have been out. Dickie himself was a not outer, and I have read that consistency means that was ok, but stop and think, with covered pitches finger spin almost disappeared as a wicket taking option! How many fewer wickets would Graeme Swann have got before technology? I bet someone like Underwood or Emburey wishes technology was around in their day!

  • POSTED BY Jitesh on | April 30, 2014, 7:44 GMT

    Absolute agreement with Bird... No umpires are as good as of his era... Neither the players are... Players have forgotten the respect for umpires... Spirit of cricket has been tamed by the new aggressive breed of cricketers...

  • POSTED BY Philip on | April 30, 2014, 7:27 GMT

    Times have changed drastically over the years. Commercialisation of the sport taking away the "Gentleman's" part of the game. Electronics is here to stay and it is the ability to harness what is in the best interest to cricket with fairness, respect in mind. Loads of positives to take and that is something that we cannnot ignore.

    The umpire decision was law. That how we were taught cricket and to accept it as final. This also applied to playground cricket where the batting side had to have their umpires whent they batted. We accepted those decisions too. Of course I am talking about those days...35-40 years ago.

    I had read about the Cap and the bus conductor. Hilariouse and so weird and funny. Sir Dickie always had a great sense of humour and it is good to see it continue.

    Great to read about Sir Dickie. What a lovely article. Philip Gnana, Surrey

  • POSTED BY Kalpesh on | April 30, 2014, 7:17 GMT

    An absolute legend and above all an outstanding human being. Shame we don't have any such umpires these days.

  • POSTED BY Vinayak on | April 30, 2014, 7:04 GMT

    The Best!! Cricket misses you Mr. Bird !!

  • POSTED BY dan on | April 30, 2014, 6:59 GMT

    i believe in 10 years thier will be no umpires, all decisions will come down to technology

    just a umpire at square leg to monitor player behavior

    front foot no-balls, edges, run outs, lbw's, bouncer heights, wides, inside edges and so on.

    i love the drs, i believe in most games the umpires get 95% of decisions right compared to 85% before drs

    you look at old footage and some decisions were shockers

    if all decision are reviewed by drs i believe the umpires will get 98% of decisions right

    it might take a few minutes but the decision will be right

  • POSTED BY Sreedhar on | April 30, 2014, 6:59 GMT

    (Continued from earlier postings) Mr.Bird says he can not give an answer if some one asked him who the best Umpire in cricket was because the Ujpiring is being done by Electronics Mmachines today Why he said so?the answer is simple.the Calling third umpire,D/W method,Action replay to decide run outs,TV displays to decide a ball crossed the boundary for a six or not,& whether a fielder had stepped out of the boundary line etc allure decided by electronics machines now. All these are making it unbecoming of Cricket. Were ther not playing years back in 1975 the World cup in the right manner.if you say no,it amounts to insulting Cricket,umpires,& Players of yesteryears. We have wrested all the powers from the Umpire & handed over to Electronic Machines. It ishightime for ICC TO DO AWAY WITH ALL NEWLY INTRODUCED METHODS AND REVERT TO CRICKET IN IT's TRUE &NOBLE FORM.

  • POSTED BY S on | April 30, 2014, 6:46 GMT

    What a lovely interview! And a reminder of all that we've lost with the advent of technology to adjudge LBWs, snicks, bump balls and all the rest. Dickie Bird is right in referring to the last few decades before the advent of such technology as a golden age of cricket. I personally feel once we moved into the era of neutral umpires that took care of overt bias and all that remained was the occasional human error. We could well have lived with that - using technology only for runouts, stumpings and no-balls. Too bad we can't go back to that time again - and we'll never see the likes of a Dickie Bird either.

  • POSTED BY Sreedhar on | April 30, 2014, 6:44 GMT

    This is perhaps the one article expected by.me since a very long time. Although I had dreamed of this kind of Article ,I never knew or rather expected have it from the greatest Umpire of Cricket MR.Dickie Bird.

    Dickie Bird was the most accurate & reasonable Umpire cricket ever had. Believe,it or not ,when he retired from Lods he had a sentnoff better than the one given to even the Legend Sir.Donald Bradman.every cricketers from all countries had loved him. He has to narrate an event which according to him was most amusing piece of information& joke for him. One day he had to enter a London Bus when he had no car with him.as soon Ashe entered the bus,the conductor had approached him for issuing the ticket.on seeing that the Conductor was wearing a white cap identical to his,he asked him whee rom he got it.he replied that he got it from Lords ground after a match,though he didn't reveal that he had snatched it from Dickie Bird's head. (CONTINUED)

  • POSTED BY Altaf on | April 30, 2014, 6:35 GMT

    Dickie Bird was great umpire without the doubt but using machines/technologies in the cricket is completely acceptable. There are many times when even umpires not sure what decision to give, and they themselves realized they need assistant from technology to make the job better and more reliable.

  • POSTED BY Sanjay on | April 30, 2014, 6:00 GMT

    Cricket and Dickie Bird, the two are entwined. God Bless You, Dickie!