Like so many aspects of life in Ireland, cricket and cricket umpiring in the Leinster area in the era before the 1960s was far different from the modern game’s relative sophistication. Those were the days when draws were frequent, cup matches could extend over a week, tea was 20 minutes, there were no one-day wides, no penalty runs, few behavioural problems, no grading of umpires, and a cloud of tobacco smoke around the head of the striker’s-end umpire was common enough.
The status of umpires, to put it mildly, was low in the mid-century game. Although appointed by the Leinster Cricket Union (LCU), this organisation took no responsibility for payment of the umpires’ expenses. Umpires were paid on the day of a match by the home club. As umpires were not permitted access to, nor invited into, most club bars at that time, they had to wait outside, often for a considerable time, until the club treasurer got around to paying them. And this humiliation all for the princely sum of five shillings (32c).
A watershed year was 1961. The amounts paid, but more importantly the system of payment, were no longer acceptable and the umpires refused to officiate at all for the first part of that season. Perhaps for the first time, clubs and players realised that cricket without neutral and knowledgeable umpires was fraught with problems. Clearly, something had to be done, and quickly.
To his great credit, Brendan McGrath of Old Belvedere proposed at a meeting of the LCU that that body should not only select and appoint umpires but also become responsible for the payment of umpires’ expenses, and that this should be done in a more discreet and less servile manner. The clubs would continue to have ultimate responsibility for the expenses, as is still the position today, but would now reimburse the LCU. This was agreed and further joy followed in 1962 when the expense payment was doubled to ten shillings.
An LCU sub-committee was formed in 1961 with Brendan McGrath as chairman and including Jim Connerton, who looked after appointments, and those other towering umpire figures of that period, Ken Orme and Tim Protheroe-Benyon. Meetings were held monthly in the O’Connell Street offices of Marlowe’s Cleaners (where Brendan was managing director); appointments were made for the month ahead, with appointments cards being sent out to umpires. Brendan furthermore arranged to pay umpires’ expenses out of his own resources in advance of eventually being recompenses by the clubs through the LCU.
Our Association today owes a great debt of gratitude to Brendan McGrath for his successful effort to put Leinster umpiring arrangements on a regularised basis. He very appropriately became the first honorary member elected after our 1992 constitution was adopted
Slowly, the number of umpires increased, with Brian Carpenter and Gerry Doyle starting in 1964 and Bob Smith in 1966. By the early 1970s, the list included, among others, the names of Cecil Dixon, Des Farrell, Michael Gallagher, Ted Harper, John Manning, Jim Pender, Paddy Quinn and James Timmins. At about this time, the sub-committee evolved into a separate organisation – the Leinster Cricket Umpires’ Association (LCUA) – and took tentative steps into areas of recruitment, training and looking after the welfare of its members. The structure was a loose one with no constitution or membership: if you were an umpire you were a member. Lack of belief that the lot of the umpire could improve to any satisfying extent seems to have been the reason that the Association effectively ceased to function actively during the mid- to late-1970s. Other than appointing umpires to club matches, the Association was dormant.
The Association grows up
In late 1979, the Association was revived on a proper footing, largely due to the drive and hard work of Bob Smith, who did this simultaneously with his tenure as president of Clontarf Cricket Club. It was fitting that he should become the Association’s first president in 1980. An early step was affiliation with the UK Association of Cricket Umpires (ACU) and for many years we were part of the north-west region of the ACU.
At that time, there were 16 regular and 6 occasional umpires. Two were full members of the ACU, with three associate members studying for the exams. For the first time, the Association had a representative on the full LCU committee.
This period saw both the ends and the beginnings of some significant careers. Tim Protheroe-Benton carried out our training activities for many years until he retired in 1985, to be replaced by Sean Moore who in turn gave way to the evergreen and indefatigable Alan Tuffery (whose umpiring longevity is such that he appears, at much greater length, later). The late-70s also saw the start of the umpiring career of the legendary Liam Keegan. Liam had an enormously positive influence on the Association over the next quarter-century and is the only person to have held the presidency for two separate terms (1984-6 and 2001-3 – he died in office) as well as doing stints as secretary and appointments supremo. By the mid-1980s, Liam had cajoled many more reluctant debutants to don the white coat, and membership increased to more than thirty.
From the 1970s onward, our members went international, in the sense of being officially appointed to games outside Ireland (including not-quite-first-class matches in England and international tournaments) as well as home internationals. In the last two decades of the old millennium, the Leinster roll of honour in this regard featured such big names as (alphabetically) Brian Carpenter, Jim Connerton, Stu Daultrey, Louis Hogan, Robert MacClancy, Ronnie O’Reilly and Ken Orme. It should also be mentioned that Tim Protheroe-Benton claimed a world record as the oldest man to umpire an international when he stood in the 3-day Ireland/Scotland game in 1977 at the age of 72.
During ’80s and ‘90s a particularly valuable development took place in the form of all-Ireland umpiring co-operation. The historic first north/south umpiring combination was Sean Moore (Leinster) and Dai Jones (Belfast) standing together in a S Leinster/Munster interprovincial match at Carlisle CC in June, 1981. From then on, not only were such combinations usual in all-Ireland games but our Association participates in regular exchanges with our northern colleagues and, in recent times, with Bristol and Guernsey. Out of this interprovincial enthusiasm came two important developments. First, there was the formation of an all-Ireland umpiring body. This started in 1993 as an informal committee without real authority, but it evolved in 1998 into the formally constituted Irish Cricket Umpires’ Association, which became the Ireland region of the ACU&S (the aforementioned ACU plus scorers) in 2002.
Then, quite properly, interprovincial co-operation went hand-in-hand with interprovincial rivalry and 1989 saw the first in the annual series of matches for the White Stick Trophy. This is between teams comprising umpires from Leinster and N Ireland respectively (strictly speaking from the eastern half of NI) every year since (except once when a bereavement forced its cancellation and once when the weather was just too unkind) in September, played alternately in the Dublin and Belfast areas. It is the highlight of the umpiring year for all participants, is very seriously and competitively contested but also is the source of much good-natured banter and friendship. At the time of writing, the score stands at 13-9 in Leinster’s favour.
Also in the 1990s originated the Association’s two perpetual trophies for players. Dickie Spence was a much-loved cricketer who took up umpiring in the late-‘80s. He had just achieved international standing when, in 1996, he died suddenly in Cork on the morning of a match he was due to umpire at the Mardyke. The previous year, the LCUA had instigated a fair-play award for the senior cricketer (now Divisions 1 and 2) who best exemplified how the game should be played – as voted for by the umpires. In its way, this was a ground-breaking concept at the time. Dickie himself had been a hard, competitive but thoroughly fair and honest player for decades and it was entirely appropriate to rename the perpetual trophy in his honour from 1996. It has been so awarded each year and received with pride by each recipient ever since.
Sean Pender, an outstanding Irish Times cricket correspondent and a good friend to Leinster umpires, was a member of the LCUA (he played in the first White Stick match), and for many years an umpires v. press match was played on the eve of the senior cup final. After his untimely death in 1993, the match was continued for several years with a magnificent trophy, donated by the Irish Times, at stake. When, in 2000, it proved impossible to secure a ground due to pressure of other matches, LCUA created an award in memory of Sean to be presented to the best example of a cricketer below Senior 1 level (now Divisions 3 and below) who, over a season, contributed most to the games in which they featured – again as voted by the umpires. This still continues although in 2012 it was converted into a fair-play award for the appropriate divisions.
At this time, the Association also matured in the institutional sense. Surprisingly for a body operating since the 1960s, the association had no form of written constitution until this matter was driven forward by president Louis Hogan. The first constitution was adopted by the members in 1992. Although it has been amended several times since then, it remains the bedrock on which the Association operates. New categories of honorary life membership, vice-president (annual) and associate membership were created, the first being for existing members who have given especially valuable service to the Association, the second for non-members who have given especially valuable service to Leinster cricket or to the Association, and the third for others whom the Association wishes to recognise.
Another important administrative development was the creation, in the new constitution of 1992, of a new officer, appointments secretary, to take over from the secretary the enormous logistical task of appointment throughout the season. The first incumbent was Stu Daultrey and he introduced a highly efficient computerised system.
A link between the Association’s medieval and modern periods is Alan Tuffery. In the late-1980s he became the Association’s first training officer (now education officer) and brought training for umpires and scorers to a new level, successfully preparing countless nervous people for examinations. Amazingly, he held this position until 2010, being replaced by another professional teacher, Ingeborg Bevers. Under Alan’s leadership, workshops and panel discussions became a regular feature of the close season. For much of his career, he was supported as tutors by the likes of Philip Boylan, David Walsh and Peter Thew (another pillar of the modern Association, having been president and, even more valuably, being willing to soldier on in the nearly full-time post of appointments secretary, a job he still does). Later years have seen others also involved.
If that wasn’t enough as a contribution, Alan instituted, in May 1988, the Association’s newsletter. Until 2013, he largely wrote and produced ten issues a year, recently being assisted by Kevin Gallagher, who has taken over as editor. The first issue for which he was not editor was number 229!
Developments since 2000 have built on the foundations described above. In 2005, the constitution was amended to change the name of the Association to ‘Leinster Cricket Umpires and Scorers’ Association’, thereby allowing scorers to become full members and bringing us into line with the equivalent bodies elsewhere in Ireland and in Britain (the very first associate member elected under the 1992 constitution had been Geraldine Banks who, as a scorer, was not eligible for full membership). This properly reflects the fact that the umpires and scorers are a team of officials and the idea of positive co-operation within the team is something we have been promoting. Because scorers are appointed by clubs and not the Association, and despite the fact that we provide structured training for scorers, we are always conscious that scorers may perceive that the Association has little to offer them. In 2013, the constitution was amended to permit a lower subscription to be charged to scorers than umpires in the hope that this would provide further encouragement to scorers to join up. An especially happy outcome of including scorers in full membership was the election of a scorer (and, another first, a woman) as the Association’s president in 2010 – Siobhan McBennett, who has years of great service both nationally and internationally.
This is a reminder that we now have female umpires – currently two, and two others dropped out for maternal and other reasons in the past five years – and we have a female education officer. Let us hope that the revised version of this history, written in perhaps five years’ time, won’t even think this sufficiently remarkable to mention it.
Two developments illustrate the growing professionalism of the Association’s work. The computerisation of the appointments system has already been mentioned. This process gathers pace each year through increasing use of the internet as the means through which umpires indicate their availability, appointments are published, statistics are generated and match and ground reports are submitted by umpires.
Of the greatest significance to umpires have been recent developments in relation to assessment and grading. Until 2010, we relied totally on reports from captains and, as the number of umpires increased, there was increasing dissatisfaction with placing such reliance on a procedure known to have considerable deficiencies. In that year, we introduced boundary assessment, which is the basis of all assessment and grading at international level. The first full time boundary assessor was John Bristow, followed soon after by Alan Tuffery. These two assessors have set the standards for others to follow and allowed a whole new realm of umpire feedback and training.
Retired colleagues attend matches and submit structured reports on the umpires, using a report form taken, with minor amendments, from that used by the International Cricket Council. Captains continue to make reports (again, from 2013, using the ICC report form), submitted on-line and analysed electronically as well as visually. To top this up, we ask certain senior umpires to give their views on the performance of colleagues they have stood with.
All this information is put together by the three-man grading committee, headed by the president, to derive grades on the basis of which umpires are chosen for senior games and for nomination to Cricket Ireland and ICC panels. But this is more than a grading process: the information is used continuously to give feedback to umpires and to their mentors (senior colleagues each assigned to look after a particular new umpire). That is, assessment is seen as much as an educational as a grading activity.
Finally, although our members’ participation as umpires in matches outside Ireland declined somewhat in the ‘Noughties (this is being remedied and we now have two – Louis Fourie and Azam Ali Baig – on international panels and, anyway, our scorers, including Geraldine Banks, Stella Downes, Siobhan McBennett and, more recently, Helen Caird have continued to fly our flag with great distinction), our Association has become internationalised in a very important respect. As of now, our membership comes from ten countries (including Ireland of course). Interestingly, of the ten-person executive committee, five are from outside Ireland. Whether this is the result of the late-lamented Celtic Tiger or a misapprehension that global warming has improved Irish weather is debatable, but this internationalisation is certainly not matched by equivalent associations elsewhere and we are properly proud of it.
[Those involved in producing this article sincerely apologise to those members who think they should have been mentioned but were not.]