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  • Grassroots 4 min read

    Umpire's call: life in the middle

    Bradford Premier League official Helen McGuire on life as an umpire.

    Howzat??

    The familiar appeal cry is part of the fabric of cricket, as are the people at whom these cries are directed. The men and women in the middle, hats on and hands poised.

    The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of an umpire is: “an official who watches a game or match closely to enforce the rules and arbitrate on matters arising from the play.”

    An apt description? Yes. A comprehensive representation of what umpiring is all about? Not quite.

    Ask any official and they will tell you there is much more to being an umpire than the neat blurb implies. For example, the motivations that push people to take up that spot in the middle.

    For Yorkshire-based umpire Helen McGuire, it’s wonderfully simple: “I just want to be a good servant to the game.”

    Making the leap into cricket

    In 2015, approximately 6,800 umpires – including McGuire – helped to ensure 158,000 matches were played across the season.

    The 51-year-old is one of 19 panel officials in the Bradford Premier League, which was formed in 1903 – and the sole female representative.

    A relative newcomer to the sport – she started umpiring in 2010 and was introduced to the game only a few years before that – McGuire’s journey to Premier League umpire began with a certain world-renowned former India batsman. She hasn’t looked back since.

    She explains: “I’ve never played cricket so my interest began after being dragged along to watch a game as a space filler when somebody dropped out. It was a Test match down in Nottingham and there was this smashing little fella playing called Sachin Tendulkar – I had never heard of him! He just knocked the ball all over the place and I was utterly fascinated.”

    Following a move from Peterborough to Leeds, McGuire became attached to a local cricket club as a social member and her involvement grew from there. She became a familiar face around the club and one weekend found herself moving into unknown territory when the club captain came calling with a request.

    The team’s scorer was no longer available and McGuire was the obvious candidate to fill the gap: “I’d been hanging around and doing teas for everybody. And the captain turned to me and said ‘Helen, you’re quite a sensible person, can you do it?’. And I thought ‘I’ll give it a go, then.’ So I started scoring and continued to score for a couple of seasons.

    Then one morning the same captain told me they’d been let down by the umpire and asked if I’d mind stepping in. I gave it my best, went on a course and now here I am.

    Swift development

    That first club game was six years ago and McGuire has since moved swiftly through the ranks, with plenty of support from the ECB’s Association of Cricket Officials (ACO).

    The ACO, which has nearly 8,500 members, is the largest body of cricket officials in the world and works to provide training for scorers and umpires at a national, regional and local level.

    That training was integral to McGuire as she developed her understanding of the game, and helped her in “appreciating the cat and mouse of it all [the game], the intrigue”.

    McGuire says: “I want to do things properly and I want things to be right so I joined the ACO journey. It is progressive, well set out and a proper pathway.

    “I did my Level 1 umpiring course, which focused on the Laws of Cricket. Then the following season I took my Level 1A because I wanted more fieldcraft and feedback and an understanding of what my impact is on the field. I don’t want to be noticed for anything other than giving the decision that’s there so I learned a lot more about that aspect.

    “From there my Level 2 was just a natural progression.”

    The continuing ACO involvement has also been vital in making the leap to Premier League cricket.

    “The local branch has been fantastic. They’ve assigned me a mentor so I’ve always had somebody to bounce questions off. They provide great support and it’s great being part of something bigger. I believe all umpires should at least take a Level 1 qualification.”

    Best seat in the house

    Training and development aside, McGuire is in it for the love of the game, with the best seat in the house week in, week out.

    “I’m so much closer to the players and their thoughts than anyone else. You’ll hear them on the field chuntering away if something goes wrong and the bowlers growling at themselves. You don’t hear that when you’re watching from a boundary. But you witness all those frustrations and joys on the field from the players. And I appreciate the game so much more for it.

    The premium vantage point isn’t the only perk.

    “I appreciate so much from having seen the game played up close, from getting a greater understanding of the Laws of Cricket and the nuances and different interpretations of the Laws out on a field. All of that thought that goes behind the game – umpiring helps you to see it from a different perspective, in a different dimension.”

    Challenges

    Umpiring does come with its own challenges and McGuire has met with a few surprised looks through the years, occasionally because of her gender, but the same rules and standards apply whether you are a man or a woman.

    “As long as you are competent, players don’t care. What they’re looking for is competence. If you’re confident, competent, you can talk to players and interact with them, then they really don’t care if you’re green with purple spots and you come from a different planet. What they want is somebody who’s going to officiate their game competently.

    “With the Women’s World Cup coming up in 2017, we’ve got a great opportunity to showcase the women that we’ve got in the game. We need to give an inspiration to girls who might want to officiate.

    “I think if I was a female player now, coming to the end of my playing career and considering walking away or going into coaching or managing, I would encourage them to turn their hand to umpiring because this is the time for women in cricket.”

    Labour of love

    With a full-time job managing benefit fraud teams up and down the country, a busy home life with her husband and son – a student nurse – and an allotment and chickens to look after, McGuire’s days are jam-packed. Which makes her dedication to cricket all the more impressive.

    Umpiring is clearly a labour of love.

    So much so that summing up what it means to her in one sentence proves a tough ask.

    “It’s just so much more than one sentence can contain. [For me] it’s involvement and encouragement and being part of something. That’s the essence of it, being a part of the game.”

    If, like Helen, you would like to become a cricket official, visit our dedicated ACO section or email ecb.aco@ecb.co.uk for more information.

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