Price. You’re priceless. (Bret Easton Ellis)
There are many reasons why I enjoy umpiring, but the one that gives me most satisfaction is the support provided by my local association of umpires. From training to advice, from camaraderie to caring, every time I cross the boundary rope with a colleague, I feel I have a wonderful association behind me. The courses they run are superb and they have helped me no end.
I am also generally happy with the English Cricket Board (ECB) Association of Cricket Officials (ACO) the national body that represents umpires and scorers. For a £30 per year membership, I am fully insured and enjoy receiving a well presented monthly magazine.
But to be brutally honest, I have some reservations about ECB, most of which revolve around its ‘provision’ of on and off-field gear where I think the Board is taking the proverbial urine sample. Let me start this finger wagging by stating that no umpire I have met is doing the job for ‘the money’. Yes, we are remunerated for leaving the house at around 11am and returning around nine hours later a sum, that when you factor in petrol or train fares, amounts to around £3 an hour. I think we can safely say that money is not the reason we do the job.
So it is with some angst that I present you with the following delicacies available in the ECBACO online catalogue. For £95 you can proudly sport ECB, ACO and supplier Duncan Fearnley logos on a woollen sweater (just what you need on a hot July afternoon, of course). Fancy a holdall to carry your stuff from the jam jar to the pavilion? At Sports Direct (my personal outfitters) you pay £10 with the SD logo, in the ACO catalogue you pay £60. (But of course, you have the honour and privilege of carrying the ECB, ACO and Duncan Fearnley logos on your hike of 15 metres).
But the mother of all offers is the staggering £475 (I repeat, £475) ‘offer’ in the ‘Match II Ultimate Pack’. This pot-pourri of goodies includes the big hitting on-field jacket, trousers, shirt, sweater (nope, not the £95 woollen one, rather the one that will give you an afternoon of electric shocks to help you concentrate harder with the sassy leg-spinner at your end), ball counter (from 0.99p on Amazon), bails (from £3.22 on Amazon) and a towel to keep the ball dry (free from home, but without the ECB, ACO and Duncan Fearnley logos).
I have cosied up to colleagues (some of the umpires’ changing rooms are really cosy, believe me) who come bedecked from head to toe with the three logos. That’s fine, people can spend their money how they want, but I am happy to take the field without logos and savings that will go a long way to paying for a fortnighlty trip to the cinema.
I took this issue up with an extremely jolly fellow manning the Duncan Fearnley stand at the ACO’s annual meeting at Lord’s some years ago. There were excellent keynote speeches from famous cricket doyens that day and we got a tour of the Lord’s pavilion along with posh sandwiches and biscuits that you can usually only find in Waitrose. Back to my jolly friend – he agreed the prices were high but said that the ECB demanded a high rate for use of its logo on the merchandise (an interesting point for an organisation that turned over around £172m in 2018-19).
So to the ECB I say this. Given that your 2020-2024 broadcasting deal is worth £1.1bn and you are charging around £100 a day per ticket to watch the World Cup and Ashes (and if I want to watch the World Cup and Ashes live on TV, I have to stump up a few hundred a year to Sky, who are the main payers of the above broadcasting deal), how about a little gesture to the men and women who ensure every game of cricket is properly officiated. For the effort we put in; for the lip and flak we take; for the courses and training we do (and pay for); for the intense concentration over around 600 balls a match; for our dedication to the great game of cricket – for all of this and a whole lot more, how about getting on the dog and bone to Duncan Fearnley and instructing them to provide free of charge a once-only ‘Match II Ultimate Pack’ to every qualified umpire in the country.
I’m sure the good folk in the Finance Department of the ECB can arrange a good deal on the usage of the ECB logo.