Price. Your priceless. (Bret Easton Ellis)
When I started the umpiring qualification process, money was not on my agenda. Eleven years on and nothing has changed. I accept my match fee which covers up to twelve hours of my time from leaving home to returning. A forensic accountant could argue that the fee I am paid covers more than the petrol or public transport costs, so I am making a profit. But actually, that so-called profit becomes a loss once you factor in wear and tear on the car, buying a post-match drink after the game, and the myriad of other expenses that go into umpiring – sun cream and glasses, hay fever tablets, bails, run counter, ball clicker, ball gauge, watch, appropriate footwear, hat, shirt, trousers (and not forgetting the obligatory packet of mint humbugs).
The match fee is worth half a tank of petrol and I expect in most occupations ten to twelve hours of work will fill your car. A football referee gets roughly the same amount of money as me for around two hours on the coalface. I don’t want more money – I just want umpires to pay less for what we wear.
I’m laying out my match-day paraphernalia as my colleague enters the changing room. Like many of the umpires I stand with, he is adorned with English Cricket Board Association of Cricket officials (ECBACO) branding. His homage to the seventies Saturday night Generation Game conveyor belt includes a hat, casual polo-shirt, bag, umbrella and once he is fully changed, a blouson, match-day polo shirt, trousers, socks, ball-counter, hand towel and sleeveless sweater. The only thing missing is an ACO tattoo on his index finger, although with a nickname of Dr. No (a reputation of not giving LBWs), the ECB won’t be getting value for money for brand awareness.
I have never been a dedicated follower of fashion, other than for shoes. Over many years I purchased Dr. Martens which combined quality with style. But that relationship came to fractious end when I found an online outlet selling a decent leather shoe seventy percent cheaper and with the DM longevity. For umpiring I am perfectly happy in a long-sleeve, button-up cotton white shirt, a comfortable Panama-style hat and robust white sports shoes, each of which can be purchased from two well-known retailers at a fraction of ACO-branded gear. And I have never heard anyone rebuke me for not sporting the ECB logo on my hat.
So it is with some angst that I present you with the following delicacies available in the ECBACO umpires’ catalogue. For ninety-five pounds (take a moment to absorb that fact) you can proudly sport ECB, ACO and supplier Duncan Fearnley logos on a woollen sweater, which is of course just the job on a Hotter than July afternoon. Fancy a holdall to carry your stuff from the car to the pavilion? At Sports Direct you pay ten pounds which includes the said company’s logo. In the ACO catalogue you pay thirty five pounds for the same size bag. But of course, for the extra twenty-five pounds, you have the honour and privilege of carrying the ECB, ACO and Duncan Fearnley logos on your long trek trek from club car park to changing room.
But the mother of all marketing ploys is the staggering four-hundred-and-sixty-nine pound offer for the Match II Ultimate Pack, or as I prefer to call it, Ultimate Cheek Pack. This selection of goodies includes an on-field jacket, trousers, shirt, sweater (nope, not the ninety-five pound woollen version, 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). And of course why stop at clothing? The pack includes a ball counter (starting price ninety-nine pence on Amazon), bails (starting price three pounds a set on Amazon) and a towel to keep the ball dry (free from home, but without the ECB, ACO and Duncan Fearnley logos).
I have nothing against Duncan Fearnley, a company that provides excellent quality clothing and accessories for players and umpires. And it is fine by me that the ECB is outsourcing the production and sale of these items through Duncan Fearnley. This makes reasonable sense. My problem is how the ECB uses its brand tentacles to squeeze umpires’ pockets. Don’t the good folk at ECB headquarters realise that there is no recreational cricket without us?
Surely an organisation that turned over one-hundred-and-seventy-eight million pounds in 2018-19 and boasts a four-year broadcasting deal between 2020-2024 worth over a billion pounds, should neither want nor require umpires to stump up so much money. I understand the reasoning that both umpires in a match should be similarly dressed. I am very much in favour of the modern trend where players scrub up to games in matching shirts and caps, each boasting the club badge. These kits are often sponsored by local businesses and give the players an incentive to be proud of sporting the shirt.
So if it is important to the ECB and ACO that umpires display their brands, then they need to do something about the pricing. I am not prepared to pay for a white button-up shirt that costs twenty-five pounds more than my non-branded shirt. And as my Association provides the blouson, which I am happy to pay towards, I am already looking exactly like my colleague, so whatever is underneath becomes irrelevant.
For the intense concentration over six hundred balls a match, our dedication to cricket, and a whole lot more, the ECB should flex its muscles to persuade Duncan Fearnley that umpires pay a nominal, not astronomical fee for wearing the shirt with pride. Because as it stands, the price of umpiring is not right, and it needs to come on down.