Nick Ahad: Men in white coats provide the lifeblood of local league cricket

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You would be surprised at just how many of us there are. Literally thousands.

We have strange rituals, special uniforms, lucky jock straps, favourite caps – and we are obsessed with the sky.

I write, of course, of the weekend cricketer.

Up and down the land men (and some women – I played against a lass a couple of weeks ago, cracking batter) wake every Saturday full of hope, nervously peel back the curtains and feel our hearts leap inside when greeted by a clear sky.

My ritual begins on a Saturday morning with the emptying of my massive cricket bag – and putting everything back in – gloves, box, pads, bat – always in that order (one of many quandries facing the weekend cricketer – where do you keep a bag that big Sunday to Friday?).

While batting, I spit into my left glove, spit into my right, adjust my box, tug my shirt and only then am I ready to face the next ball.

I drive the opposition potty. But I’d rather hear their sledging at the crease than as I drag my bat back to the pavilion thinking “I knew I should have spit into my right glove”.

We are a strange breed indeed.

There is another sort who are even stranger.

The umpires.

Who, really, would be an umpire?

No-one in the history of my league has ever been out LBW. Not correctly anyway.

The massive edge Oakworth’s young No 4 got last week, giving me my first catch of the season behind the stumps, was clearly off his pads. He told me so (our umpire, correctly in my humble opinion, disagreed).

They never make a ‘right’ decision, unless it’s in your favour; they don’t call no balls properly, unless it is to a delivery which has just got you out and half of them don’t even understand the LBW law – especially those who send you on your way.

No, there is no explaining the men in white coats who stand in the field every Saturday watching us players act the maggot. It won’t be a surprise to me if one weekend the other set of men who like to dress up in white coats rounds them all up.

And yet, unfathomable as they are, we simply cannot do without them.

This year is my 20th with Airedale Cricket Club.

Our Craven League ground, the most beautiful cricket pitch on earth as far as I’m concerned (your first club always is), is right next to East Riddlesden Hall.

I first took to the field when I was 13.

This year, it being an important personal milestone, I ran for captain of the second team.

“Who’d be a captain?”, I am discovering, is as valid a question as “who’d be an umpire?”.

The first challenge of my captaincy came in our second game.

Full of confidence from a good win against Denholme in our first game, our batting line up broke records against Haworth in our second.

Not the sort you want to break too often.

Think England against the West Indies at Queen’s Park Oval in 1994. At least they scraped to 46.

We were all out for 31 chasing 97 (you don’t get many high scoring games in the fifth division of the Craven League).

One of our lads was given LBW, by our own umpire. He made a similar point at the time, out loud, to the one I made earlier – no-one is ever LBW.

At the end of our innings, which brought a further three LBWs, I had our lads in my ear and our umpire chuntering about an appalling batting performance.

For the record, I could do nothing about the ball that got me... honest.

It swung, seamed, clipped the top of off stump – best ball he’ll ever bowl, etc.

The game over, with the lads’ complaints in my ears, I approached our ‘ump’, and decided to offer some... I think I called it feedback.

A few of our lads felt hard done by. I just wanted to check that he was confident about the LBWs he gave.

It was not my finest moment.

Our umpire, let’s call him Jim (that’s his name, no room for sentiment here), I happen to know watched the Ashes this year on a huge flat screen TV at home.

Every time there was an LBW appeal, he paused the action and made his decision of out or not before forwarding the action to see if he was right.

That’s how dedicated he is to his Saturday pastime.

And here was I, offering ‘feedback’ because some of our lads thought they’d got a rum deal.

The Craven League, and all the players in it and in every amateur league up and down the land, need these crazy, old, wonderful fools.

They’re there for the same reason as all of us – at some point this beautiful game of cricket grabbed us by the heart and refused to let go. They’re there, week in, week out, just so that we can get a game of cricket. We can’t play without them.

Before Jim we had Biff, whose hearing makes a doorpost seem alert and who eventually gave in due to the fact that he had no chance of hearing a snick even if he was batting himself.

We might not agree with the decisions of these once-a-week umpires. We might not like it when we get ‘triggered’ (you’re never just ‘given out’), but by crikey do we need them.

So here’s to the umpires – those deaf, mistake-making, glorious men – who are just that little bit crazier than us weekend cricketers and without whom our Saturdays would be a whole lot emptier.

Read Nick Ahad’s new fortnightly column on the ups and downs of local league cricket at

Every club needs their own ‘Biff’

Five years ago Airedale celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Ken Smith was the proudest man that day. Biff, as he has been known since before I arrived, set up Airedale with a few work mates in 1956.

His love for the club has never waivered.

Staying with a club for a long time is a really special thing.

Players come and go, but the heart of the club stays the same and it is only over time you to truly see that.

It’s a story repeated throughout the Craven League and around the country.

I’m sure every club has their own ‘Biff’.

The younger players who arrive might not always realise who he is.

He could be the umpire, he could be coaching.

He could be quietly wandering around the ground with his dogs on match day.

Whoever he is, the young and old players among us, who imagine ourselves being the next Michael Vaughan, would do well to remember that it is the Biffs of this world who are, more often than not, the very beating heart of the club and also the league.

They are also, usually, the reason why we are there at all.