Almanac Cricket: The Umpire Strikes Back

 

After playing cricket at Croxton CC for 6 seasons(1991 to 1997) and then traveling back and forth to Greece for 4 years, me and my beloved game of cricket had become estranged.

 

My partner Dina and I realised that we couldn’t make a go of it in Greece and decided to come back to Australia for good in August 2001.

 

September came and I noticed an ad in the local paper calling for people to give cricket umpiring a try. I saw it as a way to get back into the game and earn a few extra dollars on the weekends. Why not? I thought. If I don’t like it I won’t continue.

 

With minimal training and an abridged rule book I joined a well known turf cricket league and began officiating games in the Northern and Western suburbs. Sometimes I umpired with a colleague, but most of the time I was by myself and had a member of the batting team at square-leg.

 

The first season was great. I enjoyed establishing a rapport with players and getting to know the histories of clubs that I’d never heard of before. One week I was in Jacana, the next at Parade, then at Glenroy, Keilor and Yarraville. The clubs respected the umps and I can’t remember a bad spread from any of my games.

 

Occasionally games got willing. Tempers would fray and decisions would be questioned by crossing the bounds of decency. “Are you blind ya goose?” was a common criticism by a disgruntled bowler who felt that he’d been denied justice. Not taking it personally, I found I was able to diffuse situations before they got too serious.

 

Although I umpired mostly B-Grade and C-Grade games, I quickly came to appreciate that this was “their” Test Cricket.

 

My passion as a bowler had been no different when toiling into the wind for Croxton hoping to get on the right end of an appeal. I enjoyed watching them get fired up from a detached perspective and was happy to give reasons for my decisions if queried:

 

“It was just going down leg.” “Didn’t pitch in line.” “Just going over the stumps.” “Pitched outside off.” “Didn’t hear a nick.” It was rare that my decisions were not accepted with good grace.

 

It can be a long day. You get to the ground around 12pm and often if 80 overs weren’t bowled before 6pm it would stretch closer to 7pm before stumps. Hot, blustery days were the hardest because nicks were hard to hear if they were faint and the heat would make my concentration waver a little towards the end of the day. Intermittent rain was also a pain in the arse because coming on and off, having to inspect the pitch and get the captains to agree was sometimes tricky. One day at Avondale Heights I got through a 44 degree day. I figured if can survive that…

 

The first season ended well and my consistency was rewarded with a Grand Final, which ended up being decided by one run and the checking and double checking of score books until both teams were satisfied. That night I didn’t get home until after 10pm.

 

2002-3 came around and I got the black slacks and counter out again. The season started with little fanfare or controversy until a game in late November. One team from Keilor and another from the Footscray area had been engaging in a close-fought tussle played in good spirit. That was until a burly lad we’ll call Nobby was introduced into the attack. Nobby had been giving me earfuls from fine leg but I ignored them as he was far away and I figured he was just one of those blokes who needed to let off steam.

 

He was a strapping lad who looked like he could bowl quick. Appearances can be deceiving alas. Most of his deliveries veered down the leg side and would be missing the stumps by 7-8 inches. Bowling from wide of the crease didn’t help his cause much either. Every time the ball hit the pads Nobby would be in my face incensed that I’d turned down the decision. The first few times he would be muttering under his breath in disgust. “That was fucking bullshit” kept registering.

 

Each appeal seemed to become more personal and when he virtually screamed into my face from a centimeter “You’re fucking blind!” I had a chat to his captain and told him to settle Nobby down otherwise I’d have to give him a warning.

 

Nobby was mercifully taken out of the attack after a dozen or so expensive overs. That didn’t stopping from sniping at every decision from fine leg. It was starting to get on my nerves and I was very close to confronting him about it.

 

In the rooms after the game there was no tension and Nobby had seemed to calm down. The other players were basically happy with the umpiring.

 

The following week came and it was Nobby’s teams turn to bat. He came in around number 4 at the non-strikers end. Almost immediately the striker was hit on the pad plumb in front and I had no choice but to raise the finger for the LBW. This obviously triggered Nobby and he started ranting again, taking it personally. “You didn’t give mine out last week ya fucking goose. No way was that out! You’re fucking blind!”

 

Those who know me well would attest that I’m a peacemaker, unless I’m forced into a corner or provoked in the extreme. My blood was beginning to boil and I wanted to get back at this annoying bastard. I made up my mind that if the ball hit him on the pads I would give him out. Fuck him. I’d had enough of his abuse. First ball of the next over he was struck just outside leg stump. The bowler gave a half-hearted appeal and my finger shot up. “That’s out!” I thundered.

 

Next thing I know Nobby is storming up the pitch bat in hand ready to attack. “You did that on purpose you fucken c@#t !!”

 

I challenged him. “Drop the fucken bat and lets go faggot,” I replied.

 

Suddenly Nobby and me were trading blows in the middle of some ground in East Keilor. He got in a few good ones and I gave as good as I took. Thankfully he’d dropped the bat.

 

The East Keilor boys, which included two Essendon premiership players, soon came on the scene and we were separated. Nobby was being escorted off a la John Bourke pointing the finger and wanting to have another go. The boys asked if I wanted to involve the police and would be happy to be witnesses on my behalf. I declined and asked that the game continue until stumps. Nobby was taken away from the ground, thankfully. The game ended with East Keilor winning and me filing a report.

 

I felt terrible about losing my cool and being sucked into fisticuffs, but even their captain admitted that Nobby had a bit of reputation as a “hot head”, but had “crossed the line”.

 

A week later I was summoned to testify at a tribunal and I ran into Nobby on the way in. I thought here we go again. He looked at me suspiciously but something inside me wanted to make peace so I extended my hand and apologised for losing my temper. He responded reciprocally and claimed he “got carried away in the heat of the moment.” He too was sorry and before we knew it we were having a discussion about raising a young family. Apparently he’d just become a father of twins a few months earlier.

 

I told him that I would be honest and go into bat for him so he didn’t cop a hefty suspension. In the tribunal I admitted that I gave him out on purpose out of spite and frustration. My pleas fell on deaf ears and like John Bourke, Nobby was suspended from all competitions in Victoria for 10 years.

 

I never saw or heard from him again. I umpired the rest of the season out without much enthusiasm. Word had got around that I was the “rogue umpy” who fought back. Few of my decisions were questioned and there was very little lip from disgruntled bowlers. Now I had a reputation. I wasn’t proud of it, but I wasn’t ashamed either. My umpiring colleagues, mainly pensioners doing it for extra cash, were quite supportive despite my protestations that I had gotten sucked in and it wasn’t good for the comp. The older umpires put up with a lot of shit because some players took advantage of their physical frailty.

 

I was not going to stand for it.

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.

Comments

  1. G’day Phil Never easy when you’re on the whistle or the counter. Your yarn reminded me a TV Ringside fight many moons ago when the referee, who was an ex boxer, copped one from a bloke who had lost the decision. With a quick combo the young bloke was put on his arse by the ref and duly escorted form the ring by the coppers to the roar of the punters.
    Cheers
    TR

  2. Now that my friend, is an epside of Curb. Loved it.

  3. A interesting tale, Phil.
    I was still playing semi-seriously back then, and had heard of the bloke who copped ten years for fighting an umpire. Word gets around in cricket circles. But here at last is the full story.

  4. Sounds like a completely normal human reaction Phil. He was a bully + You (rightfully) didn’t back down = fireworks!

    Nobby was a Knob.

  5. Onya Phil. I remember a footy umpire in the Colts in Yorketown many years ago. A fighting Irishman called Pat Thomson who used to line both sides up before the game. Back when both sides had boot inspections for nails etc. Pat used to give us a lecture and then say “no reports – but any behind the play stuff and I’ll deck you meself”.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Are you sure you didn’t do some footy umpiring in the SA ammos in the 80s Phil? Maybe he was a cousin.

    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/1986-a-year-with-the-blacks-round-16-ump-goes-the-thump/

  7. Wowsers, that’s a ripping yarn Phil.

    If that’s what Nobby was like after the mellowing effect of fatherhood, imagine what he was like before!

    Some guys just should not play competitive team sport. This idiot’s captain should have told the Nob to pull his head in before you were compelled to knock it off.

  8. Phil, that is a legendary yarn that must go in some cricket compilation book of cricket yarns in the future.A ripper story.

  9. Phil as a maggot for many years re footy I can well and truly appreciate and understand your reaction
    I have wanted to belt the other umpire and players on many occasions thankfully a fight has never occurred but I get it how a knob got under your skin with me surprise surprise I don’t lose many arguments re verbally

  10. G’day Phil,

    You are so brace to tell such a story, confront the cricketers and review your behaviours and actions.

    Umpiring and playing under the heat for long hours are not good. I understand you were exhausted and stressed as well as were cricketers.

    Cricket games have lunch and tea breaks, but should have regular breaks so that all involving in cricket can refresh.

    How are you using your passion on cricket now? I like talking to various people in general, so doing guest services would be good. But being required to do administration and cleaning at an inn is not good and they are more to be done than communicating with guests. So I am planning to take the third high education in my life. I would like to undertake a media / journalism course at university in Melbourne and then be a writer for a travel or sport magazine.

    Cheers

    Yoshi

  11. Phil, you’re welcome to umpire our driveway games anytime. We put on a good spread: lemon cordial, mint slice bikkies..

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks for the comments and support folks. Been thinking of writing this for a while now. As Damo points out it was certainly a very ‘Curb’/Larry David Moment with a dash of Clark Griswald in a Bavarian Dance Off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-PRR8hG_jk

    Nobby was a big boy and I took a risk. Umpires don’t need to cop that sort of abuse. Just glad I had one P.Barnard in my corner who rushed to the scene and imposed himself emphatically.

  13. Andrew Starkie says:

    He deserved it, Phil. can just see you going for it mid-pitch.

  14. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks Starkers. Was sure you’d get a chuckle out of it.
    Yoshi, my passion for cricket is now having a hit in the back yard. I reckon you’d be a great journo and La Trobe is good option. Just stay clear of Mick Malthouse.
    Vin, mint slice bikkies very hard to resist. Might take you up on that !

  15. John Butler says:

    Phil, I laughed and laughed. Many points of recognition.

    Can’t say I’m any better. One day back in the dark ages I was employed to ref indoor soccer games (for which I was notably unqualified). Went alright for a while, until I had to ref a mob called the Greek Warriors. The first 2 blokes I red-carded deserved it. The third was just on principle, as they were a complete pack of tossers. As there were only six-a-side, they understandably struggled after that.

    They jumped me as I tried to leave the stadium. Fortunately, they were better at getting perms off their girlfriends than they were throwing punches. If I’d been a custard, I wouldn’t have had the skin broken. First time I landed a decent one they hoofed it.

    Much ado about nothing in the end. But not one of my finer moments.

  16. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Thanks JB. Glad it made you laugh. Easy to see the humour 14 years later. Indoor soccer is a shocker when it comes to brawls erupting at the drop of a hat. I was a goalkeeper for 2 years and I reckon I stopped more fights than I stopped goals going through. Refs used to cop it and some gave back as good as they got, like yourself.
    Uncomfortable truth about Greek boys and perms from their girlfriends. Seen a bit of that. Was it mid to late ’80s?

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