Barnsley's cricket umpiring legend, Dickie Bird talks to Yorkshire Life
PUBLISHED: 00:15 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 19:47 28 April 2016
In a new regular feature, we discover the likes and dislikes of people who have an affinity with our county. Our first subject is Barnsley boy and cricket umpiring legend, Dickie Bird... INTERVIEW: TONY GREENWAY PHOTOGRAPHS BY SAM ATKINS
Pretty soon now, there will be two Dickie Birds in Barnsley: the real one, and an amazing 6ft 6ins statue standing proud on a plinth. Sculptor Graham Ibbeson has been commissioned to create a bronze of the world-famous cricket umpire which will be unveiled in the town in October.
Bird, one of Barnsley's most famous sons, was born Harold Dennis Bird 75 years ago and played for Yorkshire as a young cricketer. But after hanging up his pads, he found his true-calling as an umpire. From 1973- 1996 he stood in a then world-record 66 Tests, before retiring from first-class cricket in 1998.
So with his new statue unveiled to the press, it seemed like a good time to ask him about his Yorkshire life...
So Dickie. This sculpture, then. Isn't it going to be a bit weird when you go out walking around the town and come face to face with yourself?
I think I'll be walking past it every day! The sculptor, Graham Ibbeson, has done a marvellous job. He's got the cap just right, the stance is excellence and he's got all the sweaters around my waist. And he's even got the finger of fate pointing in the air. Perfect. It's going to stand on the spot where I was born. I feel so proud. So proud.
If you could live anywhere other than Yorkshire, where would it be?
Yorkshire plays a very special part of my life. There's no place like it - and I'm very proud to be a Yorkshireman and to come from Barnsley. I've been all over the world and seen some beautiful places but I still believe there's no place like here.
Is there something you DON'T like about Yorkshire?
Not really. I'm being honest with you when I tell you this, but I don't like anyone saying a bad word about Yorkshire. That's when I get annoyed. I'm very placid and I never lose my temper. But I don't like anyone saying anything wrong about this great county of ours.
What do you prefer: town or country?
See, I like both. I like to go into Barnsley and I like the Barnsley people. They're down to earth, and what they have to say they'll tell yer. I love to go into the market in Barnsley and the cafes and have a cup of tea and talk to the old people. I just love it.
Be honest. Have you not been tempted to retire to Australia? They have better weather than you have in Barnsley.
Well... (laughs)... if you're asking me to put me head on the block, I'd go for New Zealand. Beautiful. It's like England in many ways. The Dales and the East Coast of Yorkshire remind me of New Zealand. But it's not going to happen. I'll never leave this place.
There was talk some time ago of turning Barnsley into a Tuscan hill town with a neon strip of light surrounding it.
I think the alterations they're doing to Barnsley at the moment are marvellous... and leave it at that. I wouldn't go any further. They wanted it to be like Rome, and have a walkway around the town with lights and what have you. To me, Barnsley is full of character already and I wouldn't like to see that knocked away.
What's your favourite place in Yorkshire?
The East Coast: Filey, Scarborough, Whitby, Robin Hood's Bay. That coastline is superb. I book myself into a nice hotel, walk for miles and miles on the water's edge, and then go out in Scarborough for a good meal.
Anywhere you'd recommend?
A: Yes. The Lanterna - an Italian restaurant that takes some beating. Also there's Café Fish, at the top of the main street: turn left at Debenhams and it's down on the corner by the traffic lights. Marvellous.
Right. Cricket, then. What on earth do you like about it?
To me, it's the finest sport in the world for any youngster to play. It's the finest game for friendship, meeting people and education. That's why I formed my foundation - the Dickie Bird Foundation for Underprivileged Children. My aim is to get kids off street corners and give them a start in life, away from television, doing exercise and sport. Any sport.
We're a bit hopeless at cricket in this country though, don't you think Dickie?
I'll tell you - it comes down to this... Why do we have academies for football or cricket? There doesn't seem to be much point because we're not playing the Yorkshire youngsters - we're playing overseas footballers and cricketers instead. Who'll suffer in the end? It'll be the England football team and the England cricket team. It's very sad. As a Yorkshireman through and through - and this is a vast county - I think we can play eleven Yorkshiremen, like they did in my day when I used to play. I'm not one for going back into history, don't get me wrong. But you have to be born in Yorkshire to play for it. I would have played for Yorkshire for nothing. I would! I were so proud to walk through those gates at Headingley and be part of a great Yorkshire squad.
What's the proudest moment of your career?
Umpiring four World Cup Finals - that's got to stand out - and all the Test matches I've umpired all over the world. Being awarded the MBE in 1986. But I'd say having lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace was my proudest. That day were so special. There was only the Queen, Prince Edward, myself and a retired headmistress there.We had a marvellous lunch and then the headmistress had to go and so did Prince Edward because he had other appointments; so I sat there with the Queen all afternoon in the lounge drinking coffee.We talked about everything and let the world go by. It were marvellous. (Pause). I left at 10 to five.
It's been a pleasure.
Good lad. And very best wishes to all your readers.