County news August 28, 2014

Umpires refuse to leave the field


The employment laws will be tested in an unexpected way this autumn when Peter Willey and George Sharp, two long-serving and respected umpires who face mandatory retirement at the end of this season, intend taking the ECB to a tribunal in an effort to prolong their careers beyond the age of 65.

Both are keen to continue officiating in first-class cricket for a further season or two. If they win their case, there would appear to be nothing to prevent a fit individual with unimpaired eyesight carrying on beyond the age of 70.

A change in the law in 2011 stipulated the abolition of a default retirement age. Reaching 65 could no longer be regarded as a 'safe' time to retire employees. Employers would have to show an objective justification for doing so then or on any fixed contractual date.

Willey is regarded as one of the most no-nonsense umpires on the circuit and officiated in international matches between 1996 and 2003. A distinguished playing career with Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and England lasted until he was 41, proof in itself of longevity, and Willey takes the view that he and his colleagues are much fitter than their predecessors.

He has been in the gym this week, in between matches and negotiations with the ECB which have been on-going all summer. "I would like to do a couple more years, but if it all ends next month, I will still have had a very happy time. Our legal people are looking into what we should do," he said. The employment law states that "If an employer wishes to operate a compulsory retirement age after the default retirement age is abolished, they will need objectively to justify it."

The ECB, which has taken legal advice, justifies its policy of compulsory retirement by wishing to promote newly retired players seeking another career. "We want cricketers who give up playing in their mid-thirties to have the chance of umpiring as a second career. History shows that former players make good umpires so we need to provide some certainty as to when opportunities will arise," a spokesman said.

Willey, a former chairman of the umpires association, admitted there was a difference of opinion among the first-class umpires. "Our younger colleagues want us to go, so as not to block their progress, and the older ones are not quite sure. I would not want to go on for ever, for I did as a player. When I retired at 41, things were not working properly," Willey said.

Numerous umpires in the past would have wanted to continue in the game - for the lifestyle and involvement as much as improved remuneration. Ray Julian was one such official. He was forced to stand down in 2001 and continued to stand in matches that were not of first-class status. No doubt Dickie Bird, if he had his way, would still be officiating today.

The last occasion on which an umpire took an employer to a tribunal - Darrell Hair and the ICC in 2007 - the hearing turned into a theatrical event presided over by two heavyweight lawyers who were altogether too sharp for a series of hapless administrators. Robert Griffiths QC, who represented Hair and who chairs MCC's Laws committee, said: "I can see no reason why, if an umpire is capable of properly performing his duties, he should be required to stand down at 65. It seems to me the essential prerequisites of being a good umpire, as with a judge, are good judgement, vast experience and knowledge of the laws of cricket. "

Willey himself does not wish to block the progress of younger individuals. "Young umpires do need experience of matches such as MCC v champion county, rather than us continuing to do these," he admitted. If he does retire, he intends going fishing. "I'm not a great watcher of cricket matches," he said.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Chris on August 28, 2014, 23:31 GMT

    So in the future, the quiz question will be: " Name the man who made his first class debut at the age of sixteen and was still umpiring at first class level fifty years later".

  • ian on August 28, 2014, 22:28 GMT

    Peter Willey enjoys a high reputation in the game. He's just the sort of no-nonsense umpire that keeps players well under control. If there's any sense of justice in this world, both he & George Sharp will continue to umpire at the 1st class level for while yet. Age is just a number; PW could easily be a man in his early fifties, to all intents and appearances. Let's hope that the ECB exercises that rarest of qualities -- common sense -- on this one. As some others have pointed out, their mentoring value to younger umpires cannot be overstated.

  • David on August 28, 2014, 15:26 GMT

    @ CricketingStargazer. Very good points you make. International cricket could use more "no nonsense" umps like Peter Willey to clamp down on the type of behavior that led to the "Anderson vs Jadega" nonsense. Historically, tough old tribal elders instilled discipline & wisdom into younger members. I think most agree that the "Umpire Tribe" could use some tough & fair elders to help the younger women & men to develop the desired balance between tough & fair, & to teach it to some of the players.

    Instead of pensioning these men off, why are they not training umps from around the world. The ECB is 1 of the "big 3," & the "new ICC" promised an improved administration of cricket. What better place for the ECB to start contributing than using the wealth of county umpiring experience in the training of umpires worldwide? Experienced & respected umps like these can only help improve the game. Don't kick them out! Show them the respect they deserve, and use them to better the game!

  • David on August 28, 2014, 15:00 GMT

    "We want cricketers who give up playing in their mid-thirties to have the chance of umpiring as a second career," says the ECB.

    Hmmmm…. I wonder if Kevin Pietersen would be welcomed into a second career umpiring for the ECB? Then again, at the rate Eng retire international players the queue for "umpiring as a second career" must be pretty long, and we know how much patience KP has!

  • Mark on August 28, 2014, 13:55 GMT

    Peter Willey: tough, but fair. Won't stand on on-field nonsense. The sort of umpire the younger ones can learn from. Use the experience of people like Peter Willey and George Sharpe to help the recently retired players who are just entering the game. Pair them up with someone like Peter Willey for a few games and they will gain so much from it.

    Airlines use senior pilots as mentors to newly qualified pilots (the senior pilot acts as commander of the flight, while taking the co-pilot seat). Why not make senior umpires mentors, recognising their experience and giving them the specific task of standing with their young, recently qualified colleagues?

  • Graem on August 28, 2014, 13:45 GMT

    Opportunities for umpires to break onto the professional circuit in England are limited for starters. Young men and women umpires comfortable with the demands of new technology is essential nowadays. The international elite panel relies on domestic panels to bring forward better umpires. The ECB should not allow county cricket to become clogged up with men upwards of their mid 50s.

  • Jeremy on August 28, 2014, 11:02 GMT

    If they are good enough, they are good enough. Simple as that.

  • Reg on August 28, 2014, 10:50 GMT

    Hapless adiminstrators? In cricket? Surely you jest!

  • John on August 28, 2014, 10:44 GMT

    Umpiring is not an easy job so why get rid of two who are doing it well? Performance should be the only real criteria considered so, if they're still performing, there's no reason to ask them to leave as far as I'm concerned.

  • Johann on August 28, 2014, 10:03 GMT

    These are great umpires wishing to continue serving county cricket. 65-year-olds in 2014 are generally in much better shape than they were when the cut-off of 65 was introduced decades ago. So long as they meet the minimum criteria of physical condition (eyesight being the most important), they should not be forced to retire.

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