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November 27, 2004
The former umpire and left-handed allrounder Bill Alley, who played for Somerset until the age of 49, has died. He was 85.
The colourful Alley was born and educated in Sydney, Australia, but eventually settled in the West Country. And he didn't start out in cricket. He was firstly a bouncer before becoming a middleweight boxer, and he remained undefeated in 28 contests before he was forced to give it up after being hit on the head in the nets at cricket practice. And it wasn't until the age of 38 that he played county cricket, when Somerset took him on after he had proven his worth over nine successful seasons in the Lancashire leagues, where he was a popular player for Colne and Blackpool.
When Somerset did not offer him a new contract he was notably put out, not least because he had contributed 19,612 first-class runs - with a top score of 229 not out - and taken 738 wickets for them. And he became the last player to strike 3000 in one season, in 1961. His gully fielding was also razor-sharp, and he gained a reputation for never dropping a catch.
After being forced to give up playing county cricket, he took up umpiring instead and went on to enjoy 16 seasons as a first-class umpire, although his penchant for awarding lbws earned him the nickname "Finger-Happy Joe" in some quarters (mainly batting ones). Alley also officiated in ten Tests, and was standing in the Headingley Test in 1977 as Geoffrey Boycott struck his 100th century.
Although he was tipped by Sir Donald Bradman to make it as Test player, he didn't step on to the ultimate stage. But, as Peter Robinson, a former Somerset colleague, told The Times: "There can't be many better cricketers who didn't appear in Test cricket."
Alley was married to Betty, who he met when playing cricket in the north of England, and they had two sons. He also had one son from his first marriage, who died in an Army accident.
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