South Yorkshire Dickie Bird is one of cricket’s most iconic characters. His personality and skills as an umpire combined has made him one of the most recognisable people from the county.
- Growing Up
- The Beginning of Dickie Bird’s Career
- The Best & Most Respected Umpire
- Notable Events
- Recognised around the World
- Arriving Ridiculously Early
- A New Era of Cricket
- Dickie Bird’s Last Match
- Dickie Bird’s Retirement
- Dickie Bird’s Services to Cricket & Charity
On the 19th of April 1933, Harold Dennis Bird was born on Church Lane in Barnsley. After leaving school, his fate along with many of his schoolmates was to be at the coal face and for a while a life down the pit seemed inevitable for young Dickie.
Soon into his mining life, Dickie realised that this wasn’t for him and decided to pursue a career in his favourite sport – football. Dickie was a talented inside-right however his fledgling career was cut short by an injury he sustained which then led him to the gentler sport of cricket.
Dickie played for that famous post-war Barnsley team along with fellow opener Michael Parkinson and one Geoffrey Boycott. Although Dickie would never hit the heights of his teammate, he started his county career with Yorkshire in 1956 against Scotland.
Barnsley lad Dickie was a right-handed batsman with some talent. When he arrived at the White Rose County, they were going through one of their most successful periods causing Dickie to struggle holding down a place in the team.
Occasionally, Dickie only featured when the senior players were away on Test match duty for England. Dickie did however manage a memorable 181 not out against Glamorgan during a county game in Bradford but was dropped for the next game when his teammates returned.
Dickie became unsettled at Yorkshire and eventually decided to move onto Leicestershire where the opener was given more game time. It was here during 1960 that he played his best season when he topped 1,000 runs. Despite this he remained a county player never capped by his country.
Although he was talented enough to make it as a professional cricketer in Yorkshire which is an achievement in itself, his moderate success was often put down to his nervousness when batting. This quirk along with his other eccentricities were to become the making of him when he hung up his pads in 1965 at the young age of 32.
Dickie Bird spent the second half of the 1960’s playing in league cricket and also coaching children who aspired to be cricketers. Soon after, he decided that he wanted to try his hand at umpiring and after learning this art soon rose through the ranks.
In 1973 he stood in his first international game, fittingly, at the Headingley Test Match between England and New Zealand. Throughout the next 26 years, Dickie would become the best and most respected umpire in the game.
Dickie Bird was an umpire in an era where the men out in the middle made all of the decisions without the use of technology. His immaculate judgement, concentration and reading of each delivery earned him a strong reputation and respect making him the best umpire of his time.
Not only could he make the right decision most of the time, he also carried out his work with his down to earth Yorkshire humour. In many cases this diffused potentially heated situations out on the field.
Once when Dickie Bird was umpiring a West Indies match, he had a word with the great bowler Malcolm Marshall for bowling too many bouncers. Afterwards Marshall angrily threw the ball to the boundary and Dickie replied “Malcolm, while I have a word with the captain, I would like you to fetch that ball back!” which caused Malcolm to smile in response.
Dickie Bird’s nervousness and humorous characteristics helped him deal with some of the game’s most volatile characters who always gave him the utmost respect. On many occasions he’s entertained too and the presence of Dickie has become a spectacle in itself.
One of these occasions happened during a test match at Old Trafford between England and the West Indies. Dickie humorously ran off the pitch to answer a call of nature much to the amusement of players and fans.
In 1987 at Headingley, Dickie Bird led the players off of the pitch. Water had leaked onto the pitch on the bowler’s run up due to a blocked drain.
Another happened on the same ground in 1995 when he became flustered about the sun reflecting off several windows into the batsman and fielder’s eyes. Dickie ended up at the boundary’s edge yelling at the people in the hospitality boxes to close their windows who jokingly invited him up for a beer. This incident even made the evening news.
Dickie Bird’s umpiring skills and personality have made him recognisable to people across the world. One time in Sri Lanka, Dickie was being dropped off at the cricket ground when he accidentally got out on the wrong side of the taxi into the middle of the road.
This incident caused the traffic around him to suddenly stop. It didn’t take people long to recognise who it was that was causing the commotion and drivers began to shout “Mr Dickie Bird” whilst he humorously darted out of the way.
Dickie Bird was known for arriving at matches ridiculously early. This was especially the case on one occasion when he was apprehended by an Oval Security guard at 6am in the morning because The Queen was due to visit that day and he was worried about being late.
By the early 90’s, the game of cricket was beginning to change and make way for a new era of cricket. In 1994 the introduction of neutral umpires meant that Dickie Bird could no longer officiate in England Matches.
Two years earlier, a game in South Africa trialled a “third umpire” who had the ability to overrule decisions made by the on field official by using instant replay. Future proposals would further take away the powers of on-field umpires in favour of this new technology.
Dickie Bird always opposed such moves and claimed that all of the decision-making should stay with the on-field umpire. It’s argued that this was perhaps the influence in his decision to retire.
His last match was when England played India in June 1996 with a packed Lords crowd. As he walked out of the Long Room, an emotional Dickie was met with a standing ovation around the famous old ground plus a guard of honour from both sets of players.
Ironically, the person who organised the player’s tribute was the England Captain and opener Michael Atherton was duly given out lbw by Dickie in the third ball match. Two years later, Dickie Bird stood in his final county match and went into retirement.
In total, Dickie Bird has umpired in 66 test matches and 69 one day games which at the time was a record.
Since Dickie had more time on his hands now that he’d retired, he decided to write an autobiography packed with cricket stories from handling some of the sport’s biggest names, his playing career and personal life. In total the book sold over three million copies.
In 2004, Dickie started up his charity called the “Dickie Bird Foundation”. This charity’s purpose is to help children who are disadvantaged to take up any recognised sport.
In 2009, a rather amusing episode in his native Barnsley occurred. That year a statue of Dickie Bird had been unveiled with him in a familiar pose – finger raised in the air as though he was giving a player “out”.
Naughty drunken revellers passing the statue in College Square hung a number of items on his famous sculpted finger including knickers, bras and even a pumpkin at Halloween. This resulted in the town council having to raise the plinth by five feet to deter the jokers.
During his retirement, Dickie has maintained a keen interest in cricket. He continues to be a strong voice on the game regarding his concern at the use of further technology to aid umpires and players such as the DRS appeal system.
Dickie Bird has been recognised twice by the Queen for his services to cricket and charity. As a result, he has been awarded an MBE and OBE honours in 1986 and 2012.
In 2014, Dickie received perhaps the greatest honour of all in the cricket world. He was given the opportunity to become the President of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club succeeding his friend Geoffrey Boycott.
Seven years later in 2021, Dickie Bird was recorded to have officiated the highest number of test matches in a single nation – 54 test matches in England. He’s also become the only umpire to have officiated fifteen test matches at Lord’s which is higher than any other umpire.
Dickie Bird continues to proudly sit at Headingley to watch the current Yorkshire team as the President of the club he first practised at as a 16 year old in 1949. This Barnsley lad is truly one of Yorkshire’s greatest characters and a cricketing legend.