Harold "Dickie" Bird is a national hero: the leading cricket umpire of the age and a man blessed with a Parsifal-like innocence. Once, in conversation with another umpire, voices rose on the pitch as the two took their stands: "You should get married, Dickie." "I'm scared of women. They might give you Aids." Then, from square leg "What, even our lass?"

Yet such stories defer to the full horror of the Yorkshire side in which Dickie played 40 years ago - a regime roughly on a par with the early- middle period Soviet Union, tempered by the existence of many Stalins rather than one. Dickie recalls the awful Fred Truman and the less pleasant Geoffrey Boycott.

He also recounts the Leeds equivalent of the three o' clock knock. Ronnie Burnet, brought in from the League as captain, managed straight away to win the championship. Thousands lined the streets of Scarborough. Peter May, England captain, remarked publicly how much Yorkshire owe to Burnet. The following January, Bird had a phone call from Burnet: "Why are you crying, Skipper?" I said. "I've been sacked as the Yorkshire captain."

Years later, the subject comes up in the presence of Truman, who says that "Burnet should never have been captain in the first place. I should have been the bloody captain."

Then there is Geoff Boycott, not yet an opener but pressed to go in first by the captain. "I've told you I'm batting number three. No way am I going in first." Bird himself and Eddie Legard (who very sensibly later went to Warwickshire) opened and knocked off the winning total of 186 together. As they walked into the dressing room, "Boycott threw his bat. It whisked over our heads and smashed into the door. 'Why didn't you get out and give me a chance to bat?'"

Even among the Yorkshire hard-cases, Brian Close sounds like a Monty Python parody. Bird umpired his exile county Somerset, playing the Australians. "Greg Chappell received a half-volley... and hit it towards Close at short leg with tremendous power." Hit direct, Close "didn't even rub the spot." His shin swelled up to twice normal size "like a rotten tomato - blood oozing out 'Nowt ter worry about lad' was all he said. 'I'm alright.' He always called me 'lad' did Brian".

Then there is Close in Worcester, offering to swim the Severn both ways at midnight for a bet. He did it. Or Close getting a whack on the head at short leg, and demanding "Did you catch the rebound?" They did.

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