Passed/Failed: Dickie Bird

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Dickie (Harold Dennis) Bird MBE, 65, has

retired as a cricket umpire. A former player,

he umpired first-class cricket for 27 years, in

66 Test Matches, three World Cup Finals and

92 One-Day Internationals. 'Dickie Bird: My

Autobiography' is now out in paperback

Opening balls: The nickname "Dickie" was given to me at school. Tommy Taylor, my schoolfriend and later an international footballer who tragically lost his life in the Munich air disaster in 1958, became "Tucker" - Little Tommy Tucker. His father and my father used to work at the same coalface at Monk Bretton Colliery; the father of Michael Parkinson was a deputy at Grimethorpe Colliery. It was said in those days that you only had to shout down a pit shaft and up would pop a fast bowler - or a centre- forward like Tommy Taylor. We were both at Burton Road Primary School together. I enjoyed school because of the sport; that's all I lived for. We all wanted to be professional footballers and cricketers.

Rough trade: When it came to examinations, the bright boys like Michael Parkinson went to Barnsley Grammar School, and the others went to Raley Secondary Modern. I went to Raley. I didn't mind, because it was a good school for sport. It was at Raley that I started playing competitive sport and became captain of the cricket and football teams, the smallest player in either. We had to play cricket on the football ground; it was very rough - not exactly Lord's! The ball was flying over your head and shooting over the ground.

Nets gain: When I was 14 I went to Barnsley Cricket Club to try to get a game, but a chap in the nets took one look at this skinny young lad and told me to go away. As I walked to the bus, a man stopped me and asked why I was crying. I explained. He was Alf Broadhead, a club player, and he took me to the nets and bowled to me all night. It was a turning-point in my life, which could have been completely different. He bowled not only to me, but to Geoff Boycott and Michael Parkinson for hours on end. While I was still only 15, I opened the innings for Barnsley. Parky was the other opener.

Out for 15: I left school at 15; all you left with was your report. I remember my headmaster saying: "Just one word of advice, lad. If I were you, I'd stick to sport. You're not much use at anything else, but I think you might do well at that."

High flying Bird: I was given Honorary Doctorates by Leeds and Sheffield Hallam Universities. That meant so much to me: dressing up in the cap and gown! It wasn't bad, really, for a secondary modern schoolboy. By playing sport and going all over the world, I learned so much. I sign every autograph for every little lad. I answer all the mail. Elderly people write to me, in some cases saying that the enjoyment I've given them has prolonged their lives - and I'm only an umpire!