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Cricket: Meyer bids farewell to his second love

Stephen Brenkley hears the retiring umpire confess that cricket was not his life
One long summer in the mid-Fifties a classy Second Division inside forward came a general dogsbody at the county cricket club down the road. The job killed some close-season time. It also transformed Barrie Meyer's life.

At the age of 24 he discovered he was a natural wicketkeeper. He occupied the position in Gloucestershire's first team for 14 years and 406 matches and went on to become one of the world's top umpires. Today, after 40 years in the game he retires.

"I always wanted to be a footballer. That was the only thing that mattered to me," Meyer said as he gazed out over the Bristol ground where he was standing for the very last time. "I came down here with one or two of the other lads I played with and helped in moving round benches and setting things up for matches. But it never entered my head that I'd be a cricketer."

Meyer had been signed by Bristol Rovers as 17-year-old and swiftly established a reputation as a goalscoring inside left. He struck 60 times for them in 139 Lleague matches (he also got one in the famous 4-0 FA Cup victory over Manchester United in 1951) and had equally profitable periods at Plymouth, Newport County and Bristol City. Although he played only 11 times for City he must be one of the few footballers to score a hat-trick in his last League match.

It is in cricket's annals that his name will always have a place. He was much more than a journeyman 'keeper and can call as evidence 118 stumpings made on dodgy, uncovered pitches as well as 709 catches. He would struggle to get a place now (even if it was possible for 24-year-old footballers to unearth latent talents) for he batted at No.10 or 11 throughout his career.

Still, umpiring was the making of Meyer. Having long since fallen in love with the game and its way of life he joined the list in 1973 and has never been off it since. "I was fairly useless for the first three years but somehow I stayed on," he said. "I lacked belief in myself but one day at The Oval there was some time-wasting going on. After a few overs of this I took action. I called the captains together and told them that it was disgraceful and if they didn't stop I'd take them to Lord's. I'm sure it helped to get me respect.

"Not long after I gave Barry Richards out lbw for four at Headingley. He was out all right but he was also the sort of player people come to watch bat. I felt then I had grown in authority."

By 1978 Meyer was on the Test panel. Neither as accident-prone nor as emotional as some, he was a masterful adjudicator throughout the Eighties. He had a wonderful view of several moments to cherish: the maiden Test centuries of both David Gower and Graham Gooch, Ian Botham's first 10 wicket haul, New Zealand's first Test win in England, Richard Hadlee's 200th Test wicket, two World Cup finals. Oh, and Headingley 1981 as well.

He made few mistakes but knew he had to live with them. After upholding an lbw appeal against Viv Richards he realised he had made an error and apologised to the great West Indies batsman. "OK, man, you'll do for me," replied Viv, a mark of the respect in which Meyer was held.

He will spend the winter coaching in South Africa and may stay in the republic. He does not know if he will miss it all back here. "I'll tell you next April." But we shall miss him as we miss all classy inside forwards.