WHILE most local cricket leagues are struggling for umpires, the Aire-Wharfe League have an impressive 118 men or women in white coats for the 2021 season.

That is about 100 more than on the panel for the Craven League or the Dales Council League.

“We had about 112 umpires last season and between 110 and 115 the year before,” revealed Aire-Wharfe League umpires’ appointments secretary Dave Bell.

Admittedly it is easier to recruit umpires for senior leagues such as the Aire-Wharfe – quality of grounds, standard of cricket, maybe even financial renumeration – but it is still a startling difference, so how have the Aire-Wharfe League managed to do so well?

“It is the carrot and stick approach, and both work well,” admitted Bell.

“The carrot is if a club provides a new umpire and they do eight games – that could be one doing eight games or eight doing one - the club get £50 off their annual subscription the next year.

“The stick is that if a club fails to provide an umpire or umpires who do six games a season, the club gets a £50 fine. If they fail to provide an umpire or umpires for at least six matches the next season, the fine is doubled to £100.”

Bell added: “We have been aggressive in our recruitment and, for example, we have had umpires join us from the Bradford League, the Huddersfield League, the Craven League and the Nidderdale League, so we have recruited from a representative area.”

While the number 118 for panel umpires is beyond the wildest dreams of many, Bell warns others that the Aire-Wharfe League are not the cavalry coming over the hill to rescue them.

He admitted: “On most Saturdays we only have 65-70 umpires available, and we need 72 umpires to fully staff our matches in the Aire-Wharfe League.

“Only about once a season do we have any umpires spare to send to other leagues, and they tend to go to the Bradford League and the York & District League if we do.”

By comparison, the Bradford League, who are still collating their numbers for the new season, have about 70 to 80 panel umpires, while the Halifax League have the same number as last year – 58.

Back to the drawing board then for those grass-roots leagues, although Craven League secretary Peter Foster has had about four potential umpires contact him after a league-wide SOS a couple of weeks ago, while Dales Council League umpires’ appointments secretary Maria Vasudev has been in contact with one new recruit.