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Jack Price, Umpire

Today Dave Morton remembers an idiosyncratic character that brought colour to club cricket in his area. It’s characters like this that make the amateur game so precious …

You have heard this name before, somewhere. Jack Price. Did he play for Middlesex? Or Glamorgan, perhaps? Did he stand in any Tests?

He might have, but not this Jack Price. Unless you come from Swinton, a little town at the Manchester end of the East Lancashire Road, or you played your cricket in the old Lancashire & Cheshire League, you will likely never have had the pleasure of meeting this legendary man of club cricket. Your loss.

When I started playing in the league, back in 1967, Pricey was already a well-known figure, one of those people it’s not easy to guess their age. He was highly respected as an umpire. “If Jack gives you out, you’re out, young man,” I was told once, sharply, and he was certainly one of the best.

I got to know him quite well, as the years passed. He gave his decisions quickly, decisively, confidently, and even flamboyantly at times, and he managed the game in his own way. He would never have got away with it if he had not been good; but he was good, in a league where the umpiring generally was fine. Most of the better ones were serious types, careful and conscientious. Some would chat, some preferred not to. Pricey was something else entirely. “We’ve got Jack Price today,” someone would say, as we turned up on a Saturday, and there would be smiles all round. The afternoon would not be a dull one.

Stories spread. “We had Pricey last week and you should have heard what he said to….etc.” Jack himself was no mean raconteur, and he loved an audience. The umpires were paid a small fee for their six hours’ work, and Pricey never took his money home, as he held court in the bar, post-match.

There was this bowler who had disputed a ‘wide’ call. “You can bowl better than that,” was the reply. Next ball the angry bowler clean bowled the batsman, and whirled on the umpire. “I told you you were better than that,” said Pricey.

Another involved a no-ball. “What was (bleep) wrong with that?” asked the bowler. “You put your (bleep) foot over the (bleep) line, that’s what was (bleep) wrong with it!” Postman bites dog.

I suspect the league committee types didn’t care for him, but he was a players’ umpire, and he wouldn’t have given a monkey’s about that. He loved cricket, and cricketers, and would talk about the game for ever. He also liked a drink or two. Or three.

The best story of all involved a Cheshire Club called Bollington, and its autocratic headmaster captain, whom Pricey always called Billy Bollington. I think they may have tangled a couple of times! They were not exactly compatible. Bollington is a pretty village, with the River Bollin running along one side of the cricket ground, square with the wicket. On this occasion, in the very first over of the match, a long-hop was clouted into the river, and the ball could not be found.

Back in those days (and probably still today) league rules required each team to provide two balls, a new (or nearly new) match ball, and a serviceable spare, typically a polished up one with about 20 or 30 overs wear. Pricey handed the spare to the bowler, but the Captain wanted his say.

“Jack,” he wheedled, “I know the league bylaws specify a spare but, you know, the Laws of Cricket require a lost ball to be replaced by one of similar wear, and that one was brand new. If that’s okay, I’ll get a new one from the box.”

So off he went, up the distant pavilion steps. Quite a big playing area, Bollington. When he returned, Pricey asked to see the ball.

“It’s absolutely in order, Jack, official league stamp, everything, just like the lost one.”

But Pricey wanted to see it. Insisted. “Remind me what you said, Bill, about the Laws of the Game. ‘Replaced by one of similar wear’, was that the phrase? But the other one is in the river, isn’t it?”

Then he was off and running. Throw, splash. “Now fish it out and bowl with it!”

“Who does he think I am,” Pricey asked us in the bar, a week or two later. “One of his bloody schoolkids? Anyone ready for a drink?”

I’ll have one with you, Pricey, any day.

Dave Morton

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