Dickie Bird turns 87 on April 19. But with the world coming to a standstill due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, he has no plans to celebrate the birthday this year.
The legendary English cricket umpire, who retired all the way back in 1996, will spend the day at home – all alone – watching television and perhaps talking to a few friends over the phone.
For years, Bird has lived a solitary life, on his own terms.
“I live on my own. I never married because of my profession in cricket. I would travel all around the world and would never be home,” Bird told Sportstar on Friday.
At a time when the world is in a lockdown due to the pandemic, Bird, like millions of people around the world, is confined to his home. “I have a huge house with great view (in Barnsley in England), so I make the most of it,” he said.
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But not even in his wildest dreams could Bird imagine that something like this pandemic would jeopardise everything, and the last few weeks have been challenging for the veteran umpire.
Bird hasn’t been able to step out of home, go for his walks, or even visit the Yorkshire Cricket Ground (Headingley) in Leeds to watch local cricket. “I cannot go out of home. I am isolated,” he said. “I can just go out to the garden, sit there for a while, and take in a bit of sunshine. That’s as far as I can get,” he said.
At his age, living alone is not easy, but Bird is grateful to his neighbours who have made sure that he has enough supplies and food. “I have got good neighbours. A lady who lives down the lane has been bringing me food. I have got food sent from the Barnsley Council as well. It (the crisis) could go on for months, so I have got to stick it out,” he said.
“I have gone through a lot of things in life, but I have never seen something like this, where people are bringing me food and leaving it at my backdoor. They knock on the door and say, ‘We have brought you food.’ Things are such that you can’t be in contact with anybody,” he said, adding that in such times, it is important to stay motivated.
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“If you don’t talk (to people), you could get depressed. So, you have got to try and occupy your mind and keep going,” he explained.
Bird, who officiated in 66 Tests and 69 One-Day Internationals between 1973 and 1996, has come up with a new routine these days. “I wake up in the morning, do some fitness exercise for about 50 minutes. That keeps me mentally strong,” he said.
Once done with the morning exercises, Bird spends most of the time watching old cricket matches on television and rekindling memories. “That’s all you can do now – watch television, go to bed, wake up next morning, and follow the same routine.”
With England badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, all sporting action has come to a halt. While Premier League football has been postponed, there is no clarity on whether the English County Championship, the premier domestic cricket tournament, will be held at all this summer. “I don’t think there will be any county cricket this season. What they are probably looking at is having T20 (Twenty20) games. That’s where the money comes from. That’s something they will try and get in August,” Bird, a former president of the Yorkshire Cricket Club, said.
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“In my retirement, sports keeps me going. In winters, I watch football at my local club Barnsley, where I am a season ticket holder. In summers, I watch cricket at the Yorkshire Cricket Club, where I have a life membership. That’s what’s kept me going so far. But now, there is nothing at all. There is no sports. The way things are going, it’s looking very gloomy,” he said ruefully.