WITH less than seven weeks to go until they hope to start the season, the Mewies Solicitors Craven League, which covers a large area from Bradford to East Lancashire, are facing an umpiring crisis.

League secretary Peter Foster, who has sent what he calls an ‘urgent appeal’ to all 26 clubs in the league, has underlined the dilemma, which is a direct consequence of Covid-19.

He said: “At the moment we have only 17 or 18 panel umpires for the new season, whereas our numbers were in the forties in 2019, and we need a minimum of 24 to staff matches every Saturday – and ideally 48.

“We have lost a lot of umpires due to Covid. They haven’t died, but they just found something different to do on a weekend.”

Foster added: “They have got used to being without cricket” in a reference to the shortened 2020 season, and some presumably also have health concerns despite the appearance of vaccinations for coronavirus.

The league are appealing to their member clubs in the hope that club umpires who either stood last season or want to stand in 2021 will come forward so that they can receive help and general training from the ECB, whose initial training is free.

Foster said: “We will give them all the help that we can in terms of advice, courses, guidance etc – and we would never start them off on their own. They would always be with an experienced umpire to begin with.”

His message to clubs stated: “Hi everyone, this is an urgent appeal and please give it your best attention.

“The Umpires’ Association hasn't come through the pandemic very well, with several of the more senior umpires taking the opportunity to hang up their white coats.

“This in a nutshell means that the association must recruit in order to service the league with standing panel umpires at both ends.

“Could you please take a few minutes to chat with your club umpires and players recently retired or about to retire and ask if they would like to come onto the panel.

“Full guidance, training, qualifications and ongoing support will be given.”

Any interested umpires can contact Foster on 07884 328551.