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Association History

The Sydney Shires Cricket Competition (formerly known as Municipal and Shires) was founded in 1923 and its main function has always been as an alternative competition to the Sydney Grade Competition, both of which are conducted in the metropolitan suburbs of Sydney.

Although many over the years have viewed Shires Cricket as a second tier competition to Sydney Grade Cricket, it is now widely acknowledged that the standard of play in Shires extensively crosses over with Grade Cricket. Many now agree that Shires First Grade is equivalent in standard to play conducted in SCA Second Grade Cricket.

Shires cricket began in 1923, initially as a one-grade competition. In 1928 a second grade was added to the competition, with the terms "A" Division and "B" Division used to differentiate between the two grades. The competition continued in this format, right through until 1957, at which time a "C" Division was created. Further expansion in 1982 saw the competition extend to a "D" Division. Finally in 1987 the competition saw the need to create a subsidiary competition, to be played as limited overs matches on selected Sundays, for players under the age of 24. Initially this competition was restricted to five Sunday rounds but it has since been extended to seven. This competition was named "The Frank Gray Shield". In 1993 the phrasing of "A" to "D" to describe teams rankings was changed to 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade Shires.

The structure of cricket in Sydney has always revolved around the Sydney Grade Competition and its governing body, the Sydney Cricket Association (SCA). The SCA has also been the governing body for the Shires competition.

The charter of the SCA through the ages has been to ensure that all available umpires from the NSW Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association are allocated firstly to Grade Cricket (Grades 1 thru 5) and then to Shires cricket.

People I have spoken to who played Shires Cricket as far back as the 1940's and as recently as the late 1980's have all told me that they rarely saw umpires even in "A" Division Shires and that the only time an umpire appeared in Shires cricket was in semi and grand finals. The NSW Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association during these years tended never to have enough active members to cover all Sydney Grade matches, let alone Shires ones. Come finals time, however, Shires was graced with umpires’ attendances due to the reduced number of Grade fixtures requiring umpires for those weekends.

And so for as long as most Shires people remember, games in this competition were conducted with players from the batting team having to adjudicate match decisions on the opponents in the field and on their own team-mates who were batting. This of course was not always a healthy way of playing cricket, with decision making sometimes being somewhat questionable, to say the least!

During the late 1980's the numbers of available umpires from the NSW Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association grew and some limited numbers of Shires "A" Division matches (then renamed to Shires 1st Grade) began obtaining the services of umpires. At some point during this era (probably in 1989) a decision was reached by the Sydney Cricket Association that saw the NSW Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association asked to allocate umpires to Shires 1st Grade games ahead of SCA 5th Grade matches. The reasoning, of course, behind this decision was that Shires First Grade was of a much higher standard than SCA 5th Grade.

Under this new policy the 1990's saw most Shires 1st Grade games get umpires from the NSW Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association on a week-to-week basis. Whilst this was seen as a better alternative to not having any umpires at all, some clubs raised concern that the quality of umpires being supplied was quite poor for the standard of cricket being played, and that these umpires were seen as being at the bottom of the pecking order. It was during these years that the then President of the Lindfield CC, Stirling Hamman, started to promote the concept that it would be a better idea if the Shires competition started up its own Umpires Association. In those years, however, there was little support for this concept, and although there was plenty of talk about this idea in club committee rooms, no real action was ever put into place to see this idea come to fruition.

The month leading up to the start of the 2000/2001 season produced a number of watershed moments in the history of the Shires competition.

The recently introduced Laws of Cricket (2000 Code) saw the numbers of umpire applicants for the upcoming season plummet to its lowest level since 1987. Registrations of available umpires for the upcoming season had decreased so significantly from the previous one and there was a very real possibility that a significant number of SCA 5th Grade matches may at times have one or even no umpires appointed to them. To counteract this, a decision was made, without consultation with the Shires clubs, by the SCA Committee of Management, chaired by Noel Laming, to overturn the previous policy of appointing umpires to Shires 1st Grade ahead of SCA 5th Grade. This decision caused much concern, anger and resentment amongst Shire Clubs at the time.

As was probably expected, Season 2000/2001 kicked off in not so grand fashion. With the majority of Shires 1st Grade matches having to revert back to player umpires for the first time in nearly a decade an increased number of matches ended in unsavoury disputes with arguments and disagreements taking place on the field over the poor quality of umpiring and the lack of honesty shown in decision making by players having to adjudicate on their own team mates. The matter however came to a head in the now infamous Round 3 fixture played at Lance Hutchinson Oval where Canterbury Bexley had hosted Warringah on day 1 without official umpires. On day 2 without any pre-notice both teams were presented with a scenario where official umpires had arrived to take control of the days play. Having played without umpires on day 1 captain Steve Luc from Canterbury Bexley insisted that the match should not have umpires on day 2 to keep the consistency from day 1 to day 2 where players from the batting side did the umpiring. Geoff Tucker the Warringah captain agreed with this request and both captains asked the umpires to go home. The umpires duly agreed but then reported the captains to the SCA who promptly filed a code of conduct report against both players and requested they explain their actions in front of the Judiciary. Following the incidents that arose from this game it was finally decided by those on the Shires Competition Sub Committee that a decision had to be made to re-explore the idea of a dedicated Umpires Association for Shires Cricket.

Initially there was some resistance to this idea, as some Shires Clubs believed that this initiative was letting the SCA off the hook in its duty to ensure there were enough umpires to cater to Grade AND Shires cricket. In fact some Shires Clubs still believed that they had a chance of convincing the SCA Committee of Management to go back on its previous decision to appoint umpires to SCA 5th Grade before Shires 1st Grade.

While all this was happening Stirling Hamman was talking up his ideas, within the Shires community, that a Shires Umpires Panel would be a viable option. It was during this time he approached Peter Turner and asked him if he would be prepared to help out getting a Shires Umpires Panel off the ground. Peter had been a long time player at Lindfield CC and had just finished a short umpiring career in Grade Cricket. When Stirling heard that Peter had decided not to umpire in SCA Grade Cricket in 2000/2001, he jumped on the opportunity calling in a favour with Peter, who agreed in theory to try to put together a group of umpires who would dedicate themselves to officiate solely in Shires.

By mid November 2000 it was obvious that the numbers of available umpires for the season were not going to improve and the decision by the SCA Committee of Management, whereby umpires had to be appointed to SCA 5th Grade games ahead of Shires 1st Grade, was not going to be reversed despite some extremely heated committee meetings being held on the topic.

A call was made to all Shires Clubs by the Shires Competition Sub Committee that anybody who wished to "volunteer" to umpire should contact Peter Turner, who would arrange for volunteers to be distributed to as many Shires 1st Grade games as possible. Besides this call for volunteers Peter Turner managed to acquire the services of a small number of accredited umpires who had either recently retired from SCA Grade Cricket or who had expressed an interest in only umpiring in Shires Cricket.

Some of these volunteers and recently retired grade umpires were allocated by Peter to vacant Shires 1st Grade games from late November 2000. By January 2001 the very small numbers that overflowed from Grade cricket were now being allocated to Shires 2nd Grade by Peter Hughes from the NSWCU&SA, with the allocation of 1st Grade Shires being left solely to Peter Turner. Peter did however have the option to "call up" grade umpires allocated to Shires 2nd Grade to fill gaps in Shires 1st Grade. This process was then used for the remainder of that season, with between six and eight "Shires Umpires" officiating on top of any miniscule overflow from the grade competition.

During the off-season, the Shires Clubs finally conceded and agreed to formally support the establishment of a Shires Umpires Association affiliated with the NSW body. In July 2001, with a green light given to see if a group of interested persons might want to join an official Shires Umpires Group, a meeting was held at the Briars Club in Burwood. Peter Turner who organised this meeting was in attendance. The meeting turned out to be a bit of a disaster, with the only other attendees being Stephen Blomfield (a recently retired player from Auburn CC), Bruce Parfett and Ivan Holland (both with contacts at Epping CC), Ragoo Rajogopalan and Tom Shiner (both accredited umpires). The poor attendance (over 50 invitations to various parties had been extended) almost spelt the death of the idea, with some of the attendees expressing the opinion that it might not be worth the effort. Not discouraged, Stephen Blomfield agreed to temporarily take on the role of a Secretary and would spend the next few months making phone calls to a list of umpires that Peter Turner had provided him.

This initial list contained the names of some umpires who, in the previous season, had umpired exclusively in Shires, as well as the names of some umpires recently retired from Grade Cricket. Initial expectations with the poor attendance of the July meeting indicated that the Shires Competition would be lucky in the coming season to obtain the services of enough umpires to maybe at best cover 50% of 1st Grade matches each week. A lot of phone calls and a lot of mail-outs later it was decided to plough on and see what would transpire.

By late August 2001 Stephen Blomfield had managed to acquire a commitment from 13 people who had agreed that they would like to participate as umpires only in the Shires competition. This was only one person short of the 14 that would be needed to completely fill all 1st Grade Shires matches with 2 umpires each Saturday. It was at this time that Stephen then began to regularly liaise with Peter Hughes, from the NSWCU&SA, who was the appointments officer for Grade cricket. Peter had always indicated his support for the setting up of an Umpires Association dedicated to the Shires competition and was keen for this new concept to work. Fortunately for both Peter and Stephen something happened in the months leading up to the start of the 2001/02 season that would benefit the number of umpires that would be made available to Shires Cricket in the new season. Firstly, the Petersham and Randwick Grade Cricket Clubs had agreed to merge for the upcoming season. This meant that Grade cricket in Sydney was reduced from 20 to 19 clubs and a bye would need to be installed into the competition. This of course meant that the number of games in SCA Grade Cricket was reduced from 10 to 9 matches per grade per round. The resulting benefit was that Peter Hughes was now only required to supply 90 umpires to Grade Cricket each week instead of the previous seasons 100. This meant that Peter needed to register 10 less members for Grade Cricket in 2001/02 and the 10 members that didn't make the final cut were asked to join the newly formed Shires Umpires Association for the season.

At last a group of umpires just for the Shires competition was a reality.