"I am a Norfolk man and Glory in being so." Horatio Nelson



Even if you have only occasionally attended short mat bowls matches at county, or perhaps national level, you will more than likely have noticed those people who stand around in smart maroon blazers or waistcoats, with little metal cases, and who only seem to burst into action when they are asked to measure an end of bowls. These are of course the umpires. But what exactly is their role, apart from a bit of measuring now and again? 

I am the currently elected Umpires’ Officer for Norfolk County Short Mat Bowls Association, and in this occasional column I hope to highlight the work of our umpires, to give you a wider appreciation of what exactly their role is in the game, and just as importantly, what it is not. I will also feature some common situations with which umpires have to deal, and pose a few rules teasers which all umpires should know about!

All umpires are directly responsible to the ESMBA which appoints and directs them, through the National Director of Umpiring, currently Joseph Newsome. To become an umpire, training is given and then any candidate has to be successful in all three parts of an examination, consisting of written answers and an oral test on the rules of the game, followed by a practical test on situations which any umpire might face in carrying out their duties. The various grades of umpiring start at county level (requiring a new umpire to have officiated in at least 6 qualifying matches), progressing through to national level (at least 4 qualifying matches) and then to international level. Umpires can also train and qualify to be examiners of umpiring candidates.

The duties of an umpire are clearly listed in the ESMBA Laws of the Game handbook, a copy of which all registered players should possess. The relevant section is on page 30 of the current edition. Reading it will immediately show that ‘measure of all difficult shots when requested’ is only fourth on the list contained there. Top of the list is to ‘enforce the ESMBA Laws of the Game’. Of course, this does not mean that umpires are going to be stomping about laying the law down at every opportunity. They aim to be as unobtrusive as possible. However, they are there to ensure that the rules of the game are adhered to at all times, and will step in if necessary, in an appropriate way. Usually, a quiet word of guidance is all that is required. The second most important duty is to be a consultant on any aspect of the laws and possible consequences arising. In the event of a dispute, an umpire will arbitrate and make a decision which is final. Umpires will naturally do their upmost to perform their duties to the highest standards, but players are not allowed to interfere with an umpire’s legitimate exercise of their duties or dispute any decision made by an umpire. 

Importantly, during the normal progress of a match, an umpire is in charge of the play but never the playing. For example, a foot-fault will be picked up by an umpire, but they will politely decline to give advice on which bowl may be nearer to the jack before an end is completed. 

Now, here is the first rules teaser for you to ponder:

During an end, the jack is sitting on the ditch line so that part of it is in the live area. A live bowl which has just been played enters the ditch without touching the jack first and then without touching the fender or any bowls at rest in the ditch it contacts the jack. Is this bowl dead or a toucher and which rule covers this situation? The answer will be given next time.    

And finally, if any of you would like to consider becoming an ESMBA umpire, then do please get in touch with me (contact details on the MANAGEMENT page) and I will be very pleased to assist you in applying, as well as entering you into our training and examination preparation programme.

Peter Walker