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



Welcome to the second edition of Umpires' Corner and thank you to those who made encouraging comments about the first contribution to this occasional column for the NCSMBA website.

It might be the case that the first thing to wear out on an umpire's clothing is the knees of his or her trousers, or perhaps the knees themselves. Umpires do an awful lot of kneeling down, after all, closely scrutinising heads of bowls to be measured. And, as it is usually the close measures the umpires have to deal with, great care has to be taken, especially when there are leaning bowls involved. One does not have to be an umpire for too long to come across measures where it is a matter of a millimetre or even less to determine a counting bowl. Of course, umpires are trained and examined on just how to deal with such situations. However, it also becomes quickly clear that a measure can be affected by even the slightest of movement on the mat before, say, an umpire is called in to adjudicate. 

It is always best to avoid situations where a question might arise as to whether a bowl has been displaced even slightly by a player's actions before a measure is taken. Appendix 1 in the Rules Book defines a displaced or disturbed bowl (or jack) as one which has been accidentally moved (by any means) otherwise than by a bowl (or jack) in play. Rule B4 covers what to do in the case of a disturbed bowl and Rule C4 covers the same for a disturbed jack. There are obvious cases when these rules will apply, but are there other situations when it is not quite so obvious? Umpires regularly see quite a few of these instances which are normally just ignored by players, and may well be considered as too trivial. However, it is worth bearing in mind the comments about tight measures.

Here are a few commonly seen instances of technically disturbed bowls which could affect a measure. Placing a foot near to bowls to consider a possible shot. Dragging a cloth between bowls to indicate a possible route for a delivered bowl. Placing a finger on the mat in the ditch and lifting a bowl to see if it is marked as a toucher (once lifted, the bowl should be considered as dead, whatever the case). Marking a toucher by holding a leaning bowl with one hand and swiping chalk across it with the other (better to use spray, or nominate before the next bowl is delivered and mark it as soon as it is safe to do so). Kicking conceded bowls out of a completed head before measuring other potential shots.

None of us want to be so hot on every minute aspect of the rules, which would distract from any enjoyment of playing the game. It is always best to avoid such situations in the first place, and in most cases it is easily possible to do so. Naturally, sometimes we can only but do our best. For example, when placing touchers  or the jack back into their marked positions in the ditch after being moved by non-touchers there might be some small unavoidable error. And, of course, umpires have the luxury under the rules of simply replacing any disturbed bowl or jack they might accidentally move when measuring, although they do make every effort to avoid that embarrassment. In which case, the advice is, if in any doubt, pull the umpire out of their quiet life and make them take the strain!

I had a number of people give me the correct response to the rules teaser I set last time, correctly quoting the special rule for this situation, which is contained in C. THE JACK (2) LIVE JACK (b) on page 13 of the LAWS book. The bowl is a legitimate toucher, but note that the jack must be live.

Now for the next teaser:

A player accidentally knocks over a leaning bowl in the live area whilst they are inspecting the head during an end being played. They replace the bowl to its leaning position and leave the mat. Is this a legitimate remedy under the rules or are there other options open and to whom are they available if there are any?

Answer next time as usual.

And finally, my offer again for any of you considering training to become an ESMBA umpire, do please get in contact with me (contact details on the MANAGEMENT page) and I will be very pleased to assist you in applying and supporting you with suitable training for the practical examination.

Peter Walker


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