AN EMBARRASSING climbdown by officials has averted the threat of an umpires’ strike in the Northern Premier Cricket League.
The opening fixtures on April 14 would have been in serious doubt had not officials issued a formal public apology to umpires Ken Shenton and Steve Godfrey over their handling of a controversial second XI fixture between St Annes and Preston last season.
Shenton and Godfrey abandoned the match over the alleged violent behaviour of a Preston player, Yasin Patel. They even considered calling the police.
But in an amazing turn of events soon afterwards, both umpires were suspended by the league.
That so incensed fellow umpires that refusal to stand in Northern League matches this year was a serious option.
Umpires were particularly furious at a comment by league secretary Ann Gilfoyle, accusing Shenton and Godfrey of being ‘gutless’ and ‘slurring’ the Preston player, who himself was later suspended.
Now the league have admitted they bungled the disciplinary procedure, admitting it had been a ‘farrago’.
Six months on, the two aggrieved umpires have received a formal apology from the Northern League following the intervention of Lord’s, who consulted QCs.
Cricket’s rulers have clearly leaned heavily on the league to apologise.
The league now say Shenton and Godfrey were ‘wrongly informed’ that they had been banned.
In a statement, Northern League chairman Norman Poole said: “As chairman of that disciplinary panel. this communication was sent without my knowledge or authority.
“It was a gross error of judgment by those involved, was in contravention of natural justice and in retrospect only serves to reiterate how badly this whole affair has been handled by the Northern Premier Cricket League.
“We have to look more closely at our procedures, tighten up our processes and make doubly sure that the reputation of the NPCL is never again sullied by any repeat of this unfortunate farrago.
“At all times, the two highly respected and long-serving umpires concerned have acted in the best interests of the NPCL and will continue to have my total and unequivocal support.
“The umpires have received a personal apology from the NPCL, which they have accepted.”
Blackpool umpire Shenton, who also officiates in the Minor Counties, said: “It has been resolved after the English Cricket Board stepped in. The apology has been a long time in coming, but better late than never.
“If the league had not come up with an apology, there was a definite feeling of militancy among the umpires festering beneath the surface.
“But it is time to move on and I am looking forward to getting back on the field for some good cricket.”
Since the controversy broke, league vice-chairman Mike Latham has left his position.
The match in question last September was the first in the league’s 60-year history to be abandoned for such a reason.