Grassroots sport is a product of people and their passion. Without the thousands upon thousands of people up and down the country who give up their free time, grassroots sport simply wouldn’t happen. These volunteers, who do it purely for the love of their game, are the unsung heroes of sport – and 86 year old cricket umpire Keith Dibb, Britain’s oldest umpire, is one of the finest examples you could find.

Keith has just begun his 71st – yes, you read that right, his 71st – season at the crease.

1000 matches and counting

Most folks entering their third decade in retirement tend to seek a more sedentary lifestyle ahead of choosing to be on your feet for six hours at a time. Not Keith Dibb.

Proud Yorkshireman Keith has racked up more than 1,000 matches and insists he will carry on for as long as he can, particularly after a tragic personal loss in December 2020. Getting involved in grassroots sport, whether playing, officiating or volunteering, provides multiple benefits way above and beyond simply the sport itself, and Keith is testament to that,

Unfortunately I lost my wife to coronavirus after 59 years. She made teas for 25 years, so she was very much involved. It’s like a second marriage, really. Last season, umpiring was tiring but you need company, and cricket has provided that. keith dibb

Many moons ago Keith was a medium-pace bowler, having first caught the cricket bug aged 13 when he joined a local team in North Yorkshire. He began umpiring in 1952, and he hasn’t missed a season of cricket since. He finished playing at the age of 47, and duly took up the role full-time.

Keith takes his umpire whites everywhere he goes, and has even taken charge of games in New Zealand and Barbados when he was supposed to be on holiday, including a game in which the West Indian great Gordon Greenidge made one of his customary big scores.

I was on holiday in Barbados, and I got a call to help out Warwickshire County Cricket Club. Their first match was against Barbados, and Gordon Greenidge came out and shook hands with me. He won the toss and he said ‘I’m going to have a bat’. He made 103 in 40 minutes, came down the wicket, took his gloves off, shook hands with me, said ‘thank you very much’ and walked off.

Last year Keith won the umpires’ award for the Dales Council League – where he has stood at the crease in matches since 1995 – having won the award in 2000 and 2003. And in April, he oversaw his first match of the season between Rodley third team and Baildon’s fourth XI. It is a wonderful sporting story.

Friendship and supporting others

So why does he do it when he could be putting his feet up and watching cricket from the stands or from the comfort of his sofa?

I like to be involved. I’ve been around a bit and I’m always ready to help people out if they’re stuck – so I always carry a coat with me on holiday in case somebody needs me. It’s just a way of life really.

The way I see it, I’m giving young players some enjoyment. And if I see any senior players I’m always pushing them to start umpiring when they’ve finished. It’s the friendship and comradeship that I enjoy the most. I went to three games last week to see how they were getting on and people there remembered me. Some people ask ‘are you still doing it?’. It’s the love of the game that keeps you going. keith dibb

You couldn’t wish to hear a better justification for carrying on at the grand old age of 86. It’s all there – love of the game, supporting others. friendship, camaraderie. Keith epitomises everything we love about sport, and he is an example to us all. Let’s all be more like Keith.

Keith Dibb – we salute you!

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