IT IS a £125,000 donation that means Yorkshire’s batsmen can get out of a hot dressing room and watch their bowler colleagues at work before taking to the pitch - full of confidence and relaxed for the fight ahead.
But the new Dickie Bird Players’ Balcony at Headingley Cricket Ground is much more than that for player who became one of the sports most recognisable umpires - it is a lasting legacy of his love for the ground, and the club that plays there.
Barnsley-born Dickie, 82, watched as the balcony, which he funded entirely himself, was unveiled during the lunch break of play between his two former county clubs, Yorkshire and Leicestershire, today.
Standing above the sightscreen at the Kirkstall Lane end of the ground, directly behind the wicket, it offers players an impeccable vantage point of the playing area. But the balcony is about much more than having somewhere for the players to watch the game.
“They have to be relaxed and in the right mindset before they step out,” Dickie said. “As it was before, the dressing room was red hot, and you couldn’t see the play. It needed to be done.”
Dickie hopes the balcony will give the team the push they need to replicate last September’s county championship win - the first in 13 years.
“I felt that the players at a county club like Yorkshire, the greatest club in the world, should have a balcony,” he said. “So I said I’d pay for it. They are a good set of lads, just won the Championship last year, and we’re in a position to do it again.”
Having his name bear the balcony may seem to some like a vanity project, but he has earned the right. Dickie played for Yorkshire and Leicestershire from 1956 to 1964 scoring 3,314 runs in 94 matches. He officiated his first county game in 1970 and his first test match, England against New Zealand, at Headingley three years later.
He became president of the club in 2014, and is now in his second term of office. Dickie was made MBE in 1986 and OBE in 2012 - and even got the big red book treatment on This Is Your Life in 1992. But to have his name on a balcony at Headingley is something special.
Dickie said: “This will be here for life, and I feel very humbled, but very proud and honoured, to have my name of it. It’s a tremendous honour. It’s cost me a lot of money but its worth it.”
The stadium was a very different place when he walked out at Headingley for the first time as a 16-year-old.
“This is a wonderful stadium and always has been,” he said. “Headingley is the home of legends. I always enjoyed playing here, but there have been tremendous changes since those days. The facilities now are first class, but back then there wasn’t even a pavilion.
“If we want to have world class test cricket up here in the north, at Headingley or Old Trafford, you have to have the facilities. Now, when Australia come in September, we’ll have that.”
Dickie officially cut the ribbon alongside director of cricket Martyn Moxon, captain Andrew Gale and chief executive Mark Arthur yesterday.
Mark Arthur, Yorkshire’s chief executive, said the players’ were “delighted” with the balcony - and its funder.
“When I told the team it was happening they were very pleased and, even more so, that Dickie is funding the project,” he said. “He is well respected in the dressing room and the fact he never misses a game is testament to his passion and love for Yorkshire Cricket.”
Headingley - The home of legends
FOR DICKIE Bird, “Headingley is the home of legends”.
The first ever test match at the ground was held in 1899, when England took on Australia. Then, Headingley had already been home to Yorkshire County Cricket Club for nine years.
Highlights at the ground over the years include Don Bradman’s innings of 334 in the 1930 Ashes test - a feat he came close to repeating at Headingley four years later when he scored 304 runs.
Bradman was batting in 1948 when the ground record an attendance of 159,000 - an English Test match record. It was also the venue for Geoff Boycoot’s 100th first-class century in 1977.
England have won 31 times at Yorkshire’s home.