It’s just not cricket! ... Mystery of ‘lost’ umpire

Matt French points to the spot where umpire Dickie first stood
Matt French points to the spot where umpire Dickie first stood

Keen cricketer Matt French has a unique way of marking the start of the cricket season each year - by displaying a little team of cricketing gnomes in the front garden of his home.

But Matt was hit for six this week after one of the team - an umpire - mysteriously disappeared.

And after searching everywhere, he issued an urgent ‘Find Dickie’ plea.

Just a day later, a relieved Matt, who is an umpire himself in the Sussex Premier League, was re-united with his little concrete character after it was found in a nearby stream.

Matt has had his gnome collection for nearly 30 years since they were given to him by his mother.

And since he moved to Barns Green four years ago, he has displayed the little sportsmen every summer on his front lawn.

“They had become a bit of a tourist attraction,” said Matt, 43.

“A lot of people comment on them, both locals and visitors to the village.”

And Matt, who is a Horsham District councillor, was initially left stumped by the disappearance of his concrete adjudicator - named after legendary umpire Dickie Bird.

He first put Dickie and the rest of his gnome team - two batsmen, a bowler, a wicket keeper and stumps - outside on the lawn at the beginning of April.

“On Sunday I woke up to find the umpire had disappeared overnight. It was just gone. The fact that it was the umpire rubbed salt into the wounds.”

But by Tuesday morning, Dickie had been found by fellow villager Michelle Ogle. “I’d really like to thank her,” said Matt. “It’s not that the gnomes are of any real worth, just sentimental value. You can buy them on the internet for about £50 each.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a bit of concrete but I’ve had them for 30 years.”

Matt, who works as an estate manager for a retirement leasehold firm, said that neither he nor girlfriend Sarah Mallin had heard anything unusual on the night Dickie disappeared.

And even pet dog Harry, a greyhound, had failed to detect anything out of the ordinary and snoozed through the drama.