Mary Smith was a “hockey widow” when she first drew attention to the action of a bowler during a cricket match at the Woodley club in Stockport.
“He’s throwing,” she observed to a supporter, which initially seemed to have gone unnoticed, but the very next over from the suspect, a number of other supporters were shouting for the umpires to no-ball him for throwing.
That was over 40 years and was the catalyst for Mary joining the umpire’s ranks – and now earned her a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
She has been officially included as the longest-serving umpire (female) with 41 years and 50 days service to the sport in that capacity.
“My husband Ken played hockey and was also a treasurer for the Woodley Sports club and on this particular day he had handed me his pint while he went to cash up. I was watching the game and in my mind, the bowler was throwing.
“The following season an umpire’s course was being held and some people at the club suggested I should do it as I seemed to know a good bit about the laws – and the rest as they say is history.
“I was still a hockey widow in the winter but Ken became a cricket widower in the summer and the children always had one of us there,” she says.
Kent-born Mary was certainly no stranger to the game as she had played as a youngster ”in the back garden with my three brothers” before on a more organised level at Woking Grammar School and later College.
After her marriage to Ken, the couple moved to Stockport where eventually her cricketing career took off and has been a big part of her life ever since.
Old Trafford, Headingley and Taunton
She started in the Derbyshire and Cheshire Leagues and since then has umpired at major grounds – Old Trafford, Headingley and Taunton – and stood in an international between England and Ireland.
An illustrious career in officiating has included standing in events such as the Super 4’s in 2003 and working with ex-England greats Charlotte Edwards and Ebony Rainford-Brent; umpiring Freddie Flintoff in Lancashire under-15s and Ian Botham’s son Liam.
She even once gave a “red card” to Coronation Street’s Curly Watts (Kevin Kennedy).
“It’s not something we carry as an umpire but this was a charity match when I was living in Derbyshire and a game involving BBC and ITV personalities.
“I deliberately took the card out with me and to the delight of the crowd, when Curly was carrying on a bit, I showed him the red card,” she said.
On retirement 18 years ago she and Ken moved to Heads Nook, near Carlisle when she started her involvement with the local cricket scene – the Cumbria County League and the Eden Valley League.
She had coached kids previously in Derbyshire and got involved with the under-9s at Carlisle.
“I’ve had so much fun and enjoyment out of the game, umpiring and coaching, and it’s really good when you stand in a match and playing is someone you coached as a youngster,” she says.
One of the league’s most respected officials, it’s not been without its tricky moments.
Standing at a key Cockermouth match towards the end of the 2018 season Mary suffered a broken jaw.
“The batsman hit a drive back down the wicket and the bowler went for a caught and bowled. He deflected it into my face as I bent but if he hadn’t I would probably have took the full force and not be here,” she recalls.
At the moment she’s got a knee problem but is hoping it can be sorted during the winter and she will be back to extend her record in the 2022 season.
Explaining the Guinness Book of Records inclusion, she says: “I was staying with a friend and she asked how long I had been umpiring. One thing led to another and I Googled the record and it was a chap in Australia who had done it for well over 50 years.
“I tried to establish what was the best for a woman but could not find out. It was a bit of a joke really but I applied to the Guinness Book of Records and they checked before confirming that I had the record.
“It was too late for the current edition but will be in next year’s and I think it’s going online. I will be sent a certificate to confirm my place in the book.”
So what started as a casual observation on the legality of a bowler’s action has developed into a passion for helping to administer the laws of cricket.
Actually, as an umpire, the first time she no-balled someone for throwing it was pointed out he had broken his elbow at some point and that was his normal, legal action.
Thankfully that was not the case with her initial opinion at Woodley, if so she might not have been encouraged to take up umpiring – and 41 years and 50 days later find herself in the Guinness Book of Records.