July 2019 saw the sad international retirement of one of the games characters, elite umpire Ian ‘Gunner’ Gould. Gouldy has been a good friend of mine for a number of years, so I was delighted when he kept his word and gave me his first full post-retirement interview.We started our conversation with the game at Headingly where he officiated for the last time in the final World Cup group match between India and Sri Lanka.
“A very emotional day,” reflected Gouldy, or Gunner (or however you best wish to refer to him!) “Until the last minute I didn’t realise that the ICC had organised for my wife and family to come and watch. That, of course, made it a bit more nervous and a bit more emotional, but it was a really nice gesture. My wife and kids had a wonderful time and that was important because they have made many, many massive sacrifices for me throughout the years.”
The only downside of this wonderful surprise, however, was a family birthday party that was planned the following day! “I had to be back in a place called Holyport, near Maidenhead, at 10 am the following day, which meant I had to drive these drunks back home!”
We’ll talk a lot more about Gouldy’s umpiring stories later, but first I wanted to roll back the years.
As a player, Gouldy kept wicket for England in 18 ODI’s (including at the 1983 World Cup) as well as playing in more than 600 combined first class and list A games for both Middlesex and Sussex. Yet, his career could have panned out very differently. Growing up, football stole his passion, so much so that he played youth football as a goalkeeper for Arsenal, hence his nickname of ‘Gunner’.
“I didn’t really study cricket that hard growing up. My ambitions were very much with football. My brother had been a professional footballer with Chelsea, Arsenal and Peterborough – and god knows how many other clubs – so cricket wasn’t really on my radar. If I’m honest, it didn’t excite me. As a 15-year-old kid, my dream was to be a professional footballer. I did play cricket, but I didn’t have any cricket heroes. My Mum and Dad lived in a council house in Cippenham: we didn’t have a television; we didn’t have that much. So, I didn’t really watch too much cricket but played it because it was a summer sport. My brother loved it, so if anything, that’s where I got it from.”So, at what point did the realisation come that cricket would be a better career than football?
“I’d moved from Cippenham to Slough colts and a brilliant bloke called Dave Collins set me up for a course at Lords, when I was 13 or 14. I was getting bowled at by a kid who was a similar age to me when, suddenly, a group of adults appeared and started bowling at me. I was spanking them and it went from there, really. But even then, it still didn’t excite me. Football did. I’d be at home and my brother would be knocking about in the front room with Peter Osgood who was waiting to go off to training at Stamford Bridge. That did excite me.”
For a period Gouldy was balancing both sports. His cricket was running parallel to his football career at Arsenal.
“I didn’t really twig it until I was about 16, when cricket took over. I left school and I was going to go and join Kent. I played a few games for their seconds but my parents weren’t willing to let me leave home. I went to the MCC ground staff instead and once I was at Lords, Don Bennett and Harry Sharp – my original coach – recommended me to Middlesex and off I went.”
It was the start of a long journey as a wicket-keeper, a coach and latterly an umpire. However, it wasn’t always a smooth ride, particularly in those early years at Lords.
“At Middlesex we had an amazing side; an incredible side. But I don’t think they really understood me, and I didn’t really understand them. Mike Brearley is one of the nicest people I have ever met, but I don’t think he really understood where I was coming from. I didn’t ‘get’ the nostalgia of Lords. There were public school boys there and I resented that. My happiest memories were probably the lunches! So, aside from meeting Gatt and Mick Hunt (the recently retired head groundsman at Lords) I just didn’t really have fun memories of my time at Middlesex.”
In 1980 the county signed Kent’s wicket-keeper Paul Downton. “I knew at that moment I didn’t fit and needed to move on. Mike Sturt of Sussex, an absolute treasure of a man offered me a three year contract, but I looked him in the eye and I just said I’ve got to go.”
What followed were ten of the happiest years of Gouldy’s playing career. “John Barclay was captain and we had a really good team. We had a great crack and we played proper cricket without the feeling of people looking over your shoulder. You didn’t feel insecure. It was a wonderful time.”
His time in Hove saw the county win the Sunday League and the NatWest Trophy. “We should have won a lot more. Things went horribly wrong financially with certain players having to be let go. That stopped us achieving what we probably should have. But, even in those terrible times, it was a hilariously funny place to play cricket. We had a lot of fun on and off the pitch. Brighton’s footballers were a decent side at the time – they got to the FA Cup final against Manchester United and should have won – and we were out all the time with those guys. It was just a fun place to be and also a beautiful part of the country.”
Anyone who has read Derek Pringle’s recent book knows that cricket at that period was fun. Players played hard and fair on the pitch but enjoyed it to its limits off it. That fun continued in international cricket. Gouldy first represented his country at the age of 17 when he was selected for a youth tour to the West Indies. Knowing him as I do, I felt I had to ask what was a tour of the West Indies like for a 17-year-old Ian Gould? “Chaotic,” he laughs. “Seriously though, we had Gower, Gatting, Athey and Paul Allott on that tour. It was proper team. I’d just been released from Arsenal, so I was at a bit of a low ebb and I also didn’t want to leave Middlesex at that point in the season as they were about to win the title, which they did. It wasn’t easy, yet it turned out to be a great experience.”
Full England recognition came in 1982 when Gouldy was selected as a back-up keeper on an Ashes tour to Australia and one of his fond memories was when he found out he’d be rooming with Robin Jackman. “I hated playing against him. I loathed him as a person with a passion. When I arrived in Australia, I was told my roommate was going to be Robin Jackman, all I thought was ‘wow’ this is going to be hard work! But he’s become one of my greatest friends!”
And what was an Ashes tour like in the 1980s? “For me it was outrageous, because I knew I was never going to play. Bob Taylor was the best wicket-keeper around, aside from Alan Knott. If I was to get past Bob Taylor, there would have to be a bomb scare somewhere. The only way I was ever going to play was if I could score a few runs. But I never got a game, apart from the third ODI That was in late January and I hadn’t held a bat since the first week of December; suddenly I was opening the batting against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson; it was like a Stevie Wonder day out!”
I asked Gouldy how difficult is it for a back-up keeper on those long tours when you know it’s unlikely, you’ll play. “It’s about mentality. I had the mentality of having a bit of a crack and a laugh, so it was not difficult at all. For me, it was a great trip; 5 months of absolute paradise.”
The following year, Gouldy was named in England’s World Cup squad. “It was a bit of blur because we were all over the place. We should have won it. We lost to India at Old Trafford in the semi-final. I don’t know who the groundsman was, but he produced a pitch that resembled Madras more than Manchester, and Mohinder Amarnath who’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life, rocked up and went for about 12 runs from 11 overs. It was quite staggering, we got beaten and they went on to win it.”
I asked Gouldy if he was frustrated at not playing more for England? “No. I didn’t deserve to play more. I wasn’t performing as well, consistently, as I should have been.”
So, he went back to county cricket. “There were some hugely talented players who played the game in that era. Everyone got on with each other. I reckon I probably fell out with just two people over 20 years of playing. Everyone stayed in the same hotels, you just had a crack with the opposition, shared a drink and had fun. I’m not sure modern players have that. There was so much humour about. I remember a game against Essex; John Lever rocked up the night before the game and told me he could bowl me out with an orange. The next day the first ball he bowled to me was an orange! The place erupted. If you did that now you’d probably be sanctioned for disrespecting the game.”
Throughout Gouldy’s playing days he kept to some of the game’s great players, but who was the most difficult? “Wayne Daniel. He bowled like the speed of light. The first two years you had no idea where it was going to go. I was diving around like I was playing in goal again. But when he got it right, he was terrifyingly quick.”
Post playing, Gouldy went into coaching at Middlesex. “I wasn’t keen on going into coaching at all. It was very much a chance opportunity. I was coming to the end of my playing career at Sussex and wasn’t really happy. I received an offer from Middlesex through Don Bennett and Gatt. Clive Radley who was the second team coach left to take a role with the MCC, so I kind of fell into it. I would have loved to stay living in Sussex but there wasn’t a job opportunity there. I moved back to Windsor. I probably enjoyed the first five to six years at Middlesex and did quite a good job; the final four years I did quite an average job. But I have to thank Middlesex for doing me two pretty big favours; letting me go twice. The first time allowed me to move to Sussex and the second to go off and umpire. Both releases were wrong but I’m very happy they did them.”
So, why umpiring? “Well, I did a couple of games while I was a coach when the umpires turned up late. I went on to the field and thought to myself ‘I actually really enjoy this.’ When I got released from Middlesex, I had to stay on to see the season out and there was a game at Ealing, where one of the umpires didn’t turn up, so I thought to myself I’ll go and do this. The late David Shepherd was at the other end and he told me that he thought I had the personality to do it. I laughed at him. But afterwards I thought about it and I spoke to my wife. I was loving running my own business at that time, but she said to me ‘You love this game and they love you; go and do it.’ As it turned out someone was ill, and I got placed on the reserve list straight way and that’s how it all started. And you know what, it’s been the happiest period of my life. I wake up every morning looking forward to going to umpire.”
Gouldy’s first international appointment as an umpire came in a one day international between England and Sri Lanka at the Oval in 2006; Darrell Hair was at the other end. He’s someone Gouldy holds in the highest esteem. “I was so lucky to have Darrell Hair at the other end. No matter what people think of Darrell he is the most outstanding character that I have ever met in my life because he tells you the truth. I did a series with him in India and bearing in mind they were burning effigies of him and all sorts of nonsense, he was able to just go out there and do his job. He was fantastic. And if I did anything he didn’t like, he’d come and tell me, and I loved that. He was the first person who would always be brutally honest with me and I can’t thank him enough. I wouldn’t have achieved what I did as an umpire if it wasn’t for him.”
I asked Gouldy how much both umpires in the middle have to work in partnership. “When you walk onto the field of play you have to feel safe with your fellow umpire. I guess it’s like your business partner, you have to be able to trust him. If you don’t things can go horribly wrong.”
Gouldy made his Test debut as an umpire with Steve Davis in South Africa and he openly admits he didn’t feel the pressure of the step up from county cricket. “For me, no. I was all over it because it’s where I wanted to be.”
Gouldy has umpired in some of the most highly charged atmospheres during his test career.. He regularly umpired contests between India and Pakistan, he gave Sachin Tendulkar out on 99 and umpired numerous Boxing Day Tests in Melbourne and, of course, there was the recent infamous ball tampering scandal involving the Australians. What were those games/atmospheres like to officiate in? “Do you know what, there was never any issues with India and Pakistan; players on both sides got on famously well. It was always a myth to me that they didn’t. The only issue in those games was the crowd. The noise could be crazy. But the players were outstanding.”
I asked him how difficult was it to hear nicks, with such noise from the stands. “You could hear everything. When the ball is released it will always go dead quiet, the volume goes up when they smash it. But you hear the nicks. The only time it’s a nightmare is when the Mexican waves start as it’s constant noise.” And how difficult was that ball tampering incident to officiate? “It wasn’t difficult at all. It was cut and dried and everyone could see it on the television, in black and white. Australia were probably out of control and they got caught. I was with two other English umpires, Richard Illingworth and Nigel Llong and we dealt with it. The Cape Town Test was followed by a Test in Johannesburg and it was like umpiring a Windsor 3rd XI game. Nothing was said. What people have to remember is nobody died, and it was a cricket ball. Move on.”
When you listen to players, former players and commentators they always refer to Gouldy as a ‘players’ umpire’. I was keen to know how important it is for umpires to have that rapport with players? “Massive. If someone says hello to you in life, you don’t turn your back on the them, you say hello; so, if a player speaks to you, you speak back to them. I always wanted to umpire how I wanted to be umpired as a player. When I played, I enjoyed having a laugh and a crack, but I felt it was harsh when as a result people would come down with a ton of bricks on me for being like that. I didn’t want to be like that as an umpire. And when I finished the game at Headingley and heard the nice things people were saying about me, I cried . The only other time I cry is when I lose a family member. I umpired some magnificent people. Virat Kohli and Ricky Ponting were lovely people and if you treated them properly, they would treat you properly. And they knew the line with me and not to cross it.”
So, what about sledging? “I never heard it because I wouldn’t listen to it. The only time I would ever step in is if it got personal about someone’s family. If people bring in a family member, I’d nail them, but otherwise just get on with the game.”
Gouldy’s time as an international umpire coincided with the introduction of DRS, he admits it was initially poorly received by umpires. “It’s a bit like football now with VAR, the reason being you don’t necessarily understand it or trust it. Previously a guy bowling round the wicket could never get an LBW; modern day science now says he can. The next generation of umpires will accept DRS, football will accept VAR, but as an umpire, as a referee, it’s not the greatest thing you’ve seen! The important thing for officials in cricket and football now is to leave your ego behind in the dressing room and crack on. Mistakes will happen but just get on with it.”
I was also keen to get Gouldy’s thoughts on umpires being allowed to officiate in their own countries, thus allowing the ICC to appoint the very best umpires for each series. “I’ll be gobsmacked if by the next Ashes an Englishman and an Australian are not umpiring. It’s an absolute must. But it has to be everywhere. They need full blown DRS in every country and then it can happen. In football you have the best referees officiating the best matches, regardless of where they are from. It has to happen in cricket.”
Finally, with all the games he umpired, what was the toughest? “Good question. I’d say South Africa versus India last year in Johannesburg. We should have abandoned the game. The pitch was not good enough. Someone could have got hurt; thankfully they didn’t, so in the end the ICC got it right by continuing.”
And what’s next? Domestic umpiring? “I’ve still got a contract with the ECB. I have to sit back and see what my family want me to do as it’s their time now. It might be back to cutting grass!”
Or, a well-earned pint down the pub – it’s your round.