A Tribute to Sid Bird


It is impossible to sum Sid up in a few words… or for that matter in a few pages…or indeed at all. It is so easy to trot out phrases like, ‘he was unique’ and ‘he was such a character’ even though all such observations are true.  Allow me to fall into the trap and say there will not be another one like him. 

Up-beat, generous, funny, serious, confident and at times surprisingly vulnerable, no-one could fail to respond to his engaging manner and his unfailingly warm greeting even when he might be slightly annoyed about something, like a damaged mower or England’s poor batting. He had his foibles but it was impossible not to warm to his kindness and after spending a day or perhaps just five minutes with him you always ended up feeling better. 

I spent a long afternoon and evening with him at Lords for a floodlit T20 a few years ago. The stories from that day are mostly best told on another day, but he was great company and it was great fun. He knew half the people in the pavilion and seemed determined to get to know the other half. It was clear from the bemused expressions of the two pin-striped, brief-cased gentlemen we sat next to for a while that they had not come to Lords that evening expecting career advice. Sid did not much care for bankers, but of course as he liked people he was charming to these two spectators whilst dismantling their industry and telling them “ I don’t believe in all that stuff, I keep all mine under an oak tree”. 

As time passes it is easy for those of us younger than him to forget how much cricket he played or how good he could be.  He played a long time for the Ridge either side of two entire decades down at High Wycombe in the 70s and 80s and as soon as he qualified, he played for Bucks O50s. He also loved playing for Bucks Cavaliers with whom, if just a couple of hours in their company at a hotel bar after a test match day at Lords last year is anything to go by, he formed very strong and lasting friendships.  He played cricket for a long time, often with and against some very good cricketers…as he sometimes mentioned! 

In fact it is the breadth of his friendships that perhaps defines him best of all. He seemed to be known by everyone everywhere. You might overhear his name mentioned in a pub or restaurant somewhere in Wycombe by people you’d never met. You could be in conversation with someone who might suddenly say “you must know Sid Bird”.  Living in Wycombe and playing cricket in the area there were plenty of other people you knew but it would always be Sid’s name that came up. This was after all someone who seemed to live in the company of people called “ Gutty” or “Spiggy”. The word “gregarious” hardly does Sid justice. 

No wonder that by lunchtime last Thursday the sad news had spread cross the globe like wildfire so that there seemed to be no one else to tell – everyone had already heard. 

Back to cricket.  He must have kept wicket in almost every match he played. High Wycombe was very strong when he was there and so he played a lot in both the 1s and the 2s.  As his knees gradually became weaker and diving became more difficult so he became better standing up rather than back. He loved leg-side stumpings and catches and had a good habit of reminding everyone about them particularly the unfortunate batsmen. 

At times his concentration wavered and he could be untidy, but he was always at his best in good company, keeping to good bowlers, and would be really good when it mattered. He was a stylish batsman too, especially good through the covers and straight, who could have batted higher up the order than he did but who often took his side home batting at seven or eight. 

In 1987 with a young High Wycombe side nearing an unexpected Thames Valley title (there was no Premier Division in those days) he came in for an important match and in a low-scoring game held things together and took the team home with the bat.  On another occasion at Stanmore CC - a club that has produced many Middlesex players over the years, Mark Ramprakesh and Angus Fraser being the best known – by the end of the evening’s drinking in the bar he had convinced us all that his rapid 15 or 20 not out at the end, had eclipsed his friend Ian Feasey’s magnificent innings of 92, in winning the game. 

As wicketkeeper he was one of the great chatters. If he was standing up every new batsmen would get a quiet word of welcome usually as a tester to see if they wanted to engage and of course if they responded, it was impossible to disengage. 

Usually discourse was between deliveries but on one occasion he loudly exclaimed “Well bowled”. Indeed it was, because this delivery flattened the stumps. It might have been better if Sid had reserved his observation until after the batsman had played and missed, otherwise the batsman might not have needed persuading to leave the wicket, but as it was such a good ball and deserved a wicket he eventually did. 

If the purpose of this tribute was to record every anecdote about Sid it would need several volumes of a large publication but let’s try just one or two more. Here is what you need to know for this one: 

Stuart Surridge had just produced a huge unwieldy new bat called the “Jumbo” with this name printed in large letters on the back.  The game was at Hounslow CC, close to the runway where the planes came in or took off low and loud every three minutes even on Saturdays. Especially on Saturdays. You probably don’t need me to remind you of the existence of the Jumbo Jet. 

With Sid standing up to the wicket the new batsmen who was using one of these massive Jumbo bats, comprehensively played and missed three balls in a row, Sid taking each delivery and returning it to the bowler. Nothing was said. As Sid crouched and the bowler turned for the fourth, Sid muttered loud enough for everyone nearby to hear “Your bat’s a bit slow on take-off”.  It was a long time before everyone recovered enough for the next ball to be bowled. 

Sid is not the only batsmen I have seen who has ever let go of the bat while playing a shot, but he is the only one who has propelled his bat in a large arc as far as the square leg umpire while being caught out on the other side of the wicket. It was a long walk for Sid back to the pavilion that day especially as square-leg was in the wrong direction but he got a very warm welcome on his return. 

Bledlow Ridge Cricket Club was where his cricketing heart was of course. He did so much for the club and put so much into it, it is impossible to quantify. Some of Sid’s projects took a little while to complete so it was best to allow a little more time than his best estimate. Most of the time he just got on with it - truth be told Sid loved doing things. 

He possibly preferred a stripped-down mower to a working one and certainly preferred a £20 bargain needing a bit of work to a £5,000 machine out of the showroom.  Things we needed would appear or get repaired. Just occasionally they would disappear for repair and the Committee would lament the loss of a costly item until discovering that Sid had had it all the time for some essential work. A gate or fence might appear in the wrong place… but such happenings were a small inconvenience when compared to his massive input. 

In recent years this extended to scoring game after game for the 1s and also to umpiring, where he was not shy of coaching players of either side or sending texts while the bowler ran up to bowl, which is quite difficult really. He also served as Club President for many years. 

In restrospect is it pretty amazing that ill as he was, he remained so active and so positive for so long. 

He was a very clever man.  He had built and run a successful precision engineering business which also happened to give employment for many young cricketers. 

His workshop at home was a treasure trove but it was not just his engineering skills. The wonderful kitchen he built for Sally so recently, is just one testament to his range. And in a small frame somewhere in the house is a beautiful painting of some water birds, which looks as though it was painted by a professional artist. It was painted by Sid: he just decided to do it – “it’s easy” he’d say about such things, “you’ve just got to….” 

Life’s never going to be quite the same. Not just for Dave or Steve or the grandchildren who he adored, but for any of us. Then there is the wonderful Sally who nursed him back to health when he was so ill several years ago and looked after him again this time. 

It’s time to stop writing. This is the thing about Sid, you see: the stories are never going to run dry and they will always be interesting, absorbing, amusing, fascinating. There is much more to Sid than cricket but as cricket is what has brought us all together this email response from a friend of his is a perfect way to end: 

So sad to lose such a ridiculously colourful character - Sid always brightened up any game we were both at!”

Other Messages

John Rolfe's moving tribute to Sid Bird is brilliant and a lovely way to remember a true character. I was a member of the High Wycombe side of the 70's when Sid was in his prime and I remember him fondly. In the end its the friendships one makes out of sports that count,and I consider myself enriched by the experience of knowing Sid. To Sally,my deepest sympathy and to the Bledlow Ridge you have lost a fine man - a sad time for all,but my memories of Sid will never die Thinking of you all at this time.            Sincerely,  Ray Hutchison (NZ)              via the club website

I would like to add my best wishes to the many I am sure received for Sid Bird. I like many others have had the pleasure of playing against and with him. Against him for the MCC and Brentham CC when he was at High Wycombe and with him for the Bucks Cavaliers both here and on tour most notably to Argentina. I will not repeat any anecdotes as "what goes on tour, stays on tour" He was always good company on and off the pitch and enthusiastic in all he did.                 Graham Wells              via the club website