As famous for his force of character as for his skills on the pitch, cricketing legend Dickie Bird isn’t one to mince his words.
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He’s a fighter, he says, at the age of 86. After suffering a stroke a decade ago, nothing but sheer bloody-mindedness has brought him this far.
And he’s determined to make a century.
“If you believe in yourself, you can conquer the world,” says the former Yorkshire club president. “If you lose that willpower, that strength to soldier on, you will fall by the wayside.
“I’m a big believer in strength of will. I could have given up,” he adds, speaking of the mental challenge he faced as he reached a crushing low after his illness.
“The worst thing you can do, if you’ve had a stroke, is sit in a chair and watch television. I chose to fight. And if you fight, you can win.”
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Former England international umpire Harold Dennis “Dickie” Bird, OBE, is a much-loved sporting figure, once dubbed the most famous man in cricket.
But while his achievements as an umpire were record-breaking, it’s his eccentricities that cemented his stature, with seven bestselling books to his name.
We meet at the Cedar Court Hotel in Wakefield and, while I’m early, there’s no out-foxing the prepared. Mr Bird, who once famously turned up at Buckingham Palace at 9.20am for
a 1pm lunch with the Queen, is already on to sporting analysis in the hotel lounge.
It’s been a “good summer” for English cricket, he beams.
This year marks a decade since he suffered a stroke in the middle of the night, which robbed him of his voice and the use of his left side.
Nursing a decaf tea as he speaks about his recovery, he says it was a mental battle as much as a physical one.
A “terrible” stroke
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“It attacked me at three o’clock in the morning, a terrible pain right down my spine,” he says of the stroke. “I was in agony.”
Fumbling for the phone, he had called 999, paramedics tracing the call to take him to the stroke unit at Barnsley Hospital.
“When I woke up in the hospital, I felt very down. You think it’s the end of the world. Now I feel emotional, it still brings tears to my eyes.
“They saved my life,” he adds. “They did wonders for me.
“When you’ve had a stroke, it is difficult. I lost my voice, the use of my left arm, and all down my left side. I was in hospital about six weeks.
“Eventually they got me up on my feet. But I saw some terrible cases in there, and I told myself then that I was going to fight it. I wasn’t going to let it get me down.”
Regaining his strength
In the weeks and months after his stroke, he says, he forced himself to grow stronger, with daily exercises, stretches and walks.
“I worked and worked at it, getting myself fit,” said Mr Bird. “Eventually I got my strength back. I had the desire, and the willpower, to fight it, you see.”
This county legend isn’t infallible, and there is even now a slight quiver to his voice. Clearly a source of frustration, he crushes it in broad Yorkshire tones.
A devout Christian, he credits the Lord for his health, and for ‘working a miracle’ in restoring his sight through surgery, after damage caused by years of glare reflecting from the cricket pitch.
“I’ve had a wonderful life,” he reflects. “A wonderful career, in cricket, lasting 70 years.
“At 86-years-old, you are bound to have something wrong with your health,” he laughs. “I’ve had a new knee put in, I have a pacemaker – I keep forgetting that’s there.
“I feel good. I still do my exercises. People look at me now and they don’t believe I’ve ever had a stroke,” he adds.
“Lots of people say, ‘Dickie, you’ll get to the century’. So, I’m trying. If I get there, it will be tremendous.”