Fourth ‘life sentence’ nothing new

THREE life memberships came as no real surprise in the Casino cricket circles Ray Neilson has frequented for almost five decades.

But a fourth late last week bowled over the long-serving umpire and came as a timely 80th birthday present yesterday.

Almost 35 years after gaining his State umpire’s badge in 1966, Ray Neilson picked up the first of his life memberships with the Casino District Cricket Association.

Others with the Far North Coast Cricket Umpires’ Association and the Far North Coast Cricket Council followed in a flurry.

But it was in 1960 that he first took up his ‘out in the centre’ stance.

Last week his passion to stand behind the stumps whenever and where ever needed – and to help behind the scenes – scored an unexpected life membership with the Lismore District Cricket Association.

It’s a dual district honour no other cricket umpire or official has received.

Fifteen years ago Ray stepped across the line to help with umpiring in Lismore for the start of the inaugural Far North Coast LJ Hooker League season in 1994-95.

It’s a line he has continued to take ever since with games of many standards, but particularly helping out – on and off the field – in the annual Lismore Under-12 carnival and every two years in the Lismore Master Games.

Ray can’t remember how many games he’s officiated in during his career, but estimated it to be ‘about 2000’.

“I never kept records. I just know there weren’t many umpires around when the Hooker League started, so I started going to Lismore to help out,” he said yesterday.

Although it wasn’t the first time he had umpired in Lismore, it was the first time he had done it under the LDCA banner.

With Ballina umpire Ted Smith, Ray ‘broke in’ the Oakes Oval lights during the first of the Tooheys Challenge games in March 1978.

He’s umpired in most areas of New South Wales, but his standout games were the Northern NSW v Southern NSW match at the SCG in 1979-80, the NSW Country v Metropolitan match at Manly Oval in 1984 and the New Zealand v Far North Coast match in Grafton two years later.

Ray reluctantly admits his career could have gone ‘a lot further’ had he taken up an option of moving to Sydney.

“It was an offer, but they were never going to drag me out of Casino,” he said.

“At first it would have been grade matches in Sydney and then things would have progressed from there.”

Ray hung up his ‘big game’ boots in 1990 when he turned 60.

Yesterday, when he turned 80, he was still contemplating what next year might bring.

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