Umpire David Shepherd carries out his infamous hop
THE tiny parish church in the North Devon village of Instow will be full to overflowing today for the funeral of former Test match umpire David Shepherd.
Shepherd, who as 68, died two weeks ago after fighting cancer for more than a year.
Instow was Shepherd's home and the 100-seater church overlooking the village will seldom have seen a day like it as his friends from the world of cricket descend on it to say their farewells.
Family and friends organising the service have tried to keep people away from what is essentially a private occasion, urging them to attend a memorial service in Bristol next month instead.
However, they have taken the precaution of arranging for a public address system to relay the service to mourners in the churchyard unable to get in.
"The simple answer is we just don't know how many people will turn up as there isn't an official guest list," said Colin Payne, who is chairman of Shepherd's old club North Devon CC.
"We know lots of people will want to pay their respects and there won't be room for them in the church. I hope the weather doesn't turn too nasty as I can see a huge amount of people being out in the churchyard.
Shepherd played for North Devon and Devon CCC from the late 50s up to 1964 when he turned professional with Gloucestershire. After 15 seasons and more than 10,000 First Class runs, he turned to umpiring and gained world fame.
Shepherd went on to officiate in 92 tests, 172 one-day international and three World Cup finals.
Fellow Devonian Jack Davey, now semi-retired and living in Topsham, played with Shepherd at Gloucestershire and shared a benefit season with him in 1978. The two friends lodged together in Bristol, roomed together on away trips and got into numerous scrapes, often after a night out.
Davey said he had a fund of stories about his friend, whose ruddy complexion, ready smile and 'generous' proportions helped make him one of the best-known faces in world cricket.
"The 30-year rule has expired now on one or two of the stories, such as the time Shep was sent to a health farm by Gloucestershire to lose a bit of weight," said Davey.
"He hadn't been having a great run with the bat and while the rest of us were playing a three-day game at Nottingham, he was sent to a health farm in Bristol and put on a regime of carrot juice and enemas.
"What the people running the health farm didn't know was that Shep was sneaking out through a window every night to a nearby pub for a fry up.
"At the end of the week he had lost exactly one ounce. He would have been better off playing at Trent Bridge with the rest of us.
"There is also a story about Shep hitching a lift on a milk float to get back to the ground from a training run. He wasn't very keen on that sort of exercise."
Shepherd was diagnosed with terminal cancer 15 months ago, but news of his illness only leaked out a couple of day before he died.
Davey said it was typical of the man that he would want to keep his private life just that.
"The last thing Shep would have wanted was any fuss," said Davey. "It was not a secret, his friends knew he was poorly, but he saw no reason to broadcast the fact."
Shepherd married long-time partner Jenny recently and looked after him right to the very end.
"Jenny was marvellous, simply marvellous, and it must have been difficult for her as Shep was in a very bad way for the last few months," said Davey.
Shepherd, who studied at St Luke's teacher training college in Exeter before turning to cricket as a career, played more than 50 times for Devon as an amateur.
In his youth he was a keen, all-round sportsman, playing rugby for South Molton, Bideford and Barnstaple as well as football for the Bideford Post Office team.
DEVON cricket has suffered a second blow in the last few days with the death of former captain Hiley Edwards.
Edwards, who was 58, played for Cockington, Torquay and Paignton and skippered the county side between 1985-1991. His funeral takes place at Upton Vale Baptist Church in Torquay next Friday at noon.