04/05/2013 15:06 BST | Updated 02/07/2013 06:12 BST

Characters in Sport: We Have Plenty

It was interesting to hear Dickie Bird on breakfast television a couple of weeks ago promoting his new book of anecdotes from the past. I wonder whether any other umpire or referee in the history of professional sport has been held in such high esteem. Most officials in squash are overlooked, occasionally insulted and under rewarded for their considerable efforts and in most other sports are disrespected at some stage, by players or crowds. Dickie Bird broke through that barrier; he became as famous as the best players.

Perhaps it is easy to see why when hearing his interview. He seems to be what people would call a character, and he fizzed his way through the five minutes or so animatedly recounting stories in his Yorkshire tones.

At one point in the interview -after recounting a story in which he answered Allan Lamb's mobile phone on the field only to hear Ian Botham in the dressing room at the end of the line - he unfortunately declared that 'there aren't the personalities in sport that there once were'.

What a pity he said this. It is so easy for people to hark back to a golden era, or their era. It is common in older, retired sportsmen and women for a sense of nostalgia to cloud their perspective on the present. The memories often burn strong, and tend to make things seem better in 'the good old days'. I have heard some of the great athletes of all time denounce the present era in their sports, comparing it to their own and I have heard it in squash. We are all probably guilty of looking back with affection to the past, and of thinking that things are not the same as they once were, but this is an unhealthy principal by which to be led.

Have all the characters in sport really gone? I often cite Roger Federer as an example. Just because he doesn't walk on the tennis court doing the can-can, and rather is quiet and introverted, does it mean he is deficient of personality?

It is very pleasing for an audience when an athlete shows emotion, but does it mean that those who don't, lack personality? Because Alistair Cook's England team don't play mobile phone pranks, does it make them bland and boring?

I hope that the public - rather than expect outward displays, obvious and calculated outpourings of emotion or funny stories - may find the character in the beauty of Federer's passing backhand, or Cook's exquisite cover drive.

James Willstrop's book 'Shot and a Ghost' is available to buy at or on kindle.