FORMER Durham batsman Michael Gough has revealed the part his old club played in helping him take huge strides towards becoming one of the youngest ever first-class umpires.

Gough, who turned 26 at the weekend, has been named on the ECB's reserve list of umpires for the 2006 season, subject to passing his final exam early in the new year.

Providing he does, he will be contracted for 60 days to the ECB and will be handed a minimum of one Championship and one totesport League fixture in a bid to prove himself as a capable match official.

When he does take charge of a first-class match for the first time, Gough feels he will be more than ready to step in after gaining valuable experience acting as an umpire in a number of lower level games.

"I have to pay a massive thanks to Durham for the way they have been with me since I decided to retire from cricket when I was 23," said Gough, whose talent as a batsman was rewarded with call-ups for England A and England under-19s in his playing days.

"Martyn Moxon (coach) and Geoff Cook (director of cricket) have been fantastic with me and they allowed me to umpire a number of academy games in the past year.

"It really helped me to gain a feel of what it was like to take charge of games."

Since turning his back on the first-class game, Gough has been playing on the non-league football scene while playing cricket for Hartlepool at Park Drive as the club's professional.

After holding positive negotiations with the ECB, he will be able to stay on as his hometown club's professional as well as carrying out his new role as a reserve umpire.

In the long-term, Gough, who also umpired a number of NYSD Sunday league games, wants to progress onto the ECB's full list and eventually beyond.

"It was always something I could see myself doing, even when I was playing for Durham," said Gough, who is joined on the reserve list by Nick Cook, Martin Bodenham and Terry Urben.

"I knew I would always want to stay involved in the game and this will allow me to do that.

"I have always enjoyed watching the game as well as playing it.

"To be able to have a major opinion on the game I'm watching really appeals to me.

"Ultimately I want to get my name on to the internationals' umpires list.

"That would be fantastic and is something that I have already set my sights on."