Hi, my name is Ian and I’m a newly qualified umpire. I never thought I’d end up saying that but I often find myself in situations I never thought I’d be in so it’s best just roll with it. At least this time my mother isn’t disappointed with me and the circumstances, which certainly represents progress.
It all started during one game of hockey where nothing appeared to be going our way. All the decisions, all the goals, the wind blowing in the opponents’ direction, the pitch had a slope that was favourable to them and the sun was in our eyes. On top of this, I was in a particularly funky mood that day, and if someone had told me that grass is green, I’d have likely argued that it was in fact, pink.
After being blown up again, I decided it was time to interrogate the umpire. “Excuse me umps, what imaginary foul was committed there then, mate?” Before the umpire had time to reply, one of the opposition, clearly happy with the performance of the umpire, jumped in, “If you don’t like it mate, you can always umpire.” “How hard can it be?” I replied. “Seemingly all I have to do is randomly blow a whistle and point in the wrong direction like this bloke is.” I got shown a yellow card and was directed to a comfortable seat on the half way line from which to enjoy the game as a spectator for a while.
After the match, I took a bit of a digging from my team about the card and still not wanting to admit any sort of fault, I made the totally excellent decision to back myself completely. This meant I sailed past the point of being able to make a graceful dismount from the high-horse I was on and thus ensuring my destiny of attending umpiring course.
Six short years later, I finally signed up for, attended and completed that umpiring course. How I managed to survive the whole day remains a mystery to me but somehow I did.
Having had weekly reminders from my club about the impending course for a couple of months, I had no reason to turn up anything but fully prepared on the day. They knew my form well but oh, how they should have doubled their efforts! Having also received gentle reminders via email from England Hockey regarding the content of the day and recommended (poorly worded; read absolutely necessary) equipment to have with me I managed to turn up with none of these things. Having drunk through the preceding Saturday night in an attempt to forget a particularly painful defeat to our local rivals, I also wasn’t the soberest I’ve ever been.
I arrived at the venue in a rush, fearing I was going to be late, only to be met by locked doors. I finally read one of those reminder emails I’d been sent and discovered that I’d arrived a whole hour early. This did at least give me the opportunity to fetch myself a much-needed medicinal McDonalds breakfast and have a few moments alone to gather myself.
The first half of the course ran pretty much as I expected; sat in the clubhouse talking through the fundamentals of officiating a game with our instructors. Things got said, videos got shown, notes got made, books got read. It was a fairly standard instructional morning. At around midday we took a break for some lunch and it was after a quick chat with my instructor that I realised I was lacking some essential equipment. The moment of realisation was upon hearing the word ‘practical’ mentioned. Oh dear oh dear.
I borrowed a stick from one of my class mates for the afternoon session but bizarrely, no one had thought to bring spare P.E kit. Imagine that! If you had been walking past that afternoon, you’d have seen a very well organised umpiring training session going ahead on the turf. If you then decided you liked what you saw and decided to take a closer look, you’d have seen a complete nugget running around trying to play hockey in motorbike boots, jeans and a ridiculous jumper, much to the amusement of the other budding umpires. It was a strong look.
A few short hours later, the instructors had seen enough and mercifully decided to wrap the course up. We left with instructions and advice about being mentored and gradually gaining experience before navigating the all-important assessment. This message was completely forgotten by the time I’d left the car park.
Deciding not to heed the advice of my instructors, I bullied my club’s Umpire Liaison Officer into persuading Essex Hockey to come down and assess me before the season was over. They agreed, and at this point of the season, there were about four games remaining. Two of these I was unable to make due to work commitments, which left me a grand total of one warm up game before the assessment. Now, I like a challenge as much as the next person, but maybe one day I’ll allow myself some decent preparation time before charging head first into these situations.
My warm up game was on a balmy morning taking charge of our Ladies 2’s away match to Brentwood. I arrived on time, in the correct kit, with all the appropriate equipment, and importantly sober. I’d even got up in time to have breakfast. This was a first.
I met the other umpire, had a quick chat, warmed up with a cigarette and a Red Bull and we both agreed that turning up sober isn’t really how club level hockey should be conducted.
The Captains were called together and a very exciting game of ‘Which Hand is the Whistle In’ followed to determine which team kicked the action off. We’d already informed both teams and the other umpire earlier in the week that I was officiating as an unassessed umpire and everyone was pleasant enough and allowed me time to consider my decisions without getting on my case too much.
There was enough action in the game to cause me to think and utilise my whistle, but it wasn’t mind-blowingly fast so I managed to look like I knew what I was doing. Goal achieved.
After the game ended a debrief from our umpire officer followed in the car on the way back home. Words such as ‘amazing’, ‘naturally gifted’ and ‘brilliant’ remained unsaid. Words such as ‘ok’, ‘decent enough’ and ‘you have a bit to work on’ were used. Had she not been watching the game?! I mean, I only dropped my whistle once, missed two penalty corners and fell over a football goal that was loitering at the side of the pitch. It can’t have been that bad?
The final league match of the season for the Ladies 2’s was the fixture I would be assessed on by Essex Hockey. On arriving at pitch and after a quick pep talk from club legend Sam Taylor, I met my assessor who talked me through the process, gave me a quick Q&A session on general umpiring knowledge and made sure I knew the three fundamentals of umpiring; Safety, Flow and Fairness.
Once satisfied, he let me crack on with the other umpire and prepare for the game. One thing about umpiring assessments is this; there has to be enough in the game to actually be assessed on. Quite right too, because not needing to blow the whistle in a well mannered game doesn’t really provide one the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to take charge of the game.
I believe our Ladies 2’s were aware of this, some of them having had assessments of their own the previous season. As soon as I started the game, there were heavy tackles flying all over the place, shoulders being dropped, mouths running wild and general mischief afoot.
I am now firmly of the impression there might be such a thing as too much action in an assessment game. Nevertheless, I soldiered on and before I knew it, I was having a post match debrief and being told that my assessment was a success and I shall now be classed as a competent Level 1 umpire. Well done me!
The only thing left to do after that was go for a post assessment celebratory pint.