Ask Henrik and Peter: world's best recount their lives in umpiring

With the Leinster Hockey Umpires Association introducing a number of initiatives to promote that aspect of the sport, the revitalisation of the organisation is well underway.

Over 100 people turned out to Ray O’Connor and Geoff Conn’s preseason briefing on the new rules and ten people have already signed up to the Umpires Development Programme (UDP).

Between those two events, two of the world’s best whistle-blowers were in Dublin recently to provide their expertise and knowledge with a small but captivated audience in the Montrose Hotel.

Between them, Denmark’s Henrik Ehlers (above, left) and Holland’s Peter von Reth (below, left) have umpired every major event in world hockey and they gave their thoughts to the Hook on their illustrious careers.

‘Spikey’ Ehlers took up the whistle 25 years ago, admitting he was “not a very good player” but could see with Denmark’s standing in world hockey, opportunities to reach the top as an umpire were certainly to progress quickly to international level.

He has since taken charge of Champions Trophy final in Lahore in front of 50,000 fans but says World and Olympic finals are the highlights of an incredible career.

“They’re the pinnacles and stand out as memories. The WC final (in 2006) stands out as one of the best games I’ve ever been at, many goals, a lot of emotions in it; that was really big.

“And the Olympic final because it’s an Olympic final! They don’t come often so just being able to be a part of that size of game is incredible.”

As with any umpire, players invariably will try and use them as a scapegoat from time to time for adverse results.

It’s something which is part and parcel of the job, with Ehlers citing one particular example of the bronze medal match in the 2004 Olympics between Germany and Spain.

“Germany won on golden goal, there was some frustration on the Spanish part. They were quite upset they lost and tried to blame me for something I still haven’t worked out.”

“In these instances, you find someone that you trust and have a discussion about how it happened, what could have been the reason for their reaction. It’s tough to deal with because you feel like you’re part of something that is unique and have done a good job but as time goes on you get a thicker skin.

“You cannot think after every game, I should have done this. It’s done, you evaluate and try and learn from it, learn why the mistake happened – maybe you’re out of position or did not read the game – and then take it as a learning process.”

Peter von Reth describes his route to the top as “simple”, saying that in the Netherlands you just start umpiring at club level and after that it is an “automatic” process.

He started taking charge of games at the Racing club in Eindhoven aged 15, helping out with his father’s veteran’s games and his sister’s league matches. He became a KNHB official seven years later.

“It’s automatic. When you umpire in Dutch leagues you will be observed and every season you can be promoted and one day you can get a letter inviting you to a tournament. And you feel ‘hey, this is going well!’”

Asked what constitutes a good game from his perspective, he says: “No incidents!” Famously, he took charge of Pakistan and India’s first international fixture in 15 years which produced no incident and a goal-less draw.

He adds: “With umpiring, you try and prevent incidents by reading and understanding the game. Understanding what the players want to do and how the play develops; understanding how skill works.

“Understanding that top players really are skillful and you need to hold the whistle longer because if they are very skillful you need the extra-time.”

His record of achievement, unlike Ehlers, was always going to be tied directly to his countries national success. Holland reached numerous major finals during his time at international level, disbarring him from getting the top finals in those events on a number of occasions.

As the Dutch umpire at five Champion’s Trophy events, though, he got the top honour four times as his country’s national team continually failed to produce the goods, prompting the players to request, with tongue-in-cheek, “never join us again”.

Like Ehlers, he says he was not the best hockey player but his skills got him up close and personal with many of the world’s greats. With the UDP getting underway last this month, you could take the first step to following in their footsteps.

* If you would are keen to try and emulate these guys achievements, or just get started at umpiring, there are only a few places left in this year’s UDP. The programme begins in late October. Apply, in the first instance, to Crozier Deane at or 086 828 1393

Partners of The Hook