Sheffield hockey ref for World Cup

Ranked in the world’s top 10 list for indoor hockey umpires Lee Barron recently achieved his dream of receiving the call up for the 2015 World Cup in Leipzig, Germany. The Sheffield University Bankers Hockey Club referee made the cut after successfully overseeing the Asian Indoor Cup final in Changhua, Taiwan between Iran and Malaysia in June, where he was the first European to ever umpire at the tournament. Grass Roots writer Ruth Dacey caught up with the associate director at construction project management firm Turner & Townsend to find out about his international hockey umpire rise and the prospect of performing at the highest level.

How challenging is it to umpire games at the top level?

I’ve had a lot of experience – 22 years on the ladder but every single game still throws up different challenges and scenarios. It’s a very dangerous game, but luckily I’ve never been hit by a ball or stick – ironically the only time this has happened is when I’ve played myself and usually from my teammates!

I find it’s easier umpiring at an international level than domestic and club level because play is faster and they have the better skilled players.

The most challenging aspect is the mental side to the game as you can never switch off for a second and if it’s a very close game that is when the intensity increases and you have to be so focused.

You recently umpired the Asian Indoor Cup final – how was the tournament experience overall?

Iran had a clear 5-1 victory in the final but it was a fascinating game and even though the host nation didn’t make the final the atmosphere was brilliant inside.

The level of the tournament is not the same intensity as it is in Europe but it was amazing to be part of it and the opening and closing ceremonies were the highlight.

I also managed to take in a lot of the culture of the place because officials were given the opportunity to go and see Taipei. I got the chance to see the big Buddha there and lots of other fascinating sights and sounds.

How much did it mean to be selected to umpire at the 2015 Indoor World Cup?

Internationally there is a retirement age of 47 and as I’m 40 now I was aiming for this and to be able to represent England and Sheffield is incredible. I would love to umpire the final, so hopefully that opportunity will come up.

In theory I could have three world cups in me if the dates work out and I’m always working on my fitness as there is no slacking in the sport with four intense fitness tests a year. I’m looking forward to Germany and I’m sure the players will quickly respond to my Yorkshire accent when I’m umpiring – especially if I’m not happy!

Do you think umpires govern more respect in the game than a referee does in football?

Yes, mainly because of the way that players are punished and how they handle themselves. Firstly I live by the motto two’s company three’s a crowd – so if an incident happens players don’t crowd round me, as you often see in football.

Also our carding system is very effective as we use the sin bin so players can go and cool off if altercations happen on the pitch. And often captains will have to take punishment for the whole team – which I think should be introduced in football. The captain is responsible for the behaviour of the team and often if they have to take time out the whole side’s behaviour improves.

How do you think hockey’s popularity will be increased in the city and the country?

At the moment it just seems that football dominates. I mean it’s a real big shame that we have just had the outdoor World Cup in Holland but of course it was overshadowed by the little fact of the football in Brazil this summer.

England hockey has seen a big push with some coverage on Sky so it’s getting more into the public domain but it is all about sponsorship and money and ultimately the sport doesn’t get the coverage it deserves.

We need to look at grass roots level and at schools because in this country there just aren’t enough suitable pitches to get people playing on.

This is because a lot of old astro-turf pitches are now being replaced by all-purpose 3G artificial grass ones and the blades are too long to play on.

I’m hoping something will start to be done about this, or the nation will definitely see a decline in the sport.