Sunday in Ukraine, and probably the hottest day yet. My game wasn't until 4.45pm but as usual I was down at the stadium for the first game of the day, before wandering off in search of something that resembled British food for lunch. Found some pasta....close enough! Also attempted to order some proper coffee in my best Ukranian...10 minutes and 3 staff members later I eventually got one. More practice needed I think.
Penarth had the second game today, and another loss meant they would play at 8.30am on the final day in the relegation game...bad news for them, good news for me as I would definitely avoid the game nobody wants! I had the hosts in the final game, which meant a sizeable crowd and a great atmosphere. They recorded the biggest victory of the tournament 17-0...a good test for me of staying focussed! 2 yellow cards later and it was back to the hotel for dinner and a UM briefing on shoot-outs should one of the games get that far tomorrow. There is no pool C or D here, so all 4 games tomorrow are winner takes all - the winners of the first 2 games will retain their status in this division, and the winners of the last 2 games will be promoted to the trophy division next year. 2 reserve appointments for tomorrow on games 2 and 4, looking forward to what should be a great day of hockey!
Saturday arrives and it's game 2 for me - so a slightly later breakfast but in time to walk down to the stadium to support Penarth in the early game. No luck for them again but a much improved showing. My game this time was with Jorge Santos (POR), another new pairing. Probably more to manage in this game than yesterday but it passed with no incidents, and just the 1 green card. Stayed upright again (getting the hang of this now), and after a debrief it was time to slap on some more suncream and take in the rest of the days games.
Saturday evening was the official dinner, which was conveniently in the restaurant of our hotel. As expected, the cuisine was interesting and the whole evening was sponsored by vodka. Ironically, the hosts kept telling me to be careful, and "vodka is dangerous", whilst simultaneously refilling my glass at any moment they could! After the third one (ish), the glass went under the table...I'm far too British for that!! After some speeches and welcomes from local dignitaries, we were treated to some traditional Ukrainian singing, which was really very good, enjoyed by the whole group.
Appointments time - game 4 for me tomorrow involving the hosts, so looking forward to a lively atmosphere.
At the end of the day it is Champions League Final and also the 40th birthday of the president of the host club. So to celebrate the hosts have had a marquee erected by the side of the pitch and have put on a BBQ and live streaming of the football. At 11:00 the bus arrives at the pitch to take us back to the hotel.
Day 3 - and the tournament finally begins! All umpires are required to watch every game on the first day to get a feel for the tournament and the teams, so an 8.30am bus was arranged, in time for the 10am opening game. Penarth had the pleasure of opening the show against strong Croation opposition, unfortunately suffering a heavy loss - a harsh welcome to EuroHockey. Nevertheless, they remained in good spirits throughout the day.
My game was at 2.30 with the Irish neutral Malcolm Coombes. We had never umpired together before so I was looking forward to it - and the game passed without incident, no cards, and I even managed to stay upright for 60 minutes which doesn't happen every game!! After a debriefing session with the umpire manager, I could relax for the day and take in the other two games. The opening ceremony was sandwiched inbetween games 3 and 4 (no idea), which was well planned, and featured a lot of high quality gymnastics and displays...although I'm still not sure how I feel about a group of 20 10-year olds being stronger than me!!
The last game of the day followed, which featured the hosts, Vinnitsa HC. The crowds poured in, the music suddenly got better and TV cameras turned up, how strange!! (Little bit of useless information - sarcasm is pointless in Europe).
All that remained was a team debrief of the day with the umpire manager, and the now expected high quality cuisine in the restaurant! The appointments were then released - Penarth again playing in the first match of the day (very nice of them), so it will be game 2 for me - Plzen (CZE) vs Stroitel Brest (BLR). Until tomorrow....
Well, it feels a little strange waking up on day 2 of a tournament with no hockey, so a late breakfast was called for, before taking a walk down to the venue in 27 degree heat...only around 20 minutes away. The stadium (it is literally a stadium) is in the middle of a large public park, so anybody who knows me will be able to guess how long I was wandering around looking clueless before I found it!
All the umpires had a good look around the venue, familiarising ourselves with location of changing rooms, showers, refreshments etc, and I stayed to watch Penarth train. Following that the technical team got to work with equipment and passport checks, and we took a walk through the city in the afternoon, which is an incredibly nice place - even better in the summer sunshine.
The evening before the tournament calls for all manners of meetings and briefings, however the technical team like to go first so the umpires had dinner (again, no idea), in the hotel restaurant whilst that was taking place. Then, around 9pm it was the umpires briefing. This is a team meeting led by the umpire manager, and sets out how we are going to approach the tournament as a team, setting our rules, and striving to reach a consensus on our umpiring. There is never too many surprises in these meetings, but it's important to understand how umpires from different nations will approach the games, and also what the umpire manager expects of us. These can tend to take anything from 30 minutes to 2 hours - depends who the umpire manager is! A few housekeeping points were then dished out, followed by the appointments.
For once our Welsh team were playing first, which meant I didn't get the first game of the tournament, for the first time in a while! Game 3 for me at 2.30 - Lousada (POR) vs HC Akademik Sofia (BUL). Time for bed...the real stuff starts tomorrow!
Arrived at the hotel at 10am and checked in, it is already very warm and the room is not much cooler, decide to open the fridge door as it is better than the air conditioning.
12 noon and all the officials meet up to go to the pitch, its 10km away by car/bus. When we get there, we have a quick inspection of the pitch and come up with a plan of attack for the games, between myself, the TD and the UM we decide how we are going to run things like the 40 seconds on Penalty Corners etc.
After lunch we start player and equipment checks. This takes most of the afternoon as we check each team before their allocated training session. We get back to the hotel at about 7:30 pm just in time for a shower before the managers meeting starts at 8pm. By 9:30 we have made all the changes to the teams and updated the TMS ready for the next day. Time for a quick beer before the games start tomorrow.
So, here we go again! I'm off to Ukraine this time, and due to its location I was eligible to arrive 2 days early, rather than the usual 1. So after an extremely short stay in a Heathrow airport hotel, it was off to Kyiv for leg 1 of the journey on Wednesday morning...which would have been nice if that's where the tournament was! What followed was one of the most "interesting" transfers I've ever experienced, across Ukraine - 4 hours in a people carrier in which the air conditioning had "just broken". So far so good! After checking in I went for a wander around the city, found a local supermarket for supplies and began trying to work out the local currency! Back at the hotel excellent hospitality followed - had dinner (don't ask me what it was) with the tournament director, another umpire and the technical team, and that was a wrap for day 1....time for a cold shower!!