Hearing that someone has “hockey in their blood’ is not unusual- ‘umpiring in their veins’ less so“.
‘Born with a whistle in his mouth’ holds true for the legendary Dutch umpire Rob Lathouwers.
Rob’s father GuustLathouwers umpired in 67 international games including as many as three Olympics. His father’s younger brother Piet Lathouwers whistled in 65 matches including two Olympics.
Little wonder, Rob started umpiring at the age of 18. A keen player before he took the whistle, Rob stopped playing the game and committed himself only to umpiring. The umpiring career lasted 26 years. At the age of 44, he decided to quit and again switched from the whistle to the stick. What an eventful umpiring career he had- 158 international matches including three Olympics, two World Cups and 11 editions of Champions Trophy.
Here, he tells about his umpiring career, memories, favourites, hockey rules, etc.
“Yes, people used to say, “Rob, you are born with a whistle in your mouth”. Like any child, playing the game was my first choice. I was active with the MOP hockey club, Vught’s second team when I switched to whistle from the hockey stick. The laurels achieved by my father and his brother were the inspiration behind this important decision. I was still in my teens when I took the whistle for the first time. Soon, I had done my first qualification - C-Card (junior level) and there was no looking back. I started doing the neutral umpiring when I was 20 and my first international game was in Amiens, (France) France against USSR. The year was 1978 and my age was 26 years. I am fortunate that I was able to maintain a good standard and was assigned the top FIH tournaments throughout my career.
There was no such thing as a difficult team to umpire.
However, I relished umpiring the India/Pakistan games. Reason?There were 22 magicians on the field, at least during those days; of course barring the two umpires. I had to concentrate more so as not to be distracted by the players’ artistry and neglect my job.
“As far as the major tournaments go, I enjoyed the 1984 Olympics (Los Angeles)and the 1980 Champions Trophy in Karachi. The atmosphere was superb on both the occasions.
My dad’s best advice to me was: “When in doubt, watch the eyes of the player. They tell you everything”.
Hockey umpiring is physically very demanding. One has to run, turn and whistle apart from being vigilant all the time. It became even tougher as the introduction of the Astro-turf, and rule changes made the game even faster. Cycling was my favourite activity to keep fit. Before the mega events, I used to bicycle 40-50 km a day.
I developed a very close relationship with the famous Spanish umpire Santiago Deo. We were often roommates during our international assignments. How did that start? Well! I smoked cigarettes and he smoked cigars so were put in the same room.
During my days, there were no awards for the umpires except the GuustLathouwers Memorial Trophy. Instituted in 1986 by the FIH, in the name of my father, it is awarded every two years to an individual for outstanding services to the development and promotion of umpiring.
I was never given this award perhaps as it was named after dad.
“I have had quite a few interesting incidents during my umpiring career.
Once, an international flight was delayed for the umpires by a royal edict.
I was umpiring the final of the Champions Trophy in Kuala Lampur in 1993, along with my great friend Santiago Deo. The match got delayed due to heavy rain. Finally, it got started and finished at 7 PM. It seemed we would both miss our Dusseldorf bound flight scheduled at 8 PM as we had to change our clothes and meet the king. The organisers came to know about our predicament. In a little while, we got the message, ‘You need not worry at all as the king has been told about it!’ After the farewell chat with the King, we came downstairs. We were astounded to see the car of the king waiting for us with the police escort in the front and rear.
“When we arrived at the airport the car went through a gate directly to the plane. It was 8.20 PM and the 747 had been waiting for the two of us for more than 20 minutes. The VIP treatment didn’t end there. The chief steward, who had come down the plane to receive us, sent us directly to the business class- again the king’s order. A hockey umpire could expect such a royal treatment only in an Asian country.
“I retired after the 1994 World Cup in Sydney. I had done umpiring for almost 20 years- enough is enough and make sure that you quit yourself instead of other people telling you- is not that the time to stop?
“It is essential for an umpire to have good eyes, knowledge of the rules and the ability to control the match.
“Ties Kruize is my favourite player from the past and I admire Teun de Nooijer among the present group. Kruizewas a pillar of strength for the Dutch national side and played in as many as six World Cups. He was probably the fiercest striker on the penalty corners and also showed great character to recover from a terrible accident and return to the international scene.
De Nooijer is the most complete player, I have seen. He has everything: ball control, speed, body swerve, goal scoring plus grace and dominating presence.
“The hockey rules introduced over last 15 years or so such as no offside, self-pass, etc. plus amendment in the laws pertaining to obstruction and turning making them less stringent have made the sport faster with fewer stoppages. This also means that the sport is now more attractive for the spectators. And all this has made umpire’s task easier; he now has to blow less during the match.
“My family has had a long association with the MOP club inVught in various roles spanning three generations. My father played prior to his umpiring career. So did his brother who later became the president of the club. My own brother also remained the president. Apart from playing for the MOP, I have been the president of the sponsors’ committee and also the president of the TOP hockey, meaning responsible for the first teams of the Men’s and Women’s teams and also of the age group squads. Both my daughters played for the club.
“National Hockey Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan is my favourite hockey venue. It is huge. When fully filled it is a sight to behold. The 1990 World Cup there holds bitter sweet memories for me. I had been aspiring to umpire the final at the world’s biggest hockey stadium. My wish couldn’t come true as Holland featured in the final. Seeing my country crowned the World Champions was the only consolation.
“My family owns several companies connected with cars business, mainly the General Motors. I left the family business about 20 years back and now work with a company Vans Es Holding which rents out crawler cranes (PVE Cranes) and self-elevating platforms (Jack Up Barge) all over the world. Our offices are located in eight countries in different parts of the globe with the headquarters here in Sliedrecht, Holland. That means I have to travel a lot.
“It is nice to see hockey entering a new age with the WSH (World Series Hockey) and now probably an even more glorified league in the form of HIL (Hockey India League). Holland had provided the break through, much needed for the sport of hockey, when the Dutch clubs started recruiting star players from all over the world. But the Indians seem to have gone one better as the players are getting money never dreamt of in hockey. Moreover, the coverage and the crowd support have been excellent.
“In 1983, I was invited along with the Argentine Horatio Servetto to umpire a Pakistan- Australia test series in Dubai. The invitation had been sent by Brigadier M.H.Atif, one of the most dynamic secretaries, the FIH has ever seen. All the expenses were to be paid by the organisers.
“My air ticket had been paid by the Dutch hockey federation. When I asked for the promised money, the officials assured me, ‘You will be paid after the first match’. But they didn’t. I went to Brig. Atif. He told me not to worry and asked me to start the next test match only after he had signalled me. Meanwhile, he would sort the matters with the organizers. So, with both the teams and the umpires on the ground, I waited for Atif’s signal.
“Everyone was perplexed by this unexplained delay and the two captains repeatedly asked me, “What has gone wrong?” Finally, Atif appeared in the stands raising his hand and the match began 10 minutes behind the scheduled start.
“In fact, Atif had warned the organisers that the match would not get underway unless the umpires are given the money.
“I have turned 60 and still play for the MOPs over 50 side. Now, I enjoy shouting at the umpires having been subjected to a lot of shouting myself during my career with the whistle.
“Before leaving, I am going to tell something that would sound unbelievable -I never flashed a red card during any of the 158 international or the 345 Dutch top league games that I umpired.”
Rob Lathouwers – Umpiring in his Blood, was published in Dec 2012 issue of the PUSH Hockey Magazine (an independent hockey print magazine based in UK).