Earlier this month, Gareth Greenfield was umpiring the Champions Trophy final in the Netherlands. A week later he was back playing premier grade hockey in Christchurch. Gordon Findlater caught up with him
When Gareth Greenfield missed out on making a representative team more than a decade ago, it might have been the best thing that happened to him.
It changed his focus from aspiring to play for the Black Sticks to umpiring.
That shift has led the 36-year-old to become one of the world’s top umpires – underlined by his appointment to control the Champions Trophy final between Australia and India in Breda, Netherlands.
“I moved to Christchurch in 2001 to begin a diploma in sports management and also played for the Canterbury under-21 team that year. The year after that, I wasn’t selected and that sort of got me more serious about umpiring,” said Greenfield.
“It was a bit of a wake up and made me think I’m best to go and do something I’m good at – I was never going to play hockey for New Zealand.”
He may not be representing New Zealand with stick in hand. However, Greenfield’s ability as a world-class umpire was on full display in the Champions Trophy final pool match between host the Netherlands and India last month.
In the match – which would decide who faced Australia in the final – Greenfield opted to review a late Netherlands goal that would have seen them into the final. The review found evidence to rule out the goal. That performance likely had something to do with Greenfield’s appointment to umpire the final.
“It was a goal going into the tournament, you always want to do the big game,” he said.
“A bit of nerves come into it, but it’s just another game. There just happens to be a trophy in the middle of the teams as you walk out.”
Greenfield’s umpiring career hasn’t stopped him from still playing at a premier level. The defender played at top club level with the Selwyn Hockey Club until five years ago before their merger with Sydenham to create Southern United.
Since then, he has played at a more social level in a Monday night competition. However, fresh off his return from one of international hockey’s biggest stages, Greenfield turned back the clock to run out for Southern United in their 3-1 win over HSOB/Burnside in the Porritt Cup.
“We were a few regulars short with age group tournaments going on so I got the call-up,” said Greenfield.
He wasn’t in bad company either, playing alongside former 192-test Black Sticks player Brad Shaw and former NHL level player and Selwyn coach, Shane Maddaford, in what could have been mistaken for a very handy masters team.
“He’s a tireless campaigner and a classic southern man. Sometimes his play may not be pretty but it’s effective,” said Shaw.
Having an international level referee taking to the field has also raised some tongue and cheek remarks from opposition sides about how the game is being officiated.
“There’s always a bit of a joke about knowing all of the umpires well and being able to get a call or two to go my way,” said Greenfield. He also believes that still playing the sport helps him officiate to the best of his ability.
Surprisingly, umpiring at the top level in a sport with one of the biggest fan bases in the world is a voluntary job.
“We call it a hobby. We take time off work and we’re not paid, but we get looked after when we’re away. It would be nice to earn money, but we do it for the love of the sport and for the right reasons.”
Umpiring has taken Greenfield to many different countries including South Africa, India, China, Japan, Belgium, Scotland and the Netherlands.
His next goal is to umpire at the Olympic Games. “Tokyo 2020 is the goal. I’ve done two Commonwealth Games and three Champions Trophies, but the Olympics is the dream.”