Three English umpires were selected for the European U17 Championships in Gniezno, Poland starting on August 30th. Angela and Nick travelled together from Manchester with Martyn travelling by himself from Birmingham. There were slight delays on the planes due to some thunderstorms but nothing too long so all three were soon settled into the hotel. They caught the bus to the venue for the evening’s briefing and met many of the other umpires. We were subjected to several comments and jokes about Brexit so Angela claimed to be from the United Kingdom rather than England although it was then pointed out that we might not be united for much longer ! There were actually two events - the Team Event followed by the Individual Event - so some umpires were only there for the first event, with others staying on for the second event and being joined by other umpires who would arrive later specifically for that.
The first day started early but Nick had a welcome lie in due to not working that shift. The hotel was only a short bus drive away from the venue but was the last stop on a circular route on the way to the venue (and the first stop on the way back) so there was a twenty five minute ride for what was really a ten minute walk!!!! It was a 10 o’clock start on the six courts in a large hall with plenty of seating all around. The teams completed their battle cries on court and the tournament began. The first three days were taken up by the group matches and this resulted in some rather one sided but still enjoyable games. The second day saw Martyn and Angela off duty for the first session while Nick endured the earliest start of the week. This was repeated on day three although the start time wasn’t quite so early, and Martyn didn’t even start working until 6pm. After three busy days, the quarter final line up was established with all the expected teams taking their places. The draw was held on Sunday evening and the quarter finals started on Monday morning. England exited the tournament at this stage losing to Serbia - the upside of this was that our three umpires could therefore officiate in both semi-finals. Martyn managed to cause a diplomatic fall out with the Turkish team - there were unsubstantiated rumours of threats - and there was certainly lots of fist waving, pointing and rude words expressed!!!
The semi-finals saw Serbia playing Ukraine and Russia (the number one seeds) facing Denmark. Martyn by this point had a slight sniffle - or man flu according to him - and some of the other umpires were reporting stomach problems. This was in addition to us losing one Italian umpire who ended up in hospital having her appendix removed. Both semis were exciting matches accompanied by the usual battle cries and lots of shouting, beating of drums and blowing of air horns. All three English umpires were involved in the semis which saw Serbia and Denmark progressing to the final. The final took place on Tuesday morning and all three English umpires were given the morning off, so they arrived just in time to watch the medal presentation.
The individual event started on the Tuesday afternoon and, having met some additional umpires and said goodbye to others, we were all involved every day. Unfortunately, Nick and Angela hampered any further Brexit negotiations with France by managing to upset their players and coaches by calling too many service faults and not overruling line calls. Martyn had problems with pronouncing the German players’ names particularly Thuk Phuong Nguyen, which resulted in Nick fighting the urge to laugh during the interval between games and Martyn struggling to keep a straight face in the chair. (we did warn the organisers not to put them on court together!!) Thursday’s round of 16 was Angela’s last umpiring day with Martyn finishing the following day after the semi-finals. Nick was involved on finals day umpiring the first final of the day – the mixed doubles – and service judging the women’s singles both of which went to three ends.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable event with many exciting matches, and it was a great opportunity to work with lots of other umpires from across Europe. There were lots of promising young players and a very noisy atmosphere – particularly during the Team competition. We were very well looked after by the Polish organisers - the food at the venue being particularly good - and the refereeing team. We highly recommend an Ice Fantasy at the Nest Hotel - they were so delicious that we ate them every night!!!