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Brilliant Birmingham!

Published on Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Brilliant Birmingham!

How I prepared For The All England.

Who would ever have thought; for most of us, the last time we officiated was over a year ago at was the Yonex All England 2020. For me, I was fortunate enough that it was Finals day on Sunday March 15th 2020. With the YAE2021 starting on 17th March this year, it meant 367 days since I last stepped on a court and umpired. I’m sure none of us envisaged that we would spend more than a couple or three months in Covid lockdown without umpiring a match.

The All England is the event that will always mean the most to me for a number of reasons; it’s where Malcolm Banham convinced me I should apply to become an umpire, in my eyes it IS the greatest spectacle in the Badminton calendar, the camaraderie amongst all of the volunteers is second to none, and (normally) it has one of the best crowds.

While the umpiring may not have started until Wednesday 17th March, Malcolm and I had been involved in approximately a dozen Zoom meetings with Badminton England and the other team leaders and deputy leaders, the first one of which was back on the 2nd November 2020. Discussions varied from numbers of volunteers in each group, to the protocols that would be in place at the event, to there being no crowd at the event this year, to how each group was going to function during these strange times. There were also a number of conversations about those volunteers who were not going to be at the event this year due to shielding and how they were going to be missed.

While all of this was going on, I had made a conscious decision that I needed to pick up my rule book and my ITTO’s. I’d not looked at (or even thought about looking at) them since the 2020 All England had finished. So, in conjunction with all the preparation work for the All England, I was still making sure that I was able to deal with anything that might happen on my court (whether as a service judge, or an umpire). Bolstering this with three weeks’ worth of coverage of the events in Thailand in January on BT Sport helped me really get focused for the All England. Personally, I find watching matches one of the best ways to prepare for an event.

Alongside the Zoom meetings, we were having to replan all the things that would normally need no planning such as umpire numbers, how umpires would be assigned to courts, how we would deal with players behind the curtain, getting onto and off court between matches, .and making sure umpires had time for food.

Through all of this planning, it felt like the event was constantly on a knife edge. There was never any certainty that the event would be on until we were about two weeks prior to its start. Even at this point, if there had been a major upturn in cases of Covid, there was quite a strong likelihood that the event could have been called off.

So it was a great relief when I received my first PCR test the week before the event was due to start. Not because I knew I was going to have to stick a swab at the back of my throat and up my nose, but because it was the realisation that the event was going to go ahead and I could get back to a hobby that I really love.

I, and I’m sure many others, would be interested to hear how everyone else prepared for this year’s Yonex All England.

A Strange All England.

Where do I start? Ok, as they say in the films, “I’ll start at the beginning…”

Arriving in Birmingham on the Monday lunchtime brought back memories of the old format of the All England pre 2018 when there used to be a qualifying day on the Tuesday. This ended when the All England became one of the BWF World Tour Super 1000 events.

The first order of the day was checking into the hotel and then sticking a second swab down the back of my throat and up my nose (having already done this at home the week before). It was no easier to do this time!

Remaining in my room until I’d received my negative result for over 30 hours didn’t go down well. Having worked from home for the last year, a different four walls spiced things up a little however it was still mind numbing. Fortunately I received my result on the Tuesday evening but there were many who didn’t receive theirs until well into the night on Tuesday night. Tuesday evening was also the umpires briefing – held virtually due to the numbers involved. By this time, we all knew that the start of the event was going to be delayed from 9.00am on Wednesday morning until at least noon. As it transpired, play eventually started at 2.00pm.

Spending our day before play starts in the hall has become second nature to Malcolm and I. This didn’t happen this year as there was a strict rule that you didn’t receive your accreditation until you had received your negative result from your Covid test. So, we headed for the hall on Wednesday morning to check out the court layouts, set up our desk, and check out the tunnel area. We also checked the latest schedule of play to make best use of our overseas umpires. (Neutrality is a big thing at any major tournament, especially the All England.)

When play started on Wednesday afternoon it was strange, almost surreal, that there was a deathly silence in the hall. Hearing the opening announcements from the umpires with no applause was a really strange thing. Every umpire had to work hard. Normally, using the rotation system, umpires get a reasonable break at certain points of the day. However, because we had to assign a group of umpires to each court as a “Covid precaution”, everybody was working one match on, one match off all day long as we were only four umpires per court (except court one which had five umpires). Credit has to go to every umpire for their tireless work on Wednesday – some people didn’t manage to get for their hot meal during the day.

Unfortunately, due to a flagged track and trace, the Indonesian team were all forced to self-isolate as a result of a positive covid case on their flight. This meant that there were some matches that became walkovers. It also meant that there would be five walkovers on Thursday.

Due to the late start, early on Wednesday evening it was decided that the last four mixed matches would be played at 9.00am on the Thursday morning (one hour before play was due to officially start).

Thursday saw an early start and another swab to the back of the throat and nose. Nobody complained that the umpires briefing was set for 8.00am.

Once the four matches that were carried over from Wednesday night had been concluded, Thursday saw a repeat of Wednesday with groups of umpires assigned to specific courts for the day. Today, we had three courts and five umpires per court which meant occasionally everybody had a two match break.

Friday saw us reduce to two courts but still working as two separate groups of umpires. All matches were preassigned so everyone knew when their best opportunities for food were.

Saturday saw us reduce to one court as we do every year and, as with Friday, all matches were preassigned.

Sunday saw us reach the conclusion of the event with Finals Day. Big congratulations have to go to David Evans who was selected by the referee team to umpire the men’s doubles final. That’s a great achievement considering his youthful age.

I was fortunate to be chosen to umpire the men’s singles final and what a final it turned out to be. Viktor Axelsen (DEN) v Lee Zii Jia (MAS). In a first game that lasted 33 minutes, it was the first time since rally point scoring was introduced that a game in an All England Final has gone all the way… 30-29. And, then the second game reached extended play as well in 22 minutes (22-20). The final game was quite a disappointment in comparison, finishing 21-9, but the whole match was a pleasure to umpire.

To all the other BUAofE officials that were at the event, I hope you enjoyed this years’ event as much as I did. (Well, except for the PCR tests!)

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1 comments on article "Brilliant Birmingham!"

Jane Humphreys

4/8/2021 10:56 PM

Thanks so much Paul for sharing your insight into this year's Yonex All England. It was certainly different but brilliant to watch on the BBC and other channels.

Gill Clarke and Morton Frost provided excellent and informed commentary as always.

Congratulations to all the umpires involved in the event, your hard work and commitment made it appear seamless from a TV spectators point of view and your contribution to this iconic event is very much appreciated. I know the thrill of being directly involved in these matches is something you will treasure for many years to come

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