This afternoon in his home town of Palmerston North, umpire David Tomlinson will receive the ‘golden whistle’ for 100 tests. As he prepares for his first Olympics in Tokyo, he shares the highlights of his 99 matches and how he helps deliver exciting hockey.
Like a player on debut, David Tomlinson clearly remembers his first international behind the whistle.
It was 2007 in a series between the Black Sticks and Korea in Christchurch and funnily enough current Black Stick Nick Wilson, a pupil of Tomlinson’s at Palmerston North Boys’ High School, was also making his debut.
While he’d had a strong National Hockey League he thought that was his season over until the Korean series popped up and his 99-test career behind the whistle was underway.
“I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. It was a bit faster, a little more intense and there was a bit more passion and pride from both teams – but it seemed to go OK.”
Most importantly the approach he took to umpiring in that first test hasn’t changed to this day.
“We look at what makes exciting, attacking, flowing hockey and how can we contribute to that. That’s our job – keeping it safe and fair, but allowing the players to play the game.
“It’s not about us. It’s not a power trip – we’re trying to do the best for you guys.”
Today he joins Simon Taylor, who was part of the umpiring group for Tomlinson’s debut series, in the third test in the Sentinel Homes Trans-Tasman Series between the Black Sticks and the Kookaburras, with wife Jackie as the match’s technical officer.
“To be able to get to 100 tests is certainly a rare occasion, and it’s pretty special to achieve it in front of friends and family and our local hockey community. It also doesn’t get better than New Zealand versus Australia.”
Tomlinson credits Stuart Ashby, the heart and soul of junior hockey in the central Hawke’s Bay, for first getting him to pick up the whistle and then Manawatu’s Dave Craven who became his main mentor.
Today he joins Taylor, Lyn Farrell and Kelly Hudson in the 100 ‘golden whistle’ club with both Gareth Greenfield and Amber Church on the cusp.
“It’s always been the people involved that’s kept me in it. And to see the others succeed gives you the confidence that what we’re doing down here is working on an international stage.”
Two of Tomlinson’s 99 test matches stand out, the first being the Champions Trophy final between Australia and India in London in 2016.
“It was a fantastic tournament, with an awesome crowd and the final ended up in a draw and went to a shootout. All the umpires there were going to the Olympics except me. I was bottom of the pack and just there to get experience, but they gave me a shot at it (the final).”
The other highlight is a World Cup quarterfinal between hosts India and the Netherlands – an amazing game to be part of especially the stunned silence from the jam-packed crowd at the end when the Netherlands won.
Another memorable experience was a last minute request to umpire an FIH Pro League match in Madrid between Spain and Argentina.
“I got an email on a Thursday, quickly checked with the boss, flew out Friday night, arrived in Spain on Saturday, umpired a game on Sunday and flew home on Monday. An amazing experience.”
With less than two months until Tokyo, Tomlinson is starting to get excited about his first Olympics, made even more special by the fact that wife Jackie is joining him as a technical official.
“It’s going to be quite a different hockey experience as well as a different Olympic experience, and to have Jackie as part of that is really exciting.”
Reflecting on 14 years of elite umpiring, he’s pleased many of the technical or pedantic rules have been removed such as no sticks above shoulders, and requiring the ball to be exactly on the spot for free hits.
“I feel that with those changes we’re now not nit-picking. We can let more advantage go.”
The Physical Education and Social Studies teacher at Palmerston North Boys’ High, is incredibly grateful for the school’s support to allow him to live out his umpiring dreams.
“We celebrate our boys and celebrate our staff. It’s all about seeing our whole community succeeding.”
His parents in Hastings and Jackie’s parents in Geraldine are also readily on call to look after daughters nine-year-old Emily and seven-year-old Sophie.
Today Ashby, the man who ignited Tomlinson’s love for umpiring, will make the golden whistle presentation, while Craven will be watching on alongside the umpire’s family and friends.
“It’s been a pretty cool journey so far and hopefully it’s not over yet. I’m loving what I’m doing and would love to keep going for as long as I can. But if it’s your last – just enjoy it.”