A quick word with ............ Martin Fewster
I caught up with the internationally well-known umpire, Martin Fewster, at the Swiss Low goal championships at Polo Bern this year. We've met up at various tournaments in Europe, but I now thought it was time to ask him some questions.
How and when did you get into polo, Martin?
Ah....that was during my school holidays, going out to Nigeria from the UK. My Dad was teaching at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. My Mum had a little riding school and had us kids up on horses pretty early in our lives. One day, Alhaji Idris Ibraham, who was studying at the university and playing polo at the Zaria Polo Club, put me on a polo pony and got me playing. I had my first tournament in 1977.
Back in the UK, I started studying and did a bit of grooming, but was out of polo for over two years. I tried to forget about it as, in order to play, you had to be either very rich or very good and I was neither. Then, one day, I saw an advert in the newspaper requesting help exercising polo ponies. I applied, got the job and also was given the opportunity to play. I was earning a bit of money and so was able to build up a string of ponies. Playing in the UK and around the world, I reached a +4 handicap.
When did you start umpiring?
That was in 2008. I had a serious accident which put an end to my playing days.
So how is the game of polo changing and how is umpiring affecting this?
The game has certainly changed and umpiring has helped this by being a lot stricter, as we just don't want ponies or players hurt. With the calls we are now permitted to give of "clear", "use it" etc we're eliminating as much danger as possible, the bad ride-offs, the hitting into ponies. Before, it could be a bit crash and bash. The game has been cleaned up and is much tidier.
What sort of qualifications does an umpire have to have these days?
Well, we're required to do a test and a First Aid course every year. There are three to four meetings a year that we're expected to attend. In the high goal games both the video recording of the action, and the radio contact between the umpires and the third man have made a big difference. They're in constant contact with each other. It's certainly got a lot more professional.
What are some of the sport's highlights for you?
Really I think it's the opportunity it offers to travel and meet people. It's a people sport and hopefully remains so. I've been in fabulous places, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Barbados, Germany, Switzerland. I've also been back recently to Nigeria, the place where it all began for me.
At this point, Martin and I got into reminiscing about Nigeria, mutual friends there, the incredible polo scene, possibly the most exciting in the world, the hospitality and the warmth of the people.But that would be the stuff of another interview, I think.
So to finish up, Martin, can you give me three words to describe polo?
fast, fun, exciting
Thank you for your time, Martin.
My pleasure, Jan