Meanwhile, the German referee Ben Goentgen is back in the line. In June in Eindhoven during the Pro League, he even made his first minutes at the international level. How different was that at the end of January, when he got a ball in the face during the quarter finals of the World Cup in India and ended up in hospital. A look back. 

The referee has to laugh almost immediately during the telephone conversation. Because no matter how many times he has been to India, he always heard the same thing from his surroundings. “Have fun, but don’t end up in the hospital.” The moment was there at the beginning of this year, when he got a ball in his face during the quarterfinals of the World Cup (the Netherlands against South Korea). A drag push, which shot straight into the German’s face via the stick of Lars Balk’s stick. 

Goentgen was immediately helped by the Dutch doctor Stijn Geraets. He disappeared into the catacomb of Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and was immediately taken by ambulance to a private hospital. He stayed there for ten days. Longer than the tournament itself lasted. 

He looked back at the images once 

Immediately after he had surgery for his injuries, he opened his phone. In addition to more than two hundred messages, he also saw the fragment pass by. “I decided to look it back. Once. After that, never again,” he says. ‘I can’t really remember anything about the moment. I didn’t signal the ball until it was two inches away from my head. All I thought was, shit, this is gonna hurt . What happened next is a blur. When I realized that my earpiece was taken off, I knew it was done. And I felt the pain.’

File image of the fatal moment. Referee Ben Goentgen together with doctor Stijn Geraets. Photo: William Vernes
File image of the fatal moment. Referee Ben Goentgen together with doctor Stijn Geraets. Photo: William Vernes

In India he underwent surgery the same evening. A plate was placed for his ‘broken’ cheekbone. Flying back to Germany was not allowed yet. But when he finally returned home two weeks later, it turned out that the referee had no broken cheekbone at all. His upper jaw, on the other hand, does. Even shattered. 

Not a broken cheekbone, but upper jaw 

‘The German doctors have undone everything they did in India’, he looks back. ‘They removed all the broken pieces of bone from my upper jaw, but nerves were already affected. I couldn’t move the right side of my face at all. And no doctor could tell me if it would come back.’

The feeling is now slowly returning. And that is accompanied by horrific suffering. Nerve pains. “I have to take painkillers to get through the day. I couldn’t work or even sleep for a while because of the pain. I’m still on medication now.’

National coach Jeroen Delmée shakes hands with Goentgen. Photo: William Vernes
National coach Jeroen Delmée shakes hands with Goentgen. Photo: William Vernes

But no matter how bad and heavy the accident and the rehabilitation are, Goentgen is back on the field. But he himself doubted that for a while. ‘When I stood on a hockey field for the first time again, just as a spectator, it felt very strange. I really asked myself if I still wanted it. If I dared. But I’ve had so much time to think lately. I do realize that it really has just been pure bad luck. I have no fear.’

So bad luck . If he had had the ball in his eye, he would most likely have been blind. If he had just gone down a bit, all his teeth would have flown out of his mouth. Laughing: ‘Maybe I was lucky after all.’

‘I don’t have to wear a mask’

When asked whether referees should not be better protected from now on, he is resolute. ” No way ,” it sounds on the other end of the phone. ‘A similar accident last happened in 2003. It can happen. You should especially know that the spot at the penalty corner is a dangerous position. You always have to stay sharp there. I don’t need a mask. How the hell am I supposed to blow my whistle then?’

Photo: William Vernes
Photo: William Vernes

Goentgen returned to the international level in June, after refereeing some matches in the German Bundesliga. “That was a very emotional moment. I thought it was great that it was also a game of the Dutch team. Just like in January. They’ve been sending me a lot of messages lately. The biggest compliment I received after my first game was that it seemed like I hadn’t been away.’

Whistle the European Championship for his father 

No one could have imagined that the German would return so soon. In fact, the doctors themselves wondered whether he would make it to the European Championship in August. ‘That motivated me. And made me mentally strong. I wanted to get the European Championship. That is the first major event in my own country for me. I was in Mönchengladbach in 2006, during the World Cup. Together with my father I watched the hockey and the referees. Then we agreed that I would also be there one day. The time has come in four weeks.’

Goentgen will undergo surgery again in October. His cheek will be given some more volume and his nerves will be looked at again. So hopefully in the future he can smile completely normal again. But there is no certainty about that. He is not off the painkillers for the time being either. But still he stands on the hockey field with the biggest smile. The Olympics are in a year’s time. I do everything I can to be fit and to be selected. That would be the perfect ending, wouldn’t it? I hope I’m there.’

by Hockey.nl

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