“My interest in hockey started just by going to a game,” he explained. “I grew up in a small village just outside of Nottingham, in the Midlands. There were a lot of football teams, but the Panthers were one of the bigger hockey teams in what was then called the Super League. One day by chance my family went to a pre-season game. I think a team from Stockholm was playing. Ever since then, I got hooked. We went back a few times, and then it became a regular thing as a family. And then it became a natural progression. I told my parents I didn’t want to play football; I wanted to play hockey. I would bug them about getting a stick for my birthday or gloves as a present. And then I started to knock a ball around on the street until they caved and let me start playing hockey.”
Road hockey might be something familiar on the streets of any Canadian city big or small, but surely it wasn’t the same for Beresford. “I was the only one with a hockey stick!” he admitted. “Some kids used field hockey sticks; someone else would play goal and let me fire balls at him. There is a hockey shop in the Nottingham Arena, so I’d get a stick after the game on my way home.”
The next step was to play for an actual team in an actual arena, but it wasn’t so simple as that. “I played for a team in Sutton, even closer to my village,” he continued, “but for the first two years we didn’t play a game. We just trained. Well, we did attempt to play one game and got hammered about 23 to nil, so after that we trained and learned how to play and how to be competitive.”
And so his early teens passed happily as he went to school and learned how to play hockey, but alas all good things must come to pass. “I was a goalie, and as my junior career was coming to an end, there was no adult team at my club. I realized that at my level it wasn’t going to be a career, but I also wanted to stay in the game. So it was my dad who said why don’t you look at officiating? And that’s how it started.”
A new passion, and a new avocation. Beresford learned the game from an official’s point of view, learning every day and making headway at an impressive rate. “My first game was probably a U12 game, and it was a two-man system. I had my kit in the car and the referee didn’t show up, so they asked me if I could jump on. Sure, why not? I still really enjoyed it, and it progressed from there.”
But there was no set system in place that could show him the way. He learned ad hoc and he learned quickly of his own initiative and intuition. “Honestly, when I started there was no real structure. You’d get your allocations about a month in advance. One day you might have an under-12 game, the week after a Division 3 men’s game. There was no real progression, and only periodically you’d get supervision. So if you did a men’s league game and got supervision and did okay, you’d get more men’s league games because you showed you could do that level.”
Which is all fine and well in the lower levels, but the story still hasn’t taken us to Beresford’s imminent arrival in Helsinki for this year’s World Championship.
“I got into the top division by complete accident,” he related. “I came home one day from work, doing my apprenticeship, and I got a phone call. It was a Wednesday night. I was told to drive up to Sheffield. One of the officials had a migraine and couldn’t skate. So I headed up the road and got on the ice midway through the first period. I didn’t know it was a semi-finals game – probably best – and got through it. I’ve been there ever since, 12 years later.”
Once he had established himself as a top flight official at home, the Ice Hockey UK took notice and steered him along the road to greater heights. “I started with my IIHF C licence, and the Continental Cup came to the UK, which was lucky, so I worked that. Then I got my B licence, and a bit later did my first IIHF tournament in Dunedin, New Zealand. A year later, I went to South Africa and started to move through the ranks.”
The British national team played at the top pool in 2019 for the first time since 1994. Joining it was linesperson Andy Dalton, the first official from Great Britain to work the top level since Matthew Folka (lines) & Moray Hanson (referee) in 2004. And now Beresford is representing his country at the top-level Worlds in Finland, where the game is a lot faster than the Continental Cup, New Zealand, or South Africa.
“My first game here, when I jumped on, the step up in level was unbelievable,” Beresford enthused. “The speed, the skill of the guys, everything was unbelievable. But you quickly settle in. The game may be at a higher level, but your job remains the same.”
Officials at the IIHF level are very professional and serious about the job they do, but it’s not what pays the bills year ‘round. “As much as I’d love it to be, this is not how I make my living. I am a gas engineer and a plumber by trade. This just takes up my weekends, and what started out as a hobby has become something pretty special to me.”
For now, Beresford is living in the moment and living the dream, not looking at future goals or bucket list assignments. “I’m happy to be here, obviously, but I try not to look too far ahead. One day at a time. I think if you look too far ahead, you can put too much pressure on yourself, and that’s when you start to make mistakes.”
Most impressively, he sees his presence here in the larger context of British hockey and developing the game at home, hoping to be successful and earn the respect of his colleagues, but ultimately realizing he is a piece of the puzzle.
“Andy Dalton went to Slovakia in 2019 as a linesman, kept the door open for us, and I’m hoping to do the same thing. And if it’s not me next time, I want it to be another Brit. We’re trying to grow the game back home. The national team is playing their part, and the structure for officials is a lot better now, so if I can do my bit here to keep that door open, and the next guy comes along, perfect. My job is done.”