Simon Mason: Me, Myself & Mercian
Triple Olympian and Managing Director of Mercian Hockey, Simon Mason, played for England and Great Britain senior teams for 13 years.
Growing up, Mase was a hero of our commercial director Simon who even had his signature pads as a youngster. Mase has an amazing knowledge of the hockey world and all things sticks through to goalkeeping equipment with an eye for detail and challenging the technology that is put into products.
If there’s someone that knows goal keeping – it’s him! And that’s exactly what we did…asked the expert!
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Simon Mason, I am the current MD of Mercian Hockey and CEO of Bablock Sports. I have been the President of England Hockey, I am an Executive Board Member for the European Hockey Federation and I also work for multiple companies as a lead commentator and expert summariser including BT Sport, The BBC, FIH and EHF.
Can you give us a whistle-stop tour of your playing career?
I started as a dreadful right winger at the age of 12, by 13 I had tried most outfield positions and was average at best in them all. My school coach put me in goal and I never looked back. I played for the West of England after 3 months, EnglanU16 after 10 months, and worked my way through the U18s and U21s before my senior debut in 1992. I played for the England and Great Britain senior teams for 13 years, spanning 3 European cups, 2 Commonwealth games, 3 World Cups and 3 Olympic Games. I was also a member of the Reading HC side that won the Club European Cup, only the second British club side to ever do that.
What do you do at Mercian Hockey?
I am currently the Managing Director but have worked my way up through the company. From running the sponsorship programme when I was at university, through some sales roles, some product development. Packing parcels in the warehouse, travelling and visiting the factories until now when I have the final responsibility for everything that happens within the company. But working very closely with our Sales Director Geraint Hughes, who must take any shared credit for the company’s success. He and I plan the company’s journey, creating a vision and maintaining our focus and direction.
What makes your GK equipment different?
We have chosen to make our foam kit in the UK, this ensures the quality of the raw materials and also the production process. Yes, that process is more expensive than doing something in India or Pakistan, but it means we make the best technical quality equipment that we can. The lack of resin in the foam equipment (it is bonded with heat and pressure) improves the durability and the knowledge of the owner of the production company (an ex head of Physics who has a fantastic knowledge of material science) means we can make kit that ticks all the protection, weight and rebound boxes.
What's your favourite pieces of Mercian GK equipment?
The Elite foam equipment – although keep your eyes peeled for our new helmets!
There's a clear market leader in the GK equipment world, why should people try Mercian?
The market leading company makes some fantastic kit, I don’t have a bad word to say about them, they innovated at a time (early 1990s) when GK equipment was dated, heavy and limiting. Over the last ten years we have caught up and have a strategic aim of being the 2nd placed brand in the market – not 2nd best, just 2nd place.
I believe that given we involve our team of top keepers in the design process and then combine that with our technical knowledge we make a functional range that is suitable from beginners all the way through to Olympic athletes. We have an incredible team of ambassadors who have as much to do with the success of our equipment as we do from the office. That interaction – and a significant price advantage in some areas – means that we produce a world class range that I would encourage any GK looking to really push their performance to try.
Talk to us about your journey with Ollie Payne leading up to the Olympics.
Ollie is an incredible keeper, he approached us at a point where he wasn’t happy with the Equipment he was using, he was on the fringes of the senior squad and so we worked with him to let him try our range, the Elite kit and see if it suited his style. It did, and with the confidence that the equipment gave him he was able to focus solely on his performance. Those relationships – the same as the one he has with ONE Sports Warehouse for his helmet – give an athlete confidence, it seemed to pay dividends as he played incredibly over the 12 months prior to Tokyo, reaching that Goalkeeping nirvana where everything appears effortless, becoming an Olympian and making us really proud to be associated with him.
How do you see hockey GK protection changing over the next 5 years?
I think it will be a series of gradual tweaks, if pitches change with a desire to reduce watered surfaces then the materials used will have to change. Then with increasing ball speeds in both the men’s and women’s games I think you will see some materials advances that maximise protection whilst minimising weight – certainly that is what we are looking at. Finally I think you will see the need to make hyper-flexible items that mould to the body as GKs need to get even more mobile and agile.
Now a bit of fun...top 3 goal keepers of all time?
I am only going to comment on keepers that I have seen play in the flesh as that is the only real reference point. BUT if I was going to look historically then British keepers Ian Taylor and Harry Cahill would get mentions, but just based on their reputation, not my personal review of them.
For keepers I have watched or played against… Ronald Jansen from Holland was insanely good, so cool and such a colourful character. Currently you can’t go beyond Vincent Vanasch, he has been incredible for so long, incredible consistency for both club and country – a global superstar.
Then I will hijack your question – because the third selection is the best GK I ever played with. Despite my cap record, my two highest international level medals came when I didn’t actually play. David Luckes partnered me on over 200 occasions for England and GB at a time when we didn’t rotate during matches. Yes I played the majority as number 1, but when I wasn’t on form he stepped in. Having never been anything other than exceptional in that supporting role he then played incredibly when given the chance. My two top medals are a European Indoor Silver medal and a Commonwealth Games Bronze medal and I obtained both while sitting on the bench when David played. So my third choice is David Luckes for that reason.
What’s the worst goal you’ve ever conceded?
All 8 against Pakistan in the Sydney Olympics live on the BBC.
Who was the most difficult player to play against?
Sohail Abbas – one of the best drag-flickers ever and my personal nemesis.
What is your favourite playing moment?
Winning the Club European Cup with Reading HC in 2003, surrounded by my very best mates.
Who is your sporting idol?
I love all sports and admire anyone who performs to the best of their ability when the chips are down, who shows an inner strength in adversity.
Being great is easy when it’s easy. Being great when it’s tough is the sign of a champion and then to shake a fan’s hand, sign an autograph, clean up after a game – so I guess it isn’t about if you win, but how you win.