It started just before Easter 1980. As an eleven year old, I sat on the hard, shiny wooden floor of the main hall, with over a hundred other children. I remember being bored, not really listening, fiddling with my very sweaty hands…..it was always hot in that hall. Suddenly, something caught my attention. The person speaking, who I assume was the head master, but I can’t be quite sure, was talking about an after school activity. I don’t know why, but the hairs on my arms had all stood to attention, gently swaying amongst the goose bumps that they sat amongst. So you see…..that was it.
I turned up at the right time, on the right day, after school, and although I had no idea what hockey even was at the time, within half an hour….I was hooked. We played in a small playground surrounded by a broken chain link fence, with plastic hockey sticks, that when wet, would be about as easy as a slippery eel to hold on to….but still….it was fantastic! I will forever hold the memories of running about in that playground, chasing after the ball, avoiding the wild challenges, trying desperately to master the basics, and competing with the other boys, to see who could be the first to learn how to flick a ball. To Roy Polkinghorne and Pete Richards, the wonderful teachers responsible for all of this…..I owe a great debt.
After some games against other schools and more training, it was off to Salisbury hockey club…..at the time I never imagined that such a thing existed. I went to training with the men on a Monday night at an indoor facility at Old Sarum (long since destroyed), and was captivated by what I saw. The training there was awe-inspiring. By this time I had yet to play, or even watch, a hockey match. It was almost two years since I had sat in that very hot hall and heard the fateful announcement. Late on the Thursday night before Good Friday, I received a phone call. It was someone from the hockey club, one of my now best friends…….thanks GT. “Would I like to play in a hockey tournament tomorrow,” he asked casually. At the time it seemed like the stupidest question in the world……..of course I would!
I turned up at the road to nowhere (the start of a flyover, that was never completed), at some ungodly hour in the morning, in the freezing cold and was promptly transported to the ‘Trojans Easter Hockey Festival’. As a thirteen year old, I was by far the youngest one there, and I’m not just talking about from Salisbury. The hockey again was amazing, the first time I think I had played out on pitch with all of the adults from training. But what was most striking was everything that went on off the pitch. By this I mean the team spirit, banter……practical jokes. To say it opened my eyes would be something of an understatement. But it was all great and If I hadn’t been desperate before to be a hockey player (I had been), then I most certainly was now. And that is how it began!
After that, I played in the club’s first junior team….the Swifts! Again at this point I feel I must mention someone instrumental in my hockey development…..Mark Cheesley…….a wonderful man and the best captain whom I have ever played under. I made my debut in the first team at fourteen as a substitute, went on to play county under 21 hockey for Wiltshire, played mixed hockey, captained teams, coached juniors, did numerous umpiring stints and most importantly of all…….made the most fantastic friends! Without going on too much more, the highlights for me have been representing all of the Salisbury hockey club teams, especially the mixed team and playing for the ‘Haunchers’. Everything that’s happened above has had a profound effect on my life, and I know that I would be much poorer as a human being if it had never happened. While I don’t play as often as I would like at the moment……mainly due to old age and time constraints, there’s still very little that excites me like chasing the stupid little ball about with my hockey stick. Whether it’s knocking a ball about with my kids, or in a full on match, or something like the seven-a-side matches that I managed to join in with at the excellent Weymouth Easter hockey festival recently (thank you very much to the ladies and men from Derby Asterdale hockey club for that) very little excites me more than all of that ……still! Which leads me on to this blog. As you can see from the website, I’ve written a book……a fantasy book about dragons, magical mantras, amazing underground cities, dastardly villains and……team sports, dragon and human alike. There’s lots of hockey (can’t imagine why?…..see above), lacrosse, because well….one of my best friends has played at THE highest level. Having watched her on a few occasions, once at the world cup, I was astounded, not just at the speed, agility, courage and passion shown by the players taking part, but also at how enjoyable the game looked. And guess what, I’ve never had the chance to have a go at lacrosse……the opportunity has never once presented itself. But, in only a few weeks time, my eldest daughter and I are going along to coaching sessions…..how amazing is that? The other sport that features in the book is rugby. I only ever played rugby at school, and while it was something that wasn’t really for me (I’d already by then become addicted to hockey), I always appreciated the way the game was played, and every time I watch a match on TV, have nothing but the greatest respect for the players involved.
So there it is. More than a little about me, and about the book. Hopefully this blog will provide a platform for me to share some of my favourite hockey experiences with YOU, and likewise for YOU to be able to share some of your most memorable sporting experiences with me. Enjoy…………..