Sean Kerly, Ian Taylor, Imran Sherwani, David Faulkner, Richard Dodds, John Shaw, Rob Hill and Russell Garcia are all names that conjure up powerful emotions and memories for me. The Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984 were the first to really capture my imagination, despite the fact that I’d been playing hockey for many, many years by then. Whether it was the prominence of the hockey in my life (probably!!), the media coverage, because we had such a good team at the time (I seem to remember hockey items everywhere in the newspapers and on TV…….long before the internet, children), perhaps the age I’d reached (15), or just the fact that it seemed so much more amazing than any of the others….with the opening ceremony featuring the man in the jetpack zooming around the Olympic stadium over all the spectators’ heads, I just couldn’t tell you. All I know is that it stands out vividly, and I can remember organising my time so that I could see each GB game. The excitement of watching each and every game that year, and in the following two Olympics (Seoul in 1988 where we won Gold and Barcelona in 1992) was probably the greatest I’ve ever experienced watching any sporting event on TV (and I try to watch a lot of sport on TV, when I’m not trying to play it)…..even to this very day. Sean Kerly’s prolific goals, Ian Taylor’s amazing saves (particularly when facing a penalty stroke), and Imran Sherwani’s mesmerising dribbling skills were the ingredients of a young hockey player’s dreams, and I couldn’t wait for each and every opportunity to see my heroes on the television, of which there seem to be a lot, back in those days. While I’ve never met Ian Taylor or Imran Sherwani or Richard Dodds, I did once see Sean Kerly from a distance in a crowd (quite a thrill at the time), and have played against David Faulkner, Rob Hill, Russell Garcia and John Shaw (as well as having been umpired by John Shaw, something I’m very sure he has forgotten, or has been trying to. More on that later.)
But the first one of these amazing hockey players I want to mention is Richard Dodds. As I said, I’ve never met him, only ever watched his games on the TV as a youngster………and you know how it is. You sit there…..thinking you know more about the game than they do, thinking you could slip right into the side and do a better job at a certain position……YEAH RIGHT!! But I’m sure most fans are the same whether it’s hockey, rugby, football…..whatever. I remember watching GB and England matches on the TV and for whatever reason, always thinking that I never really fancied Dodds as a player very much…….that is until this certain moment!! I can’t quite remember the exact details, but I think for some reason that it might have been an indoor game. He was playing (captain I think), and I was sitting watching excitedly, once again thinking that he and I could have swapped over pretty much seamlessly and nobody would have spotted the difference (except the name on the shirt). Then it happened. The opposition broke away…quickly. I moved forward, and was now perched right on the edge of my seat. I can remember thinking,
“We’re outnumbered. They’re all over us. How will this not be a goal?”
All of these things flashed through my mind in practically a split second. Our keeper came out (I think it was Taylor, but can’t be too sure). The opponent moved the ball across to their right hand side, leaving the opposition player with an open goal. With a flick of his wrist he powerfully guided the ball towards the empty goal. I sat and watched as they scored. Only…….they didn’t. From out of nowhere a defender dived full length at top speed, and with his reverse deflected the ball away from the goal. I sat there astounded….well and truly. Who was this defender I hear you ask? Who do you think? That’s right………Richard Dodds!
From that day on, I paid more attention to what he did in each game I watched, and do you know what I discovered? I was kind of right. He wasn’t good……..he was great! Oh, he wasn’t showy or fancy. He didn’t stand out like some of the others (nobody did when Sherwani was dribbling). He just did everything really, really well. He was a fantastic defender who just got on with it and led by example. He was someone I really, really wanted to emulate. So, Richard Dodds, if you ever have the misfortune to read this, then two things. One….I’m really sorry I ever doubted you as a player….I was an idiot (and yes I don’t discount the fact that I may still be one). Two…..you really inspired me to play the way I have during a very long hockey career….so thank you very much.
One last thing on this subject. Certain games, actions, moments, call them what you will, tend to stand out when you play hockey for a long time, any game in fact. One of these moments for me was in a summer league game at Bournemouth against a very good team. During that match, I found myself in the exact same position that Dodds had done in the situation mentioned previously. We’d were outnumbered at the back (not an unusual occurrence for a Salisbury side), with the opposition having any number of choices as to who to pass to. As sweeper I tried to go to the ball, but it was moved on quickly. As I turned and tried to run back (yes I know, me…..run. That’s how bad it was,) our keeper had come rushing out and the opposing centre forward had just slipped it right to one of his team mates, who by now had an open goal. I was near, and rapidly closing down the angle, but not near enough. That Dodds moment that I’d seen on TV flashed through my mind, and as the winger brought back his stick to strike the ball, I launched myself, stick out in front of me, and amazingly did exactly what he’d done. I deflected the ball, reverse stick, off the pitch. It can’t have been too shabby as everyone watching the game gave me a round of applause. I was a little disappointed though! The umpire (who I knew a little) signalled for a penalty corner. As I got back to my feet, blood pouring from my knees, I spread my arms and clearly remember saying to the him,
“I was trying to get it out to the sideline……honest!”
To be continued……..
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