Olympic Hockey Memories 2

What seems like a very long time ago, when Havant were widely regarded as the best men’s hockey side in the country, Salisbury 1st XI were drawn against them in the cup. Of all the teams we could have drawn……WOW! There was much excitement in the build up and quite a few of the club’s men and ladies who weren’t playing in the game travelled down to Havant to support us.

Warming up was quite surreal really, looking across to the other half of the pitch, to where numerous international players were going about their normal routines. To say I was in awe was something of an understatement. David Faulkner, Rob Hill and Russell Garcia were there, as well as a few more. To describe things as a David vs Goliath situation would perhaps not have done justice to it.

I can honestly say it’s the only time I’ve been nervous before the start of a hockey match. Even when I was young, nerves never really played a part. I was always too excited about playing to get nervous. As we lined up as a team, I’m sure we all looked around at each other as if to say,

“What the hell have we got ourselves into!”

Looking at the Havant line up, they all seemed to have a steely determination that I’d never seen before, or since, in a team I’ve played against. Perhaps that’s what made them so good. Before I could shake the importance of what we were about to embark upon out of my head, the whistle blew to start the game.

Realistically we never stood a chance, but for me two things stand out from that game, apart from the fact that we were playing against some truly brilliant players (often seen on the TV), and would get to see just how good they were up close. (Oh God they were good………just watching Rob Hill flick the ball in the warm up was awesome.)

The game started, and to our utter bewilderment, we weren’t a goal down after 30 seconds or so. Then it reached a minute, two, three, and then the most bizarre thing happened. We got the ball, slipped it through to one of our best forwards who picked it up, raced through to the top of the D, pulled back his stick and unleashed one hell of a shot. I know, as I was standing at the back (as sweeper), mouth agog, barely able to believe what I was seeing, and I wasn’t the only one of our team in this condition.

With the keeper watching on, the ball smashed into the post and went behind for a Havant sixteen yard hit. You could see the whole of our team thinking the same thing, all at the same time…..

“We’ve actually got a chance.”

However, I believe it was this incident that had a twofold effect. One…..it woke Havant up, something I’m surprised needed to happen (perhaps they’d all been on the purple nasties the night before), and two……it made them very, very angry.

Needless to say, I don’t think we even got into their half for the rest of the game and we ended up keeping it to a very respectable 11-0 loss (you think I’m joking, but we actually played about as well as we could…..honest).

The other moment of note, for me at least, came about ten minutes before the end of the match. Havant had pushed nearly all their players forward…..well, you would wouldn’t you in a game like that, and we were defending for our lives. I’d found myself marking David Faulkner (a big hero of mine). As I stood behind him, goal side, he abruptly took a step backward and stood right on my foot. Before I had a chance to even move, he removed his foot, turned round, looked me straight in the face and said……………

“I’m really sorry.”

And there you have it……..my claim to fame…..David Faulkner apologising for stepping on my foot in a hockey match.

Despite losing, the opportunity to play in that particular match was great. I know all the Salisbury players involved that day gave everything they had, but we were purely and simply outclassed. Still I had a great time, and in fact I would say that most of my favourite matches have been when we’ve lost, whether that’s because I see more of the ball at the back as sweeper, or because the majority of matches I’ve played in have been lost, I simply don’t know. Anyhow, I’ve had a great time playing hockey, win, lose or draw and my children are forever having it drummed into them that It’s not the winning or losing, it’s the taking part and having fun that counts…..something I truly believe.

On the subject of the hockey match against Havant, I mentioned how amazing Rob Hill’s flicking was. I quite fancy myself at flicking, and at my best, used to be able to flick it just over half a pitch length. I’ve also scored a few decent open play goals from flicks, despite the fact that I’m a sweeper. Anyway one day I was playing for one of the Salisbury sides (can’t remember which one, but not the 1st XI) at Warminster against West Wilts. After arriving, most of my team wandered off to find somewhere to get changed, but since I was already in my kit, I decided to take a closer look at the game taking place on the Astroturf, which I could already tell from a distance looked like it was a real humdinger, with tackles flying in left, right and centre. Standing on the sidelines, it became apparent that the game was being played between West Wilts 1st XI and Yeovil 1st XI, and yes you’ve guessed it, Rob Hill was playing at the back for Yeovil. I watched intently, hooked on the fast paced and fully committed action from both sides. And then it happened. A West Wilts player had dribbled into the D, about to shoot at goal. Rob Hill made a great tackle, and then swiftly dribbled over to what would have been his own left hand corner of the pitch, taking a little glance up the pitch as the opponent he’d just robbed of the ball chased him down. I wasn’t standing too far away on the side line, and wondered exactly what it was he’d do now, as there was no obvious pass to get him out of trouble, and his defenders weren’t exactly ‘busting a gut’ to get back and help. With the ball on his reverse stick, and all the time on the move, Rob Hill, very casually, with what looked like a very tiny flick of both his wrists, played an aerial ball. Not just any aerial ball either: the single most amazing pass I’ve ever seen. The ball left his reverse stick while he was running in the bottom left hand corner of the pitch. It took off like a rocket, with the Yeovil right wing picking up the pass as it dropped, wide right, halfway inside the opponent’s twenty five, and going on to have a shot at goal. The ball had travelled the full length of the pitch, probably because it went diagonally. From a reverse stick on the run…………wow!

To this day I can remember it in exact detail. Of course I told all of my team mates when they arrived at the pitch…..and of course, none of them believed me. It was brilliant….Rob Hill…LEGEND!!

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