As a 13 year old I received a phone call late on the Thursday night before Easter. “Would you like to play hockey tomorrow?” I was asked. (Yes GT it was you, do you remember?) I remember at the time thinking, “How odd! Normally hockey is played on Saturday.” Nevertheless, I jumped at the chance, already being obsessed with my chosen sport, even at, what was then, a very early age. I turned up early on a cold, foggy, Easter Friday at the bottom of the road to nowhere in Salisbury and was promptly transported to Trojans hockey club in Southampton to take part in their Easter hockey festival. I remember the excitement on the way there in the car. Being the youngest by far, I just sat and listened to the adults all around me. The banter was intriguing, funny and just down right rude, at least for a naive 13 year old. We got to the ground, played 3-4 games, spent the rest of the time in the bar playing silly drinking games (spoof…..a must if you’ve never played it, bunnies up, aliens, etc, etc).
Now before I go any further, I should point out that I was then, and am now….teetotal. I don’t drink at all and never have….well, I did get ambushed on a mixed hockey tour to Worthing (more about that in my next post). I joined in with all the banter, played all the drinking games….all totally sober then, as I would be now. I don’t object to anyone having a drink and never have…..it was just a lifestyle choice that I made at an early age, and it was destined to be something for which I am forever grateful. Anyway, I’m sure my bizarre relationship with alcohol (bizarre because of the fact that I don’t drink) will, no doubt pop up in a future post. Anyway, back to the Trojans festival. It was wonderful; I loved every minute of it, and it was there that I discovered there were actually more festivals everywhere in fact, spread out across the year….I think my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I heard this. I enjoyed many more Trojans festivals, and whenever I think of playing at Trojans, it always brings to mind the massive bath that all the teams used to share after a game. One of only two places I can ever remember having one of these, and a very interesting experience to say the least.
Skip ahead one year to the following Easter and I found myself privileged enough to be invited to play for a team that would go on to mean more to me than any other team that I’d played for…….HAUNCHERS! Despite the Trojans festival and a Salisbury August festival in between, travelling to play at Lowestoft with the Haunchers was, for me, where the ‘magic’ began. I travelled up the Thursday before, alongside a boy one year older than me (hello Mr Cosens if you’re reading), under the supervision of the then, now and always Haunchers captain….Mark Cheesley. At the time, Mark was the captain of the Salisbury ‘Swifts’, Salisbury hockey club’s first dedicated junior side and to this day he is one of the most remarkable human beings I’ve ever met. He’s kind, thoughtful, intelligent, caring, hardworking, dedicated, has a great sense of humour, is a great hockey player and a fantastic singer…..despite me telling him otherwise, every chance I get. www.just-mark.co.uk/ He, along with Roy Polkinghorne, Pete Richards, Gary Turner, Gary Butt and Alan Garrett (yes there is a real one…….see my book website for more details) all inspired me to play hockey, in the manner and style that I still do, even today……although it must be said, with a lot more aches and pains. Back to Lowestoft. We arrived at the guest house on the Thursday afternoon, with the rest of the team arriving in dribs and drabs during the rest of the evening, some not arriving until very late indeed. The next morning, the entire team gathered for breakfast and introductions for some of the late arrivals ensued. About halfway through breakfast, one of the three Upminster players (Guy, Bob and Tim, you know who you are), who were all sharing a room together, proceeded to ask,
“Who’s the owner of the red toothbrush in our room?” One of the others replied “It’s mine.” “Uhhh….you haven’t brushed your teeth this morning, have you?” Silence encompassed the whole dining area in the guest house. I remember being slightly puzzled as to what was going on.
“Yeah,” came the reply, “I’ve already brushed my teeth…..why?” “Ohhh….it’s just that I was sick in the middle of the night, and all I could find to clean it up was your toothbrush.”
Oh how we all laughed……..well, almost all of us, and that was just the start. Next we proceeded to work out the ‘word of the day’……a word you’d get fined for using. To this day, the first word we came up with seems to have been the most sucessful, and easiest to stitch other people up with. That word was ‘mine’. Great on the pitch for team mates calling for the ball. Funny to watch someone running for the ball and calling out ‘MINE’, swiftly followed by an expletive when they realise what it is they’ve just said. Pretty good off the field as well. If you want to stitch someone up, a few good phrases. “Who’s car are we going to the game in? Who’s stick is this? Who’s ball is this?” I think you get the idea.
Next it was on to who was going to call ‘DEAD ANTS’ on the pitch. When the call goes up, everyone has to lie on their backs and kick their legs in the air……..the last one to oblige gets fined. In the last game of the day, one of our players called ‘DEAD ANTS’ while we were facing an attacking onslaught (never a great idea). The opposition promptly scored while most of our players were on their backs; the keeper and I didn’t go down, but the only player to get fined was the player who’d made the bad call. This and much more all happened on the very first day, with the rest of the weekend progressing in much the same way. Other highlights included it snowing, beach hockey, a late night trip to Norwich with some of the Norwich Grasshoppers (I shall say no more), and my lookout duties for the Upminster trio, on the last night, at which I failed dismally.
All in all, one of the best and most memorable weekends of my life, and one of the most exciting and inspirational. Since that fateful weekend, long, long ago, I have been lucky enough to represent Haunchers many, many times. First at the Easter festival at Bournemouth for many years, then progressing to the great Weymouth Easter festival, as well as all the Salisbury hockey festivals, not to mention Holland and Belgium as well. Playing for the Haunchers has been the most enjoyable part of my hockey career. I’ve made some wonderful friends, played alongside some great hockey players, played in great games and just had a seriously good time. If you play team sport of any kind and you’ve never been to a festival of any sort……you’re really missing out. Either get an invitation or form a team to go to one. I can thoroughly recommend it. If you’re reading this and you’re a little too young for all of it…….boy have you got some fun to look forward to. Let me know your festival stories…..best ones, worst ones, rude ones…..hmmm, not too sure about that…..you might win one of my books. That’s all for now. Next time……Festivals Part 2 (mixing it up with the best of them)