Last Saturday I had the pleasure of playing in a mixed friendly game (well, four lots of 20 minutes) with a whole load of great people from Salisbury hockey club. After a quick shower, I grabbed a drink and joined everyone in the function room of the fantastic, relatively new clubhouse. While everyone sat socialising and tucking into the delicious food provided, my attention turned to the scene I gazed upon out of the window. I looked out over the fab astroturf pitch that I’d just played on, but more important to me was what lay beyond it. I could see the gorgeous old church in the background, and between that and the astroturf pitch lay a cricket pitch and part of the golf driving range.
The first hockey festival that I ever visited was the Trojans Easter festival, as I’ve already mentioned elsewhere in these pages. But the single most important festival to me has always been the Salisbury August festival, which sadly no longer takes place.
At the grand old age of 13 (again, I know by today’s standards that’s incredibly old……there was no junior training, no 5-10 year olds being coached), and after coming back to summer training after the enforced summer break, I was duly informed that in only a few days time, we (Salisbury Hockey Club) would be hosting our yearly August festival. Well, you can imagine my surprise, and…..my excitement! I was still thrilled at having gone to the Trojans Easter festival, and that was many months earlier. Having a big hockey festival only a short walk from where I lived….what on earth could be better than that? As it turns out……..only about three things ever!!! With the instructions of what time to turn up on Saturday morning still ringing in my ears as I walked home from training, I can distinctly remember laying awake that night, dreamily thinking about what the coming weekend would bring.
Turning up early on the designated Saturday, I embarked on a ritual that would become both regular and familiar over many years to come. The three men’s grass pitches had been marked out, but the goals and nets for each pitch needed to be set up, so along with what would become a regular cast, we carried all of the posts, backboards and nets on to the trailer that was duly hooked up to the sports club’s tractor. As the same group headed towards the pitches on foot, the tractor started up with its noisy rumble, and a great big puff of engine smoke. I don’t know exactly how early this was on the Saturday morning, but what I do know is that the weather was glorious….as it should be, being August bank holiday…unlike this year.
After setting up all the goals, and re-marking the D’s on the pitches, we all got ready to play. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was, but my overwhelming memory is of how I just seemed to…….’fit in’. It’s hard to explain really. I wasn’t unpopular at school and had different groups of friends, but since I’d found hockey at my middle school, it had taken over nearly every aspect of my life, and I found myself spending more time with those friends that shared my love of our glorious sport. But it was very different in this setting. I was, by quite a fair few years, the youngest of the lot…and they all, without exception, accepted me and……more importantly….treated me like one of them. They laughed, joked, included me in all their ‘banter’. You can’t begin to know, unless of course you’ve experienced it, how much all that means to someone of that age, especially when it’s with people/players you look up to and admire. At this point I feel desperate to name the people involved in all that….but I know if I do that I’ll probably either miss someone out, or perhaps disappoint people for mentioning them.
Well, I have gone away and thought about it for ten minutes or so, and I still feel I should name some of those people who made my first August festival so special. Gary Turner (GT), Alan Garrett (Noddy), Mark Cheesley (Cheese), Gary Butt (GB), Dave Parker, Mark Watford, Steve Wellstead, Andy Miles (Millie), Les Malinovszky, Jean Green, Jean Walker, Mike Griffiths (Sid) and everyone else who played in the Salisbury side at that time, all of the New Sarum ladies, as well as the Haunchers side that I played against for Salisbury….I’ll come on to that in a minute. Everyone there welcomed me, treated me as a adult, looked after me, and gave me a glimpse of what was to come if I continued to play hockey……this, I can assure you, was never in any doubt, even at this relatively early age.
Some other things also really stand out from that festival for me. It was hot….really, really hot…pretty much as an August bank holiday should be. I remember lots of drinking, not me…remember…I’m teetotal. I remember lots and lots of hockey players having the most amazing amount of fun. I remember being introduced to the Norwich Grasshoppers…..wow could they drink and have fun, alongside the Norwich ladies, both regulars at the festival for many, many years. I remember the mother of all water fights between some of the younger players, and some of the older players, in which I was used as ‘cannon fodder’ by both sides…..’YES’ both sides, you know who you were.
But probably the outstanding memory was playing against, and meeting my beloved ‘Haunchers’ for the first time. For some reason, and it’s the only time I can remember playing there, the Salisbury game vs ‘Haunchers’ was being played on a grass pitch up at Old Sarum (about a ten minute car journey from the ground). It was only when I arrived with my Salisbury team mates that I saw I would be playing against people that I already knew: Mark Cheesley (Cheese), Gary Butt (GB) and one or two others. The game itself was fantastic, and the first time I can remember really playing in a game where everyone else was an adult and really going for the win, albeit in a fair and friendly sort of way. I gave everything I had in that game, and I know all those who played alongside me did as well…..Les, Millie, GT, Steve, Mark…down to a man. It was one of the best games I’ve ever played in, and probably shaped my future in a way I really couldn’t have understood at the time. I can’t remember the final score…I know we gave away a penalty flick at one point, and I know the Salisbury defence were under pressure for a great deal of the time, with our goalkeeper Malinovszky playing out of his skin as usual, as well as Miles and myself. But something I witnessed for the first time was the friendship between the two sides, something that I found surprising then (even though I probably shouldn’t have given that there were Salisbury players in the ‘Haunchers’ side), but know now it is more the norm, than anything else.
A fantastic start to what would be a mind-numbing number of August festivals for me. After that, there would be no keeping me away from South Wilts Sports Club at the August bank holiday weekend. More August festival memories next time…….