Back to my favourite festival ever……….my home festival of Salisbury, which used to be held over the August bank holiday. I’ve already described my first one…..how wonderful it was, meeting new friends, playing in fabulous games and turning out against the team I was most proud to play for…….the ‘Haunchers’. But there seem to be so many memories of that particular festival, probably because I attended it so many times, and also because it’s what I always tend to think of whenever I arrive at the ground to play, or even if I drive past.
After only a few years, this festival became one of the most important events in my yearly calender (remember, I was only in my mid-teens then). With there being quite a gap in the hockey calender during the summer back then, a large percentage of hockey players chose to play cricket, but I looked forward to the start of training, which generally began towards the end of July, and then of course the festival and the preparations towards it. Along with a few others from the club, we always made sure we were free on the Friday beforehand, to help prepare the ground and help out in any way possible. And what started out as just that, culminated in a lot more as visiting teams would generally start arriving on the Friday afternoon, and with the bar being open……….well, let me see…..hockey players + beer………..hmmmm, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see where this is going. And so it began that the Friday of that weekend became almost as much fun as the other days of the festival, despite no matches being played. It was a time of anticipation, combined with fun, a little work, mucking about (with and without a hockey ball), seeing friends again, some of whom hadn’t been seen for a year, and of course the starting of proceedings for the next three days. Thinking about sitting outside the clubhouse on the rickety old picnic benches waiting to see who ventured around the corner from the car park next, brings back such exciting memories.
The ‘Haunchers’ who I played for in all but that first August festival (when I played against them, as mentioned previously) were made up of players from all over the country, and as such would turn up on the Friday night in dribs and drabs. As well, players that had played for Salisbury, but had subsequently moved on to another club, always made an effort to come back. That, combined with the usual assortment of men and women from what was back then New Sarum ladies hockey club and Salisbury and South Wilts Men (now just Salisbury hockey club…….much better to be all together) made for an atmosphere that was just ELECTRIC!
Drinking, dancing, singing…………..oh the songs! Somebody really should create a website of hockey songs, and yes I know they’d probably be similar to a lot of rugby songs, etc…..but oh how I’d love that. I can’t tell you the number of times, being sober, that I’ve stood and watched a team, and generally it is a team, albeit led by a rather good/drunk/knowledgable/confident/and able to laugh at themselves conductor. If all of that’s going on in a clubhouse/bar, most players/teams are drinking, singing, joining in a little. But to just stand and watch sober, taking it all in, is great, for what can be on occasion, quite a period of time depending on the song, and how well it is……..well, one can only really say…choreographed in some of the cases I’ve seen, albeit in quite a drunk, I-seem-to-remember-having-done-this-before kind of way. It’s the kind of thing I’ve seen that on some occasions, has been so good, you wished you could have recorded it on a video camera. Sometimes it’s quite good being sober in a clubhouse full of drunken hockey players, although that said, it is something of a rarity for that to be the case. Other times it has proved to be worthwhile include:
– the ‘naked pyramid’ which was at least five players tall……….something of a feat, and it took many goes to achieve, but they all stuck at it, so……well done.
– the biggest game of human ‘space invaders’ on a sloped bank of ‘The Old Castle’ pub on the outskirts of Salisbury that sits beside a main road. How there wasn’t a road traffic accident with that going on I’ll never know.
– the baseball match at HMS Dryad that started in the dark (lit only by the headlights of four cars….mine was one) and was very evenly matched…..ie, the same number of players on each side. It was, from what I can remember, made up of mainly Salisbury players (plus a few others) on one side, against our hosts on the other side. I sat in my car watching….well, I had to keep it running for the headlights to work, and being sober, it seemed like the best place to be. There were, quite frankly, some magnificent pieces of play. It never ceases to amaze me some of the things that people do when they’re drunk, however stupid, but also some of the incredible things that do happen that are never recorded or remembered. Some of the catches were astonishing to say the least……mainly from our hosts, while the throwing and the running left a lot to be desired. But the main thing I remember about this game, aside from it being in the dark, lit only by car headlights, was the fact that as the game wore on, and it started quite late, the Salisbury players, men and women seemed to either sober or wise up. It started to get quite cold quite quickly, and they were on a hiding to nothing against our very fit hosts. So, one by one, they dropped out, feigning injury, toilet break, sleep, etc. Now you would think that at some point it would no longer be possible to carry the game on. What would that point be? When you’re playing with say………..three or four against eight to ten players……..NOT SO! And back to the drunken old sod of the Salisbury team, who probably instigated the whole thing, but………..who ended up taking on the whole HMS Dryad team…….all on his own. Sounds unbelievable eh? Well, I can attest that he did just that. For about twenty minutes (which believe you me was about nineteen minutes, fiftyfive seconds too long) he pitched, fielded, tried to run some of them out, all the while nursing his drink that was kept safely on the ground. All of the Dryad team thought this hilarious, as did I, but I repeat, nobody thought that he’d last as long as he did.
More often than not though, being sober is a distinct disadvantage. Apart from the obvious things like speaking to strangers, pretty girls, sorting out anyone ill, negating any stupidness or violence, etc, you quite easily get embarrassed by the things other people you’re with do, or the things that are going on around you. Cases at hockey festivals include:
– watching one of the touring teams at much later August festivals……the ‘Bush Burners’…. do their party piece at the Saturday night disco……..you work it out. All I’ll say is that was one smell I never want to smell again!
– watching a University team at the Bournemouth Easter festival pee in the clubhouse while swinging from the main support beams……lovely!
– numerous people streaking and thinking it’s great……….mainly drunk men by the way.
– and spotting, and in some way getting tangled up in other people’s mess, by way of seeing them do something or someone that they really shouldn’t be doing.
Anyhow, it seems I’ve got a little off of track. Needless to say Friday night of the August festival was fantastic, not just for me, but lots of others as well, and I often wish I could be transported back in time to experience it just once more.