Hockey Festivals

Festivals Part 6

There’s another Basingstoke festival memory that sticks in my mind. One of the regular Salisbury male players (let’s call him…….’Air’) was a big hit with the opposite sex (well, at least that’s how he always viewed it…….mostly through rose tinted beer goggles). Anyhow, this particular Basingstoke festival, we had a mixture of experienced players and, because we were short, some of the ladies’ junior players came to join us on the Sunday, as I, being captain and one of the two junior coaches at the time (see pic below), could think of no other way to make up the numbers. Anyway, said juniors all arrived and we played one game………all was going well.

After the game, the whole team adjourned to the bar, all sitting together around the same large table. After a few minutes it became clear that one of the team had gone missing. Yes that’s right………’Air’!

New Sarum ladies juniors with me helping fantastic coach Brian Hiscock

New Sarum ladies juniors with me helping fantastic coach Brian Hiscock

After a swift look around he was spotted, as far away from us as he could possibly get….at the end of the bar, casually chatting up a young girl from another team, who had, through no doubt copious amounts of alcohol, spent the entire night in ‘Air’s’ tent (you fill in the missing pieces!).

Well, ‘Air’ was doing his very best to hide himself from the team, knowing full well  the kind of stick he’d get if we caught him in the act of trying to impress a member of the opposite sex, when there were serious hockey discussions (well……….you know what I mean) going on. At this point, I should probably mention that there was a glass partition separating the viewing area where we were sat, from the bar area where he was preening. As a team we did our best to catch his eye (you know, with lots of hand actions and miming), but although he did notice what we were all doing he, to his credit, managed to totally ignore us…… mean feat I assure you.

Being ignored just made us more determined……..determined to humiliate him in front of the girl he was trying so hard to impress. Now while I will reveal a few things in these blogs…….. I won’t always admit that it was me that either carried things out, or thought up the dastardly ideas in the first place. However, this most definitely WAS my idea. One of the juniors, about fifteen at the time and a great hockey player (Hi Dime Bar!) had brought along her nine year old sister (also a fab hockey player), and their parents had left both girls with us while they had gone off for a walk. I knew my plan was a good one, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to persuade the youngest of the two sisters to play along…….on this, the whole thing hinged. I outlined my plan to the team, which was more cunning than any Baldrick and a group of foxes could have come up with.

By now, the bar had begun to fill up with players from teams just finishing their matches. After explaining the plan, our young cohort steadfastly refused to co-operate despite the whole team and her elder sister urging her on. It took us all about ten minutes to change her mind, while all the time worrying about ‘Air’ finishing his mission, and coming back and joining us. We needn’t have worried as he was in full ‘shark’ mode and nothing short of a team full of topless volleyball players could have tempted him away. With our youngster fully briefed on what she had to do, we opened the glass door separating the team from the bar, gave her the thumbs up and sent her on her way, with our smiling faces firmly pressed against the glass. If Romeo had looked over, he might have had some idea of the ‘ticking time bomb’ that was heading in his direction……but of course his mind was on other things.

Time seemed to stand still as the nine year old messenger approached ‘Air’. The whole team pressed up against the glass, held its breath at the same time, knowing full well what was to come. The young hockey player played her part to perfection. We all watched as she wandered up to ‘Air’, held up her outstretched arm in his direction, palm up and said the immortal words…………”DDAAAAAADDDDD! Can I have  fifty pence for a packet of crisps please?” We all burst into a bout of raucous laughter on seeing the expression on his face, and more importantly, the expression on the young girl’s face.

Romeo (sorry, I mean ‘Air’) playfully dismissed our little time bomb, brushing it all off as a playful joke to his love interest, all the time shaking his fist in our direction from behind his back. Our fully fledged young hockey player returned to a round of applause, fresh soft drink and sweets I seem to remember, shortly followed by the maiden magnet himself (sorry……. I mean ‘Air’). His young lady couldn’t have excused herself  any faster after our little jape, if he’d announced he was a disease ridden psychopath, with nothing more than a thimble for a trumpet between his legs. As a team, we applauded what can only be described as some of our best work!


Festivals Part 5

Image0022Moving on from the fabulous Worthing, there followed numerous trips to HMS Dryad’s mixed festival (one year HMS Sultan I think), Basingstoke mixed festival, Rickmansworth and Swanage. Some of the stories I simply can’t tell you, but my highlights include……

Basingstoke I remember chatting to a young girl in the bar on the Friday night with some of my team mates. The girl in question was part of a team we were due to play the following day, and claimed to be a gymnast of international standard. While she certainly looked the part, the whole team thought that it was something of a ‘tall’ drunken tale, as she would do nothing to prove her bold claims….not even a handstand. As we were leaving the bar, one of her team mates had a quiet word in my ear. “If you want to see her in action, let her score against you tomorrow and see what happens.” Anyhow, it was back to the tent, all thoughts of the evening disappearing into a sleepy haze. The usual tomfoolery followed in the morning, and it wasn’t until we lined up against the said same team that thoughts of the previous night returned. I tapped one of my team mates on the shoulder and repeated what I’d been told the night before. “Let’s let her score and see,” he suggested. Quickly we passed the word on to the defence and midfield, leaving our goalkeeper totally out of the loop. Mere seconds later the umpire started the match, with our centre forward passing the ball to the opposition. Straight away they surged forward and as they did so, we noticed the young girl from the previous night slip into the centre forward position for them. Slowly (as that was pretty much our only speed), the defence and midfield parted like a couple of pieces of worn old velcro (very noisily, and quite slowly) and not believing their luck, our opponents shifted the ball onto their centre forward. Not needing an invitation, and looking slightly worse for wear, the young girl picked up the ball and headed straight for the D. By this time, our forward line (who were more than a little perplexed by our slightly more casual than usual stance…….defence and midfield were all standing, leaning on their sticks) were attempting in vain to run back (more than a little unusual in itself……we could hardly believe it ourselves), while our goalkeeper was screaming things that just can’t be written down, well not without this document bursting into flames and my computer crashing! It was at this very point, as I stood on our 25 yard line, unable to do anything about proceedings as the young girl had just skipped on to the top of the D, that it suddenly occurred to me that the whole thing could be a ruse……designed for us to let the opposition score. A cold shiver ran down my spine at the thought of what my team would do, if that turned out to be the case. As it happened………I needn’t have worried. As the young girl reached the top of the D, she let rip with a shot so fierce, that our keeper never even saw it, let alone managed to get something on it. Everyone (except our goalie) applauded. That, however, was not the main feature. True to her words of the previous evening, the young girl dropped her stick and broke into a run towards the centre of the pitch. My eyes nearly popped out of my head at what happened next. Throwing herself into the air, she flipped, somersaulted and did just about everything you would see a gymnast do on the television…… was truly amazing. Not only did both teams applaud, everyone in and around the pitch and the people on the balcony of the clubhouse all joined in too. After that, there really was only one thing to do……yes, you’ve probably guessed…….let her score again……and we did….straight away (much to the chagrin and embarrassment of our keeper who tried to stop her on his own). Same celebration again, and well worth conceding another goal. And yes, we let her score once more after that, but with being 3-0 down, with only a few minutes of the match played, we then decided to play sensibly (well, you know… much as possible), and I seem to remember we lost the match 3-2. Still…….it was worth it to see the best goal scoring celebration EVER!!!

At another Basingstoke festival (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the same one), long into a very drunken evening, two  of the Basingstoke players came over into a big space in front of where a few of my team were sitting…………something was clearly afoot!! We sat and watched the two (clearly quite drunk) for a few minutes, as they appeared to be miming setting up an invisible table of some sort. While it provided a few minutes of mild amusement, it was nothing to what would follow. The two players with their invisible table set up, started to have a game of what can only be described as……..invisible table tennis……..this was MAGIC!! Long rallies, brilliant serves…….it was all there and everyone in our team was enjoying the show….well, everyone except one! There’s always one in each team…….and I have to say, he was normally it. Having consumed about three pubs’ worth of beer that day, he promptly got up and told the players what he thought…..”that they couldn’t make the over 100, blind, local village, invisible table tennis team”. To say they were offended was an understatement, but just as I thought a fight might break out, one of the young players laid down a ‘challenge’ to our ‘drunken old idiot’. Our drunken old idiot accepted with all the speed that he showed in the bedroom, and lacked on the hockey pitch. With the crowd growing ever bigger, the biggest grudge match in invisible table tennis history began. The young player started with the ball and drew up a serve with lots of spin, sending it flying and waiting for our drunken player to return. He was as confused as the crowd, when our player just stood there……stock still. As the silence ensued, our player coolly stepped up to the middle of the table and straightened the net, then, retrieved the ball from the young player’s side of the table (implying, as everything was invisible, that the serve had not made it over the net). The crowd erupted in to spontaneous applause!!! The young player had more than met his match. Oh, don’t get me wrong…….he and his friend were very good, but, there’s no substitute for experience and although unbelievably drunk, our player had an answer for everything. The young player would stand next to the net and serve (to make sure the ball went over), and our player would return it, the young player would return it……….our player would retrieve the invisible ball from the floor, dusting off his side of the table and implying that the invisible ball had not hit his side of the table……AGAIN the crowd applauded. This happened time after time, along with both players moving further and further back from the table, and our player even bouncing the ball off of a few walls on occasion much to the crowds delight. The whole thing lasted well over 40 minutes and as a teetotal, it was one of the funniest and most inventive things I’ve ever seen.

Please feel freet to comment on anything I’ve written. I’d love to know your thoughts and your hockey and other team sports festival stories. For the comments and thoughts I like the most, I’ll send out a signed copy of my book.

Festivals Part 4: Camping

While Worthing was probably the biggest ‘ticket’ in town so to speak, it wasn’t the only one. Other mixed festivals that involved staying over (always camping) included HMS Dryad, HMS Sultan, Basingstoke, Rickmansworth and Swanage. The camping in itself, at times, could be as much of an adventure as the rest of the weekend. Putting your own tent up alongside a team full of (generally) intoxicated hockey players is a challenge in itself. Image0050 (2)As soon as you have one part of the tent up and move on to the next part, a teammate is normally disassembling the first part. (Well, in my experience anyway……..yes I know, sometimes ….well, quite often, it was me doing it to other people, but I was on the receiving end quite a lot as well.) Tent pegs would be hammered into the ground and, as soon as you’d move around the tent, they would be pulled out again……this could go on for a very long time……particularly if there was nothing else to do.

I think my most memorable experience in a tent (not like that!) was at a Salisbury August festival. I was sharing with a team mate in a small, two person tent. On the Friday night/Saturday morning we’d got back to the tent late after helping clean up the bar and clubhouse (collecting and washing glasses, mopping the floor, chasing everyone out of the clubhouse). My team mate was rather drunk, but managed competently to get into the tent, slip into his sleeping bag and fall asleep at the same time as I. With it being August, it was as you’d expect…hot!…….really hot, and light very early in the morning. I was woken by my team mate announcing to me at some ungodly hour (about 6 am) that he was “going home to have a shower” and that he would “see me later”. On only a few hours’ sleep, I mumbled “goodbye” and fell back into not quite the blissful sleep it had been before being so rudely awoken. On dropping back to sleep, I was aware of two things. One: the middle part of my body was definitely lying in a dip, and two: it was getting incredibly warm, indeed, so much so, that I had started to sweat profusely. Despite these two things, I fell back to sleep, exhausted from all the work and the fun of the day before. When I finally awoke, it was only half an hour before the matches were due to start, and even then, only because people had been shouting at my tent as they walked past, for me to “WAKE UP!” The first thing that occurred to me as I came to, was that perhaps I was unwell. My back and legs ached….sleeping on the bare ground in just a sleeping bag, but I was absolutely drenched in sweat. After 60 seconds or so, I thrust my hands out of the sleeping bag and slowly slid the zip down the side. To say the sleeping bag and I were a little “moist” would be like describing the Thames as a little trickle. I sat up and tried to extricate my sticky, damp legs from the sleeping bag. It was then that I noticed…………..IT! To one side of the tent….not my side…. lay an empty pint glass on its side. For a few seconds I was overcome with confusion……..that is, until I followed the trail of damp, foamy grass from the top of the glass……all the way to the very-nearly-full-of-beer dip, in which I’d been sleeping. In my team mate’s clumsy attempt to leave the tent earlier in the morning, he’d knocked over his nearly full pint of beer that he’d brought back in to the tent with him in the early hours. The beer had found the dip in which I had been lying, and consequently I’d been rolling around in it, in my sleeping bag, for a couple of hours. So not only was I damp and sticky, but I smelt like a brewery, something as a non-drinker that wasn’t very pleasant. When I explained what had happened to my team mate (naively expecting sympathy), he laughed almost to the point of some pee coming out, I seem to remember.

Another August festival at Salisbury had me camped just to one side of one of the grass pitches, and for some reason I’d gone to bed a little early (hmmmm…..midnight, or just after). Lots of fun and games were going on around and about…….you know the kind of thing……drinking, singing (v. loud), mucking about……..the usual! I remember falling asleep straight away…….well it was Sunday night, and again I was totally shattered. I was having a dream about flying through the air on my back, only to discover that, a whole load of hockey players had taken out the tent pegs of my tent, and were moving it with me in it. Snuggled up in my sleeping bag, I was……trapped! What they then did, astounded me. They put the tent back down, and then proceeded to hammer in all the tent pegs, one by one. “What’s wrong with that?” I hear you ask. Between where my tent had been and the hockey pitch, was a rather steep, grassy bank. They’d pitched my tent on that steep bank, hammered in all of the pegs, and then just walked away laughing. What made it worse, was the fact that my head was at the lower end, with my legs effectively in the air, way above my head. In the end, I couldn’t face getting out and repitching the tent, so I eventually managed to turn round and slept on that steep slope all night. They were all very proud of their jolly jape in the morning.

Let me know what you think, and your own hockey festival experiences for a chance to win a copy of my book.

Festivals Part 3

Continuing on from my last blog about mixed hockey festivals, here are some of the most memorable moments, well for me anyway.

• The most amazing ice cream fight at one of the venues, during a break from the hockey. With nearly the entire team having acquired Mr Whippy ice creams, the chaos was started by yours truly when, I said, “My ice cream tastes okay, but smells really funny.” Inevitably, one of the girls in our team came over to smell it, and of course I shoved the whole thing in her face……ohhh how I laughed, well, for about a second, before the entire team erupted in to an ice cream war….very funny, but very, very messy.

• Crazy car races around Worthing, either from one hockey venue (the hockey matches were played on three different sites) to another, or after having finished the hockey and racing back to the guest house to use the showers first. Memorable moments include racing back to get showered, behind a car full of our ladies, not entirely sure of the way back. As driver, I flashed my light at them, and stuck my right indicator on, signalling to turn right. They duly turned right, across the busy lane of traffic, into a complete ‘dead end’, while we continued straight on, all getting use of the two showers in the guest house first…..the girls were more than a little disappointed.

• Me being woken up, early on the Monday morning, as there was something of a …..problem with one of our players. While I probably wasn’t the most sensible person about, I was normally always the only completely sober person, so would often be tasked with looking out for the odd person or two. On this fateful morning, I was guided up into the very top room of the guest house, where our male goalkeeper was sleeping. Now the last time I’d seen him, was just before midnight, the previous night, competing with some of the ladies in a drinking competition…….never a good idea, even I knew that. Anyhow, I’d gone to bed tired, and thought nothing more of it. Anyway, on entering the player’s room, it quickly became apparent that he was still fast asleep, but that wasn’t all. Image hock 4His normally flat hair, had been gelled to the max, his face was made up…eye liner, eye shadow, blusher, lipstick…you name it, he had it. And, all of his nails had been painted….a very bright red, and very professionally done. He had not looked like this when I’d left him, the previous night. Anyway, the reason I’d been dragged into this, was because apparently, nobody could wake him up. Anyhow, to cut a long story short…try as we might, we couldn’t wake him. In the end, we had to call an ambulance, with two poor ambulance men attending, who couldn’t wake him either, and had to strap him to a stretcher and cart him (remember he was a goalie…..not renowned for being as light as a feather) from the top floor of the guest house, down three flights of stairs and into the ambulance………all the time looking like some mad lady boy experiment had gone disastrously wrong. And, guess who had to go in the ambulance with him……yes, that’s right…….the only totally sober person, one with no hangover….ME! So off we went to A&E, where I spent the next 3 hours, watching a very stern, and very scary matron like figure, shout and slap our interestingly disguised goalie, all because he decided that he could take on some of our heavy hitting girls in a drinking competition. Eventually he came round, eventually we met up with the rest of the team…still with some of the makeup on, and the nail polish, and then it was time to go home….him to his….other half. Now I wasn’t in the same car as him on the way home…but the story goes that they had to take quite a detour to find somewhere, anywhere on a bank holiday to find a shop that sold nail polish remover. When they eventually did…..and it was eventually, apparently the man in the shop took quite a fancy to our goalie….much to the goalie’s annoyance….if you know what I mean. Ohhhh how we laughed!

• Fine cards with everything from throwing up, missing breakfast, refusing an alcoholic drink to losing the cards being subject to fines of some sort. On the subject of losing the cards, everyone would go to great lengths to pinch other people’s cards, with a view to getting them fined….you had to be very careful where you kept your card, particularly as you were supposed to have it with you at all times…..made showering a very interesting experience!

• On the fine cards for one tour, one of the fines was for refusing an alcoholic drink….hmmm, had the potential to be unbelievably bad for me…what with being teetotal. A deal was struck, not really to my satisfaction, but it was all I could do at the time. If I drank on the Friday night, then I would be excused for the rest of the weekend and not fined…….brilliant! So it started as soon as we reached the first pub in Worthing after having checked into the guest house. I ordered a pint of lemonade and lime, and to my surprise, the person in charge of the ‘kitty’, at the bar, agreed. The buying of the drinks took some time, with mine being the first to have been ordered. Some ten or so minutes later, with all the drinks bought, the ‘kitty’ monitor returned, and, pretending to stumble, managed to pour a double..something…vodka, bacardi…who knows, in to the top of my lemonade and lime, which by then I’d drunk quite a lot. This was very much how the evening progressed, with me drinking everything put in front of me. The things I remember most about that evening were, one of the very nice ladies rescuing me from a potential talking to by the police, by grabbing me and moving me along when I was tempted to start mucking about with a shopping trolley in the middle of the road, only for two more of my teammates who were behind me to fall into that trap. Being made to drink Pernod…..hmmmm…never been quite sure of aniseed, that combined with the effects next day….yuck! Turning up at the big hotel in the early hours of the morning to meet up with hockey players that we all knew, only for them to realise there was something different about me, but taking half an hour to work out what it was. And waking up in the morning with absolutely no hangover whatsoever, much to the disappointment of the whole team, particularly those I was sharing a room with. However, later on in the day after we’d played our first game, the whole team left me sleeping in the hot sun, giving me a nice dose of sun stroke and making me feel worse than a hangover probably would have. A definite one off I think!

• On the particular morning above, there was a little incident. Four of us were sharing a room, and with the sun shining through the tattered cheap curtains at some ungodly hour, we were all awake, especially me, who, being the only one without a hangover, thought it a good idea to keep everyone else awake and make lots of noise. Anyhow, with the room heating up like a sauna with Kylie in nothing but her hot pants, everyone was keen for the window to be opened for some fresh air. So we all nagged the player in the bed nearest the window (yes, you Nige..if you’re reading) to open the window. He had the worst hangover of everyone and was not keen to leave the comfort of his bed. So instead of us walking six or seven feet, we continued to nag him until finally he gave in and got up to open one of the windows. From snuggled under our covers, all the other roommates could here was him muttering, the pad, pad, pad of his feet on the floor, the squeak of the handle on the window being turned, and then……………”OH SHIT!”, followed by the biggest, loudest ‘CRASH’ in the world. Before I go on, I should explain that the room in the guest house we were in had a massive window (about 15ft)that ran the entire length of one of the longest walls. It had two normal sized windows at each end, with a rusty old metal frame….the whole thing was……HUGE! At the sound of the massive ‘CRASH’, all three of us sat bolt upright instantly, only to find the whole of the window frame missing. Poor Nige, had turned the handle on one of the small windows and the whole thing, including the frame, had dropped two storeys onto the path below. Luckily because of the early hour nobody had been hurt. Needless to say, the three of us took one look, and all fell about in an uncontrollable fit of giggles. Lots of explaining later, it turned out that the window was well and truly hanging on by just a thread, such was the state of disrepair. For the rest of the weekend, all poor old Nige heard was, “Are you having a SMASHING time? Have you got enough money or are you BROKE? Are you in PANE Nige? We think you were well and truly FRAMED? “….you get the idea.

• Numerous silly themes for the Saturday night disco in the town centre, with Noddy always choosing his white trousers and medallion…..something we secretly all copied one year without him knowing right up until the very last moment.

• An interesting trip to a restaurant, where another hockey team (very drunk) were having a meal. They very politely asked our goalie (yes the one from earlier) to take some pictures of them sitting at the table; however, what they didn’t realise, but we did, was that he was taking pictures of everything but them….himself, the waiters, the bar, the toilet, the ceiling, the floor…..his..unmentionables, again…you get the idea. Not sure they would have been best pleased when they got the film developed (younger people….you’ll have to look that up on the internet. It’s what happened before digital cameras).

• Dressing up different members of the team to play in goal….highlights for me….Mr Cosens….and Nige (see above), only because he looked so cute and swapped his nickname of Condom, to Ribenaberry I seem to remember, just for the rest of the weekend.


Festivals Part 2

In my previous post, I told you how it all started….well for me anyway. The trip to Lowestoft with the Haunchers was wonderful and led to a whole host of great times……none more so than playing mixed hockey. Before I tell you any more, I should say that in the last couple of months I’ve had the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with this wonderful form of the game, after not playing it for a very long time. Salisbury hockey club have been running a mixed summer league and some friendly mixed games every other Saturday, which I have been privileged to be part of. Image0051As well as great fun on the pitch with the games being played in the right way, the social element and mix of age groups has been fantastic. It has been great to play alongside and against friends old and new alike. The mixed tale for me starts ohhh, a very long time ago. I was just about to tell you when, but, well let’s just say it seems like another lifetime ago. As a youngster, on joining the hockey club, one thing in the club’s fixture card, well two actually, caught my eye and intrigued me greatly. On the back pages of the card were fixtures for Mixed 1st XI and Mixed 2nd XI. I had no idea at the time what this was, but was very keen to find out. As it happened it didn’t actually take too long. At the time the men’s and ladies’ clubs were separate entities, based at the same location. The members of both clubs got on famously, with the social side of the sport being just the best thing ever. The clubhouse on a Saturday night was buzzing with hockey players. Come 6pm, it was just heaving. Players who’d played at home at 2.45 were still there, with all of the away teams arriving back at just about the same time. It didn’t take long, even for a shy teetotaller like mysel,f to make friends and join in with the fun. In making friends, I managed to be invited along for some of the mixed games, and ended up being a regular player in both of the mixed sides……it was an amazing time to be involved with hockey, well for me anyway and to this day, the magic and friendship of that period of time has never been repeated with quite such an effect. Playing in the mixed sides consequently led on to……….mixed tournaments! The earliest one I can remember playing in was down at Chichester on a Sunday. We as a team stayed all day, played in loads of games, didn’t win a cup or anything, and then stopped off on the way home for food and of course a drink…….what a day! Although I can remember snippets of the hockey, it was the atmosphere and friendship that sticks out in my mind, even to this day…..don’t forget, I was only a very young teenager, so we’re talking well over 25 years ago. The mixed games could only ever lead on to one thing………Worthing! The biggest mixed hockey festival, certainly in the country at the time, and if I’m not mistaken, in Europe. Salisbury hockey club’s annual trip had already been going for quite some time before I had my first taste of it. Having heard dozens of stories about the adventures of others at Worthing, it was with no small amount of excitement that I set off on my first one…….and believe you me, it did not disappoint. The non-stop hockey and socialising was something else all together, and made my trip to Lowestoft with the Haunchers look very tame, something I wouldn’t have believed possible. The tour started by meeting up late afternoon on the Friday, by which time some members of team had already started….’socialising’. The trip there, at breakneck speed, was followed by a first come, first serve, fight for who had which room in the guest house, before very quickly heading out into town to find a pub or pubs that would be open as late as possible (for those younger readers……this was long before 24hr opening). After the pubs, it would be on to a rather large hotel, where some friends of the team would be staying, and there we would stay, until well into the early hours of the morning. All of this, and then up early for more adventure, hockey, and yes you’ve guessed it…more…’socialising’. How the good residents of Worthing ever coped with what went on in their lovely town during that weekend…I’ll never know. You only had to leave the guest house and walk for a few minutes before you’d bump into another hockey team, heading for the crazy golf course, the go karts, the town or the beach…….it was absolutely heaving with hockey players. All in all, I attended Worthing on four of five occasions….each one fantastic in its own right. I’ll try and tell you some of the highlights in my next post….but please bear in mind, there’s quite a lot (being sober all the time, means that I can always remember everything everyone else has done, in quite a lot of detail. Also, fun for me means that I always add a few things into what actually happened, just to amuse me, while helping to fill in the gaps in my hungover teammates’ memories) that I really can’t mention….I think you’ll understand. To be continued…

Salisbury August Festival

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.

While it might sound odd that I was captivated by such a sight…….there is a reason. That reason is that Saturday was the August bank holiday, a time in the past that has been so important to me.

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… 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… 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…….


My Favourite Easter Memories

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… 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.  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… ones, worst ones, rude ones…..hmmm, not too sure about that… might win one of my books. That’s all for now. Next time……Festivals Part 2 (mixing it up with the best of them)

Haunchers in Holland.