Charity Walk

Hockey ClubStars




Over the summer I’ve had the privilege of playing mixed hockey every couple of weeks with the lovely ladies’ 4th & 5th teams, and the wonderful men’s 5th team from Salisbury hockey club. It has, as always, been a pleasure and despite breaking a bone in the top of my finger some weeks ago, I’ve had a great time playing alongside and against some wonderful people.

This Saturday there’s been no hockey, but I’ve had an equally wonderful time with the same fantastic people, raising money for a great cause: the Stars Appeal Breast Cancer Unit Campaign. A sponsored ten kilometre walk through the fantastic British countryside this morning was more of a joy than a slog, raising over £1000 thanks to the brilliant efforts of all involved. I’d like to thank everyone because I had a great time (apart from the shock of seeing Andy in a skirt yet again….YES YOU MANDERS!) and felt honoured to be invited to take part. So THANK YOU everyone and please enjoy a selection of pictures from our morning out.

Men’s Hockey 4 XI Report – 29th November 2014

Salisbury 4’s     2:1    Basingstoke Vikings

On a dank, miserable and foggy evening Salisbury made hard work of this win against 10 man Basingstoke. However after the last two disappointing losses a win is a win and takes them above todays opponents into 4th place just behind Bournemouth on goal difference.

Despite positional and personnel changes Salisbury started the brighter of the two sides and they achieved a number of insertions into the away sides “D”. Basingstoke however were set up to defend and it was close to the 20 minute mark before James Palmer forced a goal from a fairly narrow angle on the left. Salisbury also gained a small number of short corners but the procedure was not firing correctly.

The second half saw the mist cover parts of the pitch reducing visibility to less than the length of the playing area. Salisbury picked up somewhat and their youngsters performed much better in mid-field than in previous weeks. Henry Smith, Phil Alison, Akram Ghauri and James Wade used their youthful speed and endurance much better but the home side failed to penetrate their opponents “D” as they should have with the man advantage. Eventually the second goal came from a short corner: two shots were saved by the Basingstoke keeper before David Hillier stuck a hard shot that left him no chance of a third.

The away team continued their pressing and in spite of the inspired defensive work of Paul Cude and others and with Salisbury continuing to give the ball away needlessly they managed to score in the last 10 minutes. This lead to a nerve tingling finale which Salisbury managed to survive.

MoM: Paul Cude

DoD: Phil Alison

Umpire: Tim Orchard & Alastair Barrett

Team: Matt Salmon, Andy Manders, Paul Cude, Mark Briggs, James Palmer, Howard Smith, Henry Smith, David Hillier, Jim Nicholson, Alan Garrett, Phil Alison, James Wade, Akram Ghauri, Andy Scrase.

Salisbury Men’s Hockey 4 XI Report – 8th November 2014

Aldershot & Farnham 4’s    2:1     Salisbury 4’s

Salisbury had to endure the long drive to Aldershot through a deluge of Biblical proportions on Saturday for this league match against the bottom side.  However it all came undone with the unavailability/loss of four experienced mid-fielders from the previous game.

Salisbury’s youngsters tried to fill this gap but were sometimes muscled out of possession in dangerous positions. However the defence played well and Barrett in goal did not see an excessive amount of action. Salisbury at times reverted to “old fashioned” grass hockey with attempts at 60 yard passes, most of which were easily cut out by a well ordered defence. Aldershot went ahead from their second short corner with a strong well placed shot inside the right hand post.

The away side did not create much up front during the first half with the exception of a ball from the right which Garrett pulled just wide of the post and Henry Smith scoring the equaliser. On the right hand side of the pitch Hillier nearly overran the ball over the goal line but just managed to one handedly pull the ball back for Henry Smith to fire into the bottom left corner of the goal. Flashes of skill emanated from Fred Bond and Chris Pearl but all too often there was no final ball.

The second half saw both sides intensify their work rate but overall it was a scrappy game. Salisbury throughout the match gave the ball away far too much with poor passes straight to the Aldershot team or by trying to beat too many players in isolation. Despite the magnificent efforts of Cude and Alison in particular Aldershot took the lead 18 minutes into the second half when Salisbury were found wanting. Barrett saved well form a hard shot but only managed to push the ball to one of the home side’s younger players who reacted first and was able to slide the ball home from a narrow angle from the right of the goal. Henry Smith up front was given too many long balls to chase and despite increasingly frantic efforts from Salisbury they could not find the rhythm nor composure to draw level and a second loss in this seasons league campaign was endured.

MoM: Philip Alison

DoD: David Hillier

Umpire: Howard smith, Alan Garrett

Team: Alastair Barrett, Andy Manders, James Palmer, Paul Cude, David Hillier, Jim Nicholson, Alan Garrett, Chris Pearl, Philip Alison, Fred Bond, Henry Lloyd, Henry Smith, Howard Smith

Salisbury Men’s Hockey 4 XI Report – 1st November 2014

Salisbury 4’s     6:0     City of Portsmouth 4’s

Portsmouth only had 10 players available for this match (school half term) and this weakness was exploited from the off by a motivated Salisbury side. Despite lending Portsmouth one of their squad for the second half the home sides dominance was shown in that Salmon in goal only touched the ball once in the entire game and that was to give the ball to a defender for a 16 yard hit!! 

The score line should in fact have been a great deal worse for the away side but for some very fine goalkeeping by Portsmouth’s goalie and poor finishing by a raft of Salisbury players: worst amongst them (on his own admission) was Man of the Match and non-scorer Palmer.

On their second short corner Jon Craig’s shot made a resounding thump as it found the back board. At the next the keeper saved from both Craig and S. Ghauri before Garrett volleyed into the net. Despite numerous other attempts on the Portsmouth goal the half time score remained 2:0.

Young Chris Pearl played for the away side for the second half and was one of their two best players but the efforts of Portsmouth in the first half showed in the latter quarter when Salisbury rattled in another 4 goals from Jamie Short, Jim Nicholson, Phil Pepper and Akram Ghauri. It was of special importance for Akram was it was his first goal for the men’s side.

Strong performances from Phil Pepper, on his debut game, plus a goal, and also from Paul Cude, as usual,  whose many interceptions in mid-field prevented Portsmouth from entering the home side’s “D” and set up numerous attacks. In defence Neil Twentymans first game this season was solid and was supported by Manders and Scrase at the back.

Jamie Short who is only able to play the odd game each season showed a big improvement in his game and contributed greatly with young legs and skill in mid-filed. The unfortunate Will Smith again had muscle problems and withdrew whilst DoD Andy Scrase on his first game of the season showed Roy Hodgson what he is missing in the England football squad!

Three wins from four is a good start to the season but bigger challenges are to be faced but this result and performance was a good fillip to the squad. Salisbury are currently second equal in the league with two other teams all on 9 points.

MoM: James Palmer

DoD: Andy Scrase

Umpire: Andrew Buckingham

Team: Matt Salmon, Andy Manders, Paul Cude, Neil Twentyman, James Palmer, Jim Nicholson, Alan Garrett, Chris Pearl, Akram Ghauri, Saboor Ghauri, Phil Pepper, Jon Craig, Will Smith, Jamie Short

First and/or Best Piece of Sports Equipment

I can remember playing hockey at school (see ‘Introduction’ post) and using either totally plastic sticks….horrible, or ropey old wooden sticks with the torn cloth grips hanging off the bare wood. I didn’t know any better at the time, but the sticks were rubbish. I started playing around Easter time, and for my birthday in December I asked for, and got, my own hockey stick. I can still remember it now. I chose it from the sports shop myself; it was the first stick I owned and it carried me through to playing club level hockey. It was a wooden Sondico stick with a yellowish leather grip. I remember how fantastic it felt when I picked it up in the shop. It was a wonderful stick, with just one flaw, and almost certainly by now, you’ve guessed what it was…….the grip! While superb looking and great in the dry, as soon as it got wet, I might as well have been trying to play hockey with a slippery old eel, fresh from the sea. The number of times I lost grip of that stick while trying to hit the ball must have gone well in to treble figures…..nevertheless, I treasured it dearly, that is until I moved on….in terms of hockey sticks anyway.

The most amazing hockey stick I ever owned was a DFV 36″ platinum stick. It cost a small fortune and was nothing short of PERFECT!

Two of my DFV sticks!

Two of my DFV sticks!

The weight, the balance, the give, the size of the head…all just fantastic! Often I’d show team mates, etc and anyone who picked it up always said exactly the same thing……..that it was the best stick they’d ever seen or held. After that one I had another DFV, only this time a 38″ blue diamond. It suited me better, but it wasn’t as good as the platinum. I would often swap between the two, sometimes during games….depending on how I felt or how the game was going. Sadly both sticks were lost one day when I got injured during a game and had to be taken to hospital. My team mates, on picking me up from the hospital assured me that my sticks and kit had been picked up by the rest of the team, but disappointingly nobody knew where the sticks went, and try as I did, I never managed to find them again. That platinum stick was priceless in my mind, and I still think of it as an old friend.

Recently, although I couldn’t afford it, I went shopping for a new stick. I haven’t had a new one in probably ten years, and it certainly felt like that when I was trying all of the new sticks in the shop. Given that I did try nearly all of them, at first narrowing it down to four, then three, then two, and then oh boy did the problems start. Nothing changes. 003And it must be the same for most hockey players, I’m sure. Go into a shop with one-hundred sticks, try ninety-nine and know that they’re not for you, and then the instant you pick up number one-hundred BOOOOMMM!!! You know it’s the one. The weight, the feel…….everything about it is right. On this occasion, it was hard to choose between the two sticks I’d narrowed it down to. The cheaper one was the first stick I’d picked up on entering the shop. And it felt great. I kept going back to it and trying it out. It was a Kookaburra stick I think. The second, (a Dita stick) the one I choose, was just love at first touch, despite it being an inch and a half longer than the stick I’d been using. The weight (very light) was perfect, there was a slight curve in the shaft, it was just made for me. After lots of consideration, mainly because of the price, I had to have that one. And given how it performs in training and in a match, I couldn’t be happier.

So, why don’t you see if you can top all of that……over to you now.


Salisbury August Festival Continued

Back to my favourite festival ever……….my home festival of Salisbury, which used to be held over the August bank holiday. Image0023I’ve already described my first one… 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… 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!

Off the pitch mucking about at the Salisbury August festival.

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…, 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…… 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.


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…….


Blimey! Didn’t Think It Would Be That Soon.

In my last hockey post, I made reference to the fortnightly mixed hockey that I’m so privileged to take part in. Yesterday, in the sweltering heat (I hate playing hockey in the heat……give me the freezing cold and pouring rain any day. In fact the reason I love winter so much, is not because of my birthday and Christmas being in the same month….it’s because I associate it with HOCKEY!) we all turned up to play in another of those wonderfully social, and fun, mornings.

Little was different… was the same people turning up early, on time and late, with the games being divided into lots of 15 minute sessions instead of 20. As occasionally happens, I had both my kids with me (both of whom are hockey players, both of whom wanted to come, despite the heat, which worked out well as their mother was able to do some revision for some upcoming exams). Anyhow, during the warm up they joined in with their sticks and a ball, playing wonderfully well, their factor 50 covering all exposed skin, sun hats flapping in the slight breeze. The games started and the fun began.

Although there were only just enough for 11 a side at the very start, typically dribs and drabs of people ambled along late, allowing both sides many substitutes, which was more than welcome in the blistering heat of mid-morning. While playing and umpiring I kept one eye on my children who were sensible enough to stick to the shade of the dugout for the most part, only venturing out to kick a football about for a few minutes at a time on the concrete beside the Astroturf, always keeping hydrated from the, what seemed like, gallons of water that we’d brought along.

The hockey, was as usual……..GREAT! Friendly, spirited (some of the men dribbling up their own **** on occasion) but apart from that a fantastic morning/early afternoon. But where, by now you might be thinking, am I going with this? Well, as the games wore on, players started to leave, some with other commitments, some suffering from the heat, some very nice ones going off to arrange the wonderful teas that accompany each Saturday on which we play

So just as I was thinking of sitting out the first part of the last game, my older daughter came running up to me and said, “Daddy, whose side am I on?” Just to put this in perspective, she’s 10 years old, and while Matt the great goalkeeper who I’m lucky enough to play alongside week in, and week out during the season (hope you still remember that great lob over you the other week Matt, if you’re reading this) brings his son along, he is a little bit older, bigger and more talented, and is always the youngest one there (and does a fantastic job). In fact, he nearly scored against his father yesterday, instead having to settle for a well deserved assist. Anyhow, on some of the other occasions when my children have come with me, various players have asked me if my elder daughter would like to play. I almost always respond with, “Well, she would, but I think she’s a bit too young really.” But a couple of people have asked her directly recently and she’s been really keen to join in, much to my………..I wouldn’t say horror, I would say……..nervousness. As I wrote in my last blog on this subject, there’s nothing more I’d like to do than to take to the pitch and play alongside my daughters, both of them… you can see where this is going. Both sides had depleted so badly, not only did I not get my agreed rest, but my elder daughter came on, and headed out to the right wing under my instructions. Now at this time, there were very few ladies left in the game, mainly men, some of whom I felt needed reminding of just how little she was, and that she’d never played in a full size game with just adults before. I can’t tell you the words I used for the reminder, although I’d like to, because they were both witty and to the point, if somewhat colourful. The whistle went, and the game started. Now firstly I’d like to point out that the players on both sides were wonderful with regards to my daughter, giving her the time and space she needed. That said though, they did close her down, and one of the two things that impressed me most was her decision making on the ball. She did drive forward some of the time, but when confronted with an opponent, she was happy to turn around and play the ball backward to one of her own players. I don’t think she gave the ball away once. Secondly, her movement (encouraged slightly by me) was fantastic. She was bending her runs at the top of the pitch, cutting in, staying out wide when we were defending, and if she passed the ball, she ran off it to create space and get herself in a position to receive the ball again.

I was very impressed with all of that, and the fact that I got to play alongside her for just 15 minutes. I think it made my………..I was going to say “day”, but that would be wrong. It’s not month either. So it must be year. It made my year. So from me writing a little while ago that I was desperate to keep my body in one piece so that I could share a hockey pitch with my kids somewhere in the future, to surprisingly doing it yesterday. How funny life is with all of its twists and turns. And how lucky am I to get one of my top wishes in that manner. Hockey and my kids…………..FANTASTIC! Now if only I can persuade my wife to play………things would be perfect. I’ll get to work on it at once.

A Great Day To Play Hockey

Weather rubbish, but so what?! I set off this morning with my two kids in tow, walking up to the Astroturf pitch at Salisbury hockey club. In the dull light of day, the wind, and the occasional shower, I felt less than enamoured, a little like my youngest daughter, who really wasn’t fussed about the fifteen minute walk.

“Why aren’t we taking the car daddy?” she asked, barely seconds after we’d started out.

“Because your mother has taken it to go to choir,” I replied, knowing just how much she dislikes walking anywhere.

“Oh,” was all the response I got. So we carried on, in relative silence.

Some fifteen or so minutes later, we were the first to arrive at the pitch, and as we walked in, suddenly, my youngest came to life.

“Daddy, daddy, can I have my stick please?”

“Sure,” I replied, duly handing over her stick.

“Don’t forget my hand guard,” was the next thing out of her mouth, all the while her elder sister looking on. So with both of outfitted, I threw them a hockey ball and off they went, the whole pitch to themselves for a few minutes. The joy I felt at watching them chase the crazy ball around for that short period of time was immeasurable, and increased exponentially when I got to join in with them. As someone who’s spent the last (hmmm……..dare I say it? Oh, okay then,) thirty-three years chasing around after the stupid ball, stick in hand, always willing to put his body on the line, I get the most amazing kick out of seeing my kids doing exactly the same thing, whether in training on a Sunday during the season, in one of the many tournaments they go to, or on just a day like today when they come along and watch me play, and we all get to knock a ball around together beforehand.

I should explain that I was there to play in a fortnightly mixed game that goes on for some members of the lower teams in the club, run by some great people throughout the summer. We did it last year, and speaking from my own experience……….it was fantastic. What could be better than spending a Saturday morning a great Astroturf pitch, playing mixed hockey in the warm, amongst fellow, friendly hockey players? The games aren’t taken too seriously, and are split into twenty minute sessions. Young and old, men and women mixed up and split into two or three teams, with great hockey that’s competitive, but not taken too seriously. It has been wonderful up to now, and today was no exception. The varied ability and the mixture of old and young alike make it both enjoyable, and a challenge. We played for over two hours, in twenty minute sessions and I enjoyed every second of it, even when I was on the side line…….catching a breather (seems to happen more often as I get older……damn kids seem to run faster as well.)

What a great way to spend a few hours on a Saturday…….with great people, doing something I absolutely love. And to have my kids there as well just rounded things off completely. So long may it continue, and long may I continue as well, before age takes me completely. I continue to be driven by my love for the game, and the fun I have chasing the stupid ball around, but lately there’s been more to it than that. The more I see my children enjoying hockey, the more desperate I am for them to grow up, so I can play in a proper game alongside both of them. Of course I’ve played in coached games at training, but I want them to be my team mates in a proper mixed match……I really, really do. But I’m not sure if my body’s going to last that long. I hope it will, as there’s nothing I’d love more than to line up alongside them.


August Festival Continued/Umpiring

I think it was at my second August festival that I became more aware of the umpiring side of our precious game. I was only young…well, young compared with the youngsters umpiring and playing today. I would have been at most 15, but probably 14. I was representing Haunchers for the first time, but as a member of Salisbury hockey club I was also helping out behind the scenes, and acting as a spare player for one of the Salisbury teams. I say one of the Salisbury teams……I think there was only one men’s team, but on more than a few occasions I’ve donned a skirt and played for New Sarum ladies, and my not quite failing memories tell me that this might well have been the first time this happened.

The weather was blisteringly hot….as you’d come to expect on an August bank holiday (not recently, I know), and there was much competition amongst the Salisbury hockey folk to see who could play in the most games both on each day, and across the whole of the weekend. Me being a tiddler, and not really knowing as many people as everybody else, only really managed to play for Haunchers and Salisbury, despite hanging around, and making myself available for any teams that were short of players. The winner of this self-styled competition was of course Gary Turner (GT), who I think had organised this particular festival, or if not then he certainly had a hand in it, and knew practically everyone from all of the teams, men and ladies alike. I think on one particular day (the Saturday), he managed to play in every one of the game slots that had been allocated………that’s some achievement, particularly in that kind of heat. I was very jealous; still, I did get to play a lot of hockey.

Salisbury 2nd XI about to play on a lovely Salisbury grass pitch. That’s me with my tongue poking out!

But on turning up to one of the Salisbury games, I think it was about late morning, something odd happened. We had surprisingly gained a few players, from the less than a team amount that we’d had first thing in the morning when setting up……still, it was a good thing from a winning games point of view. With me set not to start, one of our team asked…..well, it was more like told me, that I would be umpiring.

Up until that point in my hockey experience, not once had I ever really considered the umpires or the umpiring. Oh there’d been games in which I’d played where I’d had little…..’run ins’, let’s call them that…..with whoever had been umpiring. Mainly school games I seem to remember. Having played at club level, my school hockey experience consisted mainly of being suddenly thrust onto a rugby pitch marked out as a hockey pitch with all but one or two of the team being totally useless, against a school that had a team full of proper hockey players. Two matches stand out with regards to the umpiring, both cases involving our opponents’ sports teacher/coach who would have been one of the umpires at the time.

The first match was against a school in Andover, some twenty or so miles away, and I think this may have been around the time I joined the men’s hockey club, but If it was, I hadn’t been playing for very long. Anyway, a cold, wet, midweek afternoon, found our team on, what had to be said, quite a nice grass pitch, considering what we were used to. All apart from one corner, which had an incredible upwards slope on it, so much so, that if the ball was hit into it, the ball would slow, and then start to roll backwards…..quite an achievement in mid-winter. The game went on, and as always we were losing quite badly, and I found myself doing quite a lot of defending. I do consider myself a defender now, but then I was a ‘winger’, not very fast, but that seemed to be how the youngsters, unless you were a goalie, started off. Drawn back into our own half, we were defending, defending, defending. Until suddenly we found ourselves on a break, and one of the other quality players in our side hit me the ball out on the left wing, just inside the opposition’s twenty five. I ran towards it, picked it up, beat the defender and found myself in the ‘D’. I can remember what happened next like it was just yesterday. I looked at the tiny goalkeeper, with his white cricket pads and trainers, striding out from the goal line towards me, and knew exactly what I should do. Even now, and this is something that I fancy myself at, I would probably still need a few goes at this to achieve it. But, at the time, instinctively I knew it was the right thing to do. The ball was on my reverse stick; I was inside the ‘D’, with the keeper coming out slowly towards me. Holding tightly to the slippery leather grip of my Sondico stick, I flicked my wrists with all my might and watched in awe as the ball did exactly as it was supposed to and sailed over the head of the keeper, creeping about a foot over the line, just next to the right hand post of the goal, but not quite hitting the back board. I remember standing still, gobsmacked at what had happened. It was easily the best goal I had ever scored, and it was exactly what I’d meant to do. While I stood there, admiring my handiwork, the opposition left back had run back to the goal, pulled the ball out with his stick, and started to run up the pitch with the ball. I was stunned! Now alright, it was a little drizzily, but apart from that, not foggy or anything. The opposition umpire, their sports teacher, had apparently not seen the ball go into the goal, despite being over that side of the pitch, and was letting her own team run off up the pitch, and play on. I was incensed and although normally rather timid and shy, I seem to recall telling her exactly what I thought. Most of my team had seen what I’d done, so I hadn’t dreamed it, and I remember being quite upset about the injustice of it all for quite some time afterwards, and although the teacher/umpire claimed not to have seen exactly what happened, I found it hard to believe then, much as I do now.

The second match was a home game when our comprehensive school played against the local grammar school. As you can imagine, they had a whole team of hockey players………..and we didn’t. It was played out on our lovely rugby pitch marked out as a hockey pitch (you youngsters with your Astroturfs don’t know you’re born), and took place after school, in the middle of winter, on a night where it was so misty, you could barely see two metres in front of you. How it went ahead I’ll never know, but it did. All was going well; we were losing, but not by as much as it could have been. The pitch and the fog/mist seemed to be hampering our opponents more than it was us…….something that actually seemed quite amusing, and may explain why our teacher wanted it to go ahead. Anyway, once again I found myself on the wing, this time on the right. The ball came out to me, I picked it up cleanly on my stick and ran off down the wing. From out of the mist came a huge mountain of a defender. I ran towards him, and pushed the ball through his legs to run round onto. It was a good move, a good thing to do, particularly on that pitch, and he stood no chance of getting the ball. That is until he very quickly, and very deliberately closed his legs, stopping the ball much as a keeper would with his feet, and then, just as I was running round him, he disappeared off up the pitch and into the mist. I looked over my shoulder to see the umpire, their sports teacher, simply standing and grinning at me, just before he too ran up the pitch, and into the mist. I was devastated. He must have seen what had happened. He must have known that one of his team had cheated. If nothing else, even then, I always knew to play the game fairly. I seem to recall the rage bubbling up inside me…….quickly. It all happened so quickly, but boy was I angry. Now the next part, can I just say that it’s the only time that I’ve ever done this, and in no way should that be used as an excuse. It’s also something that no hockey player should ever do, but on this occasion……..I DID! And I was sorry for doing it, although, not until after the game I seem to recall. I chased after the big defender, who, had quite a lead on me, due to the time I’d been standing around bemoaning the injustice of it all. He was just arriving at the halfway line, about a metre inside the pitch, and his sports teacher, the umpire, had just about caught him up. As I stood realising that I was never going to catch him…………it just happened! With my right hand holding the top of my stick, I leaned back, aimed, and with all my might………..threw the stick as hard as I could towards my opponent. It was a good throw. It travelled a long way, and was accurate. But in the dense mist, and with the defender moving… really did have no hope of making contact. But what did happen was that it plonked down in the mud about about half a metre in front of their sports teacher/umpire. He looked aghast. As soon as it left my grip I knew what I’d done was wrong, but of course, by then it was too late. I jogged up the pitch and approached the umpire, and of course my by now, muddy stick. Picking it up, I very carefully wiped the leather grip with the top I was wearing, and muttered something about how slippery it got in the wet and the cold, and then knowing when I was on to a good thing………I sprinted off into the mist, and didn’t return to that side of the pitch for the rest of the game.

Even now these two events from my hockey past still make my blood boil. I was always taught to play hard, but fair……something some players fail to understand, even to this day. To me, being a hockey player is so much more than just turning out on the pitch and taking part in a game. It’s how you conduct yourself on and off the pitch. It’s about making the right pass in a game, and not thinking….”hmmm, that player isn’t any good, I’ll just hold on to it until I can find one of my friends to pass it to.” I can’t tell you how many mixed games I’ve played in where the opposition, for some unknown reason, just pass the ball amongst their men, and don’t use any of the women. How utterly stupid! And in the vast majority of these games, we (Salisbury) nearly always won, not because we had more talented players, usually the opposite, but because we played as a team, played the right passes, and didn’t worry about who we were passing to. When I think about all of this, I think about my hockey playing dragon/human hero who, when in his human form still occasionally believes his dragon tail is dragging on the ground behind him. Sometimes I feel like I have an invisible hockey stick strapped across my back….guiding me, influencing all of my decisions and of course my behaviour. Sounds a bit mad maybe, but that’s how it is…….the one thing I will always be is a hockey player, even if I’m not currently playing on a regular basis.

So back to that August festival. I was umpiring… it or not…and I’m pretty sure I didn’t. What didn’t help matters, was knowing that the team we were going to be playing against, were renowned as being amongst the dirtiest teams in our hockey region. I won’t tell you the name of the club/team, but I’m sure every region had/has one. The one piece of advice my very caring clubmates had given me, was that once I’d made a decision was to stick to it……, just not to change my mind, basically.

The game started, and within seconds it became clear that this was no festival friendly. I remember not being sure whether I was unhappy at having to umpire, or just happy that I wasn’t playing, seeing some of the tackles that were flying in. It was only then that I remembered the whistle in my hand, and that I had responsibility for controlling the game. What I have failed to mention up until this point, is the degree to which I’d been stitched up. So not only was I ridiculously young, and had never umpired before, taking charge of a match that was always going to be…..explosive, but I was umpiring on my………OWN! That’s right…..just me. How crazy! I can see that now, but at the time I had no idea, and of course just went along with things. And given what I’ve just said, I don’t doubt you can work out what happened next. Inevitably things went rapidly down hill. Sticks and tackles flying, on the death side of hospital. You name it, it went on in that game. One of the opponents……again, well renowned….for what, I won’t say, was blown up by me for a tackle. He didn’t take it well, and after confronting me (remember, it’s a festival, nice hot day, everyone’s having fun, first game I’ve every umpired, only me umpiring) and threatening me, my whole team advised me to give him a yellow card………..which I duly did, much to his surprise and consternation. The game continued and just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. What I didn’t know at the time was that he was supposed to go and stand behind the goal. (I hadn’t seen anyone, I don’t think, ever, sent off, up to that point in my playing time.) Anyway, he must have known this, but instead he chose to stand next to me as I was umpiring (my team mates didn’t spot this for some time) and was constantly telling me how he was going to beat me up and put me in hospital…………..lovely! Needless to say nobody was happier than me when that game finished (a few minutes early if memory serves me correctly…..can’t think why) I scurried off, and stayed well away from that team for the rest of the weekend. My clubmates were very apologetic afterwards, and said on reflection that they shouldn’t have got me to umpire……………GREAT! So that was my first experience of umpiring. How long do you think I’d have to wait for my next experience?

That’s me all on my own (apart from our keeper) sweeping for Haunchers and playing the opposition onside by the look of things, at an August festival.

Well If I’d been asked when I’d like to umpire next after the debacle just mentioned, my reply would have been “when hell freezes over”. However, the god of hockey (and when I use that term Millie, it in no way means you, despite the fact that it was you that conned me into doing it) had other, much quicker ideas. The next day, with chaos ensuing as the organisers were trying to sort the umpires for all the games, I was asked once again to assist. Even now, all I can think is, “Why would they do that?” after what had happened the previous day. I think they were up a certain creek, without not only a paddle, but a boat as well. So to sweeten things up, they told me that it wouldn’t be like the day before, because I’d be umpiring a ladies game, and not just any game, but New Sarum ladies vs Norwich ladies. I fell for it, hook. line and sinker. To be fair, I did know just about all of the New Sarum ladies (most of whom watched out for me, or at least that’s the way it felt at the time) and had met the Norwich ladies in the bar on a couple of occasions…….and they all seemed fantastic. So with a whistle and some cards provided (I remember being a little bit dubious when given the cards to take with me onto the pitch…..but again, hook, line and sinker) I wandered over to the allocated pitch for what I knew was going to be a great match. The New Sarum ladies team at the time was pure quality with some great players in it, and the Norwich ladies were a fantastic hockey playing team, all adding up to the prospect of a great game and some brilliant hockey. The only weak link in all of this was obviously………….ME! Now, just to set the scene, this was during a time which some of you might remember, and some of you might not. It was when there was offside in hockey, from the halfway line. Ohhhhhh! I hear some of you cry. Was there ever offside in hockey? Yes there was, and this took place at that time. Now, where was I? Ahhh the game. Of it started in the heat of the Sunday afternoon. All was well. I was one of two umpires, the game itself was a humdinger, both teams going at it like a league game, but in a fair and balanced way. I would almost say I was enjoying it, that is………….UNTIL IT HAPPENED! About 20 minutes in, New Sarum had pushed right up to the halfway line. The play was all in the Norwich half, that is until one of their midfielders picked up the ball and played the perfect pass between the New Sarum defenders and into the empty half of the pitch, apart from the New Sarum goalkeeper. I was stood right on the halfway line and watched the pass go through, and the Norwich forward timed her run to perfection. Unfortunately, although I understood offside fine in a playing kind of way, as an umpire……….NOT SO MUCH! To the whole Norwich side’s dismay, I blew the forward up for offside. I kind of knew I’d got it wrong, but didn’t know what to do. Also by now, it was too late, as I’d already stopped play. The Norwich ladies, perfectly justified in doing so, went ballistic. Up until that point, I’d never heard that sort of language from a lady……..EVER! Anyhow, another unqualified disaster on the umpiring front. Again I scurried off after the match, to hide away. That evening I, along with some of my clubmates, went out to a lovely country pub which was the tradition on the Sunday night of the festival. Imagine my horror when we walked into the establishment and found the entire Norwich men’s and ladies team’s in the bar. There were shouts of, “There he is!” and “That’s the umpire from our game this afternoon.” I wanted to die. But, to my surprise, they all to a player apologised for what they’d said, and were all so sweet. I’ve never been so relieved in my entire life. I have since then, umpired many hundreds of times, and would recommend that every player umpires on a regular basis because it give a unique perspective on a match, on how hard it is to do, and on the reaction of the players towards an umpire…..something I found out all about at a very early age.