My earliest club hockey memories:
• Travelling back from a game against Bournemouth in the Purple People Eater (A Purple Capri owned by the teacher responsible for getting me into hockey). On the twisting and turning Ringwood to Salisbury road, overtaking on blind corners in the dark. To this day I still think of that journey every time I travel on that road, which is quite a lot…thanks Polks!
• Being phoned up by one of my great friends (and hockey heroes…a reference to which you’ll find in my book) and asked to play hockey the following day at the Bournemouth Easter festival when it was still at their Kinson site. My friend (you know who you are!) picked me up in North Salisbury, and 28 minutes later we arrived at the ground, just in time for our game. If you know your geography, you’d know how impossible that would be, even early on an Easter Sunday morning, and you’d probably be able to take a guess at what colour I was when I exited the vehicle. The journey back was much more sedate.
• Playing for an Eastleigh men’s side (yes, I played a season or two for Eastleigh juniors…Salisbury had no junior side then, a very long time ago) in a tournament/festival at the Southampton sports centre. The game was 6 or 7 aside, played on very bumpy grass pitches. The day was hot and sunny, and I’d travelled up on the train to meet the rest of the team. We played lots of games…all of which were great fun. However, during the last game, I found myself covering behind our onrushing goalkeeper, right on the goal line. The opposition striker slipped the ball to a team mate, who promptly ran into the D and undercut the ball straight at me. I stopped the ball, but instead of cushioning and controlling it, the ball bounced straight back into the path of the onrushing striker, who pulled back his stick, and once again undercut the ball straight at me, from an even closer range, with the precision of a urinary surgeon (yes, ….that should give you a clue). He hit me straight in the ……..how would Terry Pratchett describe it……..straight in the ‘trumpet and skittles’. Unbelievably the ball again fell kindly for the forward, who ignored me writhing around in agony, and promptly chipped the ball over me and into the goal from about two inches in front of my face…..lovely!!!! The umpire promptly signalled a goal….something to this day I feel should have been disallowed. I remember vividly having to go off, and the sensation of feeling sick for about the next 12 hours or so. To add to my woes, I had to walk, very John Wayne like, back to the railway station (none of my team mates could take me, and it was about 3 miles) with all my sticks and kit to catch the train back to Salisbury….oh how I wished on that walk that I hadn’t been so addicted to chasing the little ball about with the stick…..oh well!
• Going on a Sunday to watch the Wiltshire men’s county side play at Marlborough School with some of the Salisbury players. I had just turned 17 at the time and was keen to spend my weekend doing anything hockey related. I travelled up (taking my kit as all good hockey players should….even though there was no chance of me playing) with one of my friends…yes that’s right, another risky car journey. As we watched the men warm up from the sideline of the astroturf, a Wiltshire Under 21 game was just about to start on one of the adjacent grass pitches. One of the coaches came over and asked me if I’d like to make up the numbers as the Wiltshire side were short of players. Faster than an Alex Danson penalty flick, I kitted up, all the time thinking how ironic it was that I was about to play for the U21 side, when only 2 weeks before, I’d failed to be selected for the U18 side at their trials. I played in the game (a very muddy affair I seem to remember) and must have done something right, as I spent the rest of the season playing for the Wiltshire U21 side. That, however, is not why the day turned out to be so memorable. After both the men’s and my game had finished, nearly the whole Salisbury group, and a few others decided it would be a good idea to stop off for a curry in Marlborough on the way home. “All well and good,” I hear you say. “What’s wrong with that?” Well, most……no, let’s change that to all…of the Salisbury men were something of a legend in the ‘socialising stakes’, and not always in a good way. I was, at the time, only just 17 and very much in awe of all the players around me…….and don’t forget, important this part…….very much teetotal. In the restaurant, I sat next to the only female of the group, (one of the New Sarum ladies, who I socialised with, played mixed hockey with, looked up to, and counted as a friend…..hi Sue, if you’re reading this). Anyway, things were all well and good to start with, if not a bit rowdy. As the evening progressed…things started to get more out of hand…….play fighting, poppadoms being thrown, drinks being spilt……and it was rapidly going downhill from there. I can’t say I enjoyed any of that very much, but then the dreaded whispers started to travel around the large group of players that I was with. The only word I could hear clearly was “RUNNER”. While still pretty young and naive, I still had a fair idea of what this all meant in the present context and was more than a little worried. Luckily for me, my guardian angel, the designated driver, repository of common sense……..not sure about that one, and all round lovely lady (yes Sue….you!!!), made sure that she was going to get me out of there in one piece, but more importantly talked all of the men out of it (no mean feat considering how drunk they were, and how keen they were to ‘do a runner’). Every time I travel through Marlborough on that main road, I still think of that very rowdy evening, and how if things had been a little different, I could still be there….washing up to pay off the debt of that whole meal.