How It All Started

My Earliest Club Hockey Memories

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.

A very, very young me playing for Salisbury veterans. Look at the sticks!!!!!

Getting The Ball Rolling

Having already shared with you how i got started playing hockey, perhaps some of you reading this would like to share how you got started playing your team sport. While i greatly admire all sport ( i love playing squash, cycling and swimming), because my book is about team sports, and because hockey has been such a big influence on my life, i’ve decided that this blog will only be about team sports and players……just so all of you individual sports players know. As a little incentive to ……..get the ball rolling, so to speak, if we get over twenty people sharing their thoughts over the next week or so, then whoever’s thoughts i like the most will be rewarded with a signed copy of my book. The only condition being is that they must be somewhere i can post the book to (i.e. not in the middle of the amazon jungle, the centre of a desert, or somewhere in the Siberian wilderness).

So before i let you share all of your experiences……a little add on to my introduction. In January 2011, i started work at a school as a teaching assistant. The school in question has a different name, looks after a different age of children, has some different buildings, but it is based on the exact same site as the school mentioned in my introduction. Everyday i go in to the school hall, the same one i sat in as a child, and not a week goes by without me gazing down in to that same playground that’s still surrounded by that broken chain link fence. The memories come flooding back time and again, sending shivers up my spine (or if you’ve read my book…..tail), all in a good way and, well, this is the hard bit to define, and some of you will clearly think i’m mad, but there’s a sense of ………….magic, that’s the only word i can think of that describes it. Perhaps it’s fate (not something i’m sure i really believe in) that i find myself in a job i love, in a place that means so much to me. Anyhow, enough from me, over to you…………..

Introduction

It started just before Easter 1980. As an eleven year old, I sat on the hard, shiny wooden floor of the main hall, with over a hundred other children. I remember being bored, not really listening, fiddling with my very sweaty hands…..it was always hot in that hall. Suddenly, something caught my attention. The person speaking, who I assume was the head master, but I can’t be quite sure, was talking about an after school activity. I don’t know why, but the hairs on my arms had all stood to attention, gently swaying amongst the goose bumps that they sat amongst. So you see…..that was it.

I turned up at the right time, on the right day, after school, and although I had no idea what hockey even was at the time, within half an hour….I was hooked. We played in a small playground surrounded by a broken chain link fence, with plastic hockey sticks, that when wet, would be about as easy as a slippery eel to hold on to….but still….it was fantastic! I will forever hold the memories of running about in that playground, chasing after the ball, avoiding the wild challenges, trying desperately to master the basics, and competing with the other boys, to see who could be the first to learn how to flick a ball. To Roy Polkinghorne and Pete Richards, the wonderful teachers responsible for all of this…..I owe a great debt.

After some games against other schools and more training, it was off to Salisbury hockey club…..at the time I never imagined that such a thing existed. I went to training with the men on a Monday night at an indoor facility at Old Sarum (long since destroyed), and was captivated by what I saw. The training there was awe-inspiring. By this time I had yet to play, or even watch, a hockey match. It was almost two years since I had sat in that very hot hall and heard the fateful announcement. Late on the Thursday night before Good Friday, I received a phone call. It was someone from the hockey club, one of my now best friends…….thanks GT. “Would I like to play in a hockey tournament tomorrow,” he asked casually. At the time it seemed like the stupidest question in the world……..of course I would!

I turned up at the road to nowhere (the start of a flyover, that was never completed), at some ungodly hour in the morning, in the freezing cold and was promptly transported to the ‘Trojans Easter Hockey Festival’. As a thirteen year old, I was by far the youngest one there, and I’m not just talking about from Salisbury. The hockey again was amazing, the first time I think I had played out on pitch with all of the adults from training. But what was most striking was everything that went on off the pitch. By this I mean the team spirit, banter……practical jokes. To say it opened my eyes would be something of an understatement. But it was all great and If I hadn’t been desperate before to be a hockey player (I had been), then I most certainly was now. And that is how it began!

After that, I played in the club’s first junior team….the Swifts! Again at this point I feel I must mention someone instrumental in my hockey development…..Mark Cheesley…….a  wonderful man and the best captain whom I have ever played under.  I made my debut in the first team at fourteen as a substitute, went on to play county under 21 hockey for Wiltshire, played mixed hockey, captained teams, coached juniors, did numerous umpiring stints and most importantly of all…….made the most fantastic friends! Without going on too much more, the highlights for me have been representing all of the Salisbury hockey club teams, especially the mixed team and playing for the ‘Haunchers’. Everything that’s happened above has had a profound effect on my life, and I know that I would be much poorer as a human being if it had never happened. While I don’t play as often as I would like at the moment……mainly due to old age and time constraints, there’s still very little that excites me like chasing the stupid little ball about with my hockey stick. Whether it’s knocking a ball about with my kids, or in a full on match, or something like the seven-a-side matches that I managed to join in with at the excellent Weymouth Easter hockey festival recently (thank you very much to the ladies and men from Derby Asterdale hockey club for that) very little excites me more than all of that ……still! Which leads me on to this blog. As you can see from the website, I’ve written a book……a fantasy book about dragons, magical mantras, amazing underground cities, dastardly villains and……team sports, dragon and human alike. There’s lots of hockey (can’t imagine why?…..see above), lacrosse, because well….one of my best friends has played at THE highest level. Having watched her on a few occasions, once at the world cup, I was astounded, not just at the speed, agility, courage and passion shown by the players taking part, but also at how enjoyable the game looked. And guess what, I’ve never had the chance to have a go at lacrosse……the opportunity has never once presented itself. But, in only a few weeks time, my eldest daughter and I are going along to coaching sessions…..how amazing is that? The other sport that features in the book is rugby. I only ever played rugby at school, and while it was something that wasn’t really for me (I’d already by then become addicted to hockey), I always appreciated the way the game was played, and every time I watch a match on TV, have nothing but the greatest respect for the players involved.

So there it is. More than a little about me, and about the book. Hopefully this blog will provide a platform for me to share some of my favourite hockey experiences with YOU, and likewise for YOU to be able to share some of your most memorable sporting experiences with me. Enjoy…………..