My Olympic Trip

The first thing I have to do is say a big thank you to GB. No, not the Great Britain team, but one of my best friends in the world, Gary Butt, without whom my trip to the Olympics simply wouldn’t have been possible. I had an absolutely wonderful day, probably the best I could have had without my wife and kids.

The journey to the Olympic park was nothing like I had imagined it would be. We arrived at Richmond, parked with ease, and two minutes later, were boarding a London overground service directly to Stratford. The staff in the station and on the train were polite and professional. The train itself was spotlessly clean and on time, while all of the passengers were happy, polite and in great spirits. On reaching the station at Stratford, everyone exited, followed the signs, and made their way to the park at a leisurely walking pace, despite another train arriving at the same time as ours. All in all, a journey that could not have been any better or quicker than it had been.  On the short walk to the park, there were plenty of games makers, all happy and helpful. The movement of people through security was thorough, professional and not really any hold up at all. Again the games makers were fabulous, but it was the personnel from our wonderful forces that really came to the fore. They were polite, efficient, always had a smile, but the you could see the pride that they all carried in the professional way that they were doing their jobs. Before I’d even got in, I was proud to be British, just from the sterling job and the way these wonderful men and women were conducting themselves.

On entering the park…..I remember thinking how gobsmacked I was. It was just awesome. Everything was so clean, so well planned and laid out, so aesthetically pleasing  and, even late morning, so well……quiet. I won’t bore you with the details of what we did, but needless to say probably everything that everyone else before us had done. Checking out all the facilities, shops, toilets, attractions…..the whole lot. We’d arrived more than a few hours before the hockey was due to start….which for us seemed to turn out perfect. I couldn’t have believed that you didn’t have to queue for the toilets or the food, and even in the very busy shops the movement of the people was so well organised, and the staff everywhere were so polite and helpful.

On entering the hockey stadium mid-afternoon, there was little in the way of hold ups, with the thousands of people all heading the same direction, merely looking like a few hundred. We found our seats straight away (with an absolutely wonderful view) and settled down alongside the other spectators. The crowd as a whole, and the spectators around us, were well behaved and enjoyed joining in with anything from the banter with the compere, to the feet tapping, stadium rumbling music, to the ‘only knowing a few songs’ brass band. The atmosphere was nothing short of jaw dropping. Needless to say the game didn’t go the way I’d hoped. It was fast, furious and I have to say Great Britain played with a lot of courage. They didn’t attack as much as I thought they should have (hey, what do I know?), but whether that was because Australia stopped them playing and imposed their own game on them….who knows? Take a look at the match and make up your own mind. Never the less, considering what had happened to them in the semi-finals, I thought they did themselves proud. They were in the game, right up until the end, and I for one was proud to be there to watch. The Australians, on the day, played the better hockey and had just that bit more, and thoroughly deserved to win. It was nice to see the whole crowd having banter with both teams, and cheering and clapping both at the end of the game as they did a lap of the pitch. Wow, what a day!

Our journey out of the Riverbank Arena was a little slower than going in, but I suppose that was only to be expected. The human flow always continued moving, and although we considered staying longer, we opted to head back home straight after the hockey. With many others obviously doing the same, I was amazed at how well the flow of thousands of fans worked so efficiently. In relative terms, it didn’t take long to get back to Stratford station, and board a train that was just about to depart. The train was busy, unlike the journey in, but that was nothing more than we expected. It got a little quieter along the way, and then some of the fans who’d been watching the Olympic football final joined at one point, making it a whole lot busier. But still, it was efficient, clean and tidy, professionally run, on time, and all the passengers that we met were really happy. We got back to Richmond, retrieved the car, and very easily headed back to where we had come from.

The whole day was fantastic…..more so than I could ever have believed. You see all of the interviews on the tv, radio, in the paper and I know that I for one, was more than a little sceptical about how good, well run and professional it was. How many games makers there were, how clean and tidy it was. How well it coped with the huge influx of people. Before I went, I just didn’t fully believe everything I’d seen and read. But having been, I have nothing but praise for everyone involved. Obviously, I had no idea I would be going when it started, but I can assure you that it more than lived up to any supposed hype.  Everyone involved should hold their heads up high. There are too many people for me to name here, but EVERYONE involved should be given lots of credit. My day there was the best it could have been, despite the team I was going to support failing to win the medal they were playing for. I couldn’t have been prouder to be BRITISH, and seeing our armed forces and the games makers in action just reinforced it all.

Congratulations on the best Olympics ever, from a very ordinary individual, who by complete accident found himself with the chance to share in just a tiny little bit of the magic.

Thank You.

Check out my pictures and videos from my day at the Olympics on Bentwhistle the Dragon’s Facebook page, a link to which is provided at the top of the page on www.bentwhistlethedragon.co.uk

Great Britain vs Australia in the Olympic bronze medal match at London 2012


Olympics 2012

If you had asked me at the start of the year how I felt about this summer’s Olympics, I probably would have told you that I wasn’t all that bothered. With the exception of the hockey, I wouldn’t have thought I would have taken a look at much else. But…..how things have changed.  Even before the games started, the interest in the Cude household had almost reached fever pitch. From my children having learnt all about it at school, to the hockey npower big dribble that ran the length of the country, to the torch relay that visited Salisbury and stayed overnight…….all of this combined with the intensive media coverage has led, not just me, not just my kids, but also my wife to get excited and immersed in the big event itself. The entire Cude clan are now obsessed with the Olympics. My kids have taken to watching everything, amazed and in awe of the athletes (not just the British ones), and been captivated by some of the sports that they’ve never seen before. Most significantly in this category are Water Polo, Handball, Table Tennis, Rowing, Judo, Fencing and Weightlifting….! WOW! For me……obviously the hockey stands out. I’ve watched all of the GB men’s and ladies games, as well as any more, whenever I can. Events that I’ve found myself watching that I wouldn’t have thought I’d enjoy, are Table Tennis, Rowing, Cycling and Sailing. As for my wife, she seems as interested in all of it as I’ve ever seen her about any sport.  Every night we’ve stayed up well past 11pm, catching up on anything we’ve missed during the day. We all seemed to have reached the same conclusion as nearly everyone else…..Please can we have the Olympics every other month, and preferably in London.

In the build up to the Olympics, when it came to applying for tickets, because I was so disinterested, I only applied for a few tickets to watch the hockey, for which I was unsuccessful. ….and once I knew that, I never gave it another thought, just thinking that I’d watch it all on TV with my kids. Since the greatest show on Earth has started, I’ve seen friends on social media at the games, and found myself very envious. But, guess what? I’ve actually got a ticket to go. And not just any ticket. A ticket to see the men’s hockey bronze medal match. You can’t begin to know how excited I am. And it’s all due to a very wonderful person, and one of my best friends in the whole world, who phoned me up mid-afternoon on Monday, and very casually asked me if I’d like to go. Well………I did have to think for about a 1000th of a second, before shouting down the phone “YES PLEASE!” So, there it is. Olympic Park and Riverbank Arena, watch out……….Cude is coming for you!

Olympic Hockey Memories 3

When I first started playing club hockey at the ripe old age of 13 (old by today’s standards, but pretty young then),  I constantly heard about an ex-Salisbury player who’d moved on, but was talent personified and destined for greater things in the hockey world. His name was John Shaw. He went on to represent Great Britain, and I can remember vividly watching him play on TV in both the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and cheering him on frantically, because like me, he’d learned to play hockey in Salisbury.

I can remember my first encounter with the great man, but I’m pretty sure he won’t remember meeting me. My best friend at the time and I, both 13 and both hockey players, would from time to time walk the quite long journey into the city centre from where we lived,  to peruse what we considered to be the best sports shop in the city of Salisbury. We thought it was best because it was the only one to sell any sort of range of hockey sticks, and as well, the owners of the shop were incredibly friendly and kind. The shop was called Murley Sports, and was by coincidence only a short walk from where I now live, but of course the shop no longer exists. My friend and I spent many long hours in that shop after school, talking to the friendly owners who put up with us, despite us rarely having enough money to buy anything. The hockey stick collection was like nothing I’d seen anywhere else at the time, with a particular brand always catching my eye, and always being the one that I knocked a ball about with, in the shop (the owners were that great!). The brand in question was DFV, and all of the best sticks I’ve ever owned were made by them.

One cold, dark evening, my friend and I had walked down to the shop after school, and upon entering, it all seemed quite chaotic (it was quite a small shop), particularly in the front corner where the hockey stick display was kept. My friend and I stood back, browsing through items we had absolutely no interest in, desperately hoping to move through the racks of sports clothing and reach the hockey sticks. But the longer we hung about, the more apparent it became that the person taking up all the space by the hockey sticks, was in fact a salesman, from, yes you’ve guessed it…… DFV. As soon as we realised this, my friend and I edged forward, eager to see what was going on, and get a glimpse of any new sticks that might be arriving. I can remember thinking how polite and friendly the salesman was, not at all what I was expecting, if I was honest. The owners, my friend and I, all listened as he talked about the sticks he’d brought with him, and got each one out to show. My friend and I were mesmerised as each stick came out, and I swear at one point it actually occurred to me to tell the salesman that I could demonstrate to the owners how good the sticks actually were (a good job for me that I was so shy, and didn’t, as it turns out). The conversations went on, more sticks were brought out, and the one thing that became apparent was that the salesman’s name was John. And yes, by now you’ve guessed the rest of the story. At some point towards the end of his demonstration, he very politely introduced himself to us (you could have knocked both my friend and I down with a feather), and then, on the shop floor…..gave us a quick demonstration with stick and ball. My earlier thought of offering to help made me blush, as I watched the ball whizzing in and out of the racks of clothing at high speed, positively glued to the end of the gorgeous DFV stick. If I’d had the money, I’d have bought his entire stock there and then. After appeasing two very shy, very enthusiastic , hockey schoolboys, still dressed in their school uniform, Mr Shaw parted with a number of sticks (to the shop of course), and, after saying “goodbye” politely, disappeared into the cold, dark, winter’s night. My first meeting with John Shaw, Great Britain hockey player; I can remember it like it was just yesterday, and I don’t doubt, so can my school mate.

My next encounter with John Shaw was more….surreal than anything else. The wonderful Haunchers touring side that I play for, many, many years ago, at the time that John was representing Great Britain, was attending the Bournemouth Easter hockey festival. Now our legendary captain Mark ‘Cheese’ Cheesley had been in contact with John (they knew each other from their days at Salisbury hockey club), in the hope that John would either play for us, or just come down and …mingle. The Bournemouth festival used to be great and hugely popular (and I’m sure it still is…haven’t been for a few years. Haunchers up until recently have attended Weymouth Easter hockey festival…again, fantastic). Captain Fantastic told the side that John might turn up when we all reunited, and to be honest…we all thought that it was a bit of a tall tale….particularly me! Anyhow, one of our games, I think on Easter Friday, was a way from the Chapel Gate ground, on the Astroturf at Canford school (a ten minute car ride away). I can’t remember who we were playing, but as it was quite early in the morning, and a car journey away from the bar, they were quite serious, and quite sober. We, having a full complement of players, had struggled to get an umpire, and the opposition had no umpire at all. As both teams warmed up, a car pulled up into the car park, and out shot a vaguely familiar face………that’s right….John Shaw. He wandered onto the pitch, greeted the Haunchers that he knew (not me of course, but I’m sure he said “hi”), and wandered off to chat to ‘Cheese’, our captain. Well before we knew it, the match was due to start, and the umpiring situation still hadn’t been resolved…….or so we thought. As we started to strip off, up wandered ‘Cheese’, announcing to everybody that one umpire was going to do the whole game on his own, so we all had to behave, and own up (something that as a team, we did, and do, anyway). How surprised were we to see the legend that is John Shaw, step out in to the middle of the pitch in his tracksuit, armed with whistle and a set of cards? My first thought was something like ‘I really wasn’t expecting that!’ Anyway…what can you say? It was of course, thoroughly decent of him to step up and do it, and to this day, I’m still grateful. Umpiring as we all know is not easy at the best of times, whether you’ve done it only a handful of times, or many hundreds, and particularly when you’re on your own and you’re in charge of two teams that really, really want to win….fairly, of course (well, at least we did. As for the opposition…..well, considering it was supposed to be a friendly…let’s just say they didn’t take it in quite in that spirit). The game was a right ding dong, not least because the umpiring was so very, very……………….poor! That’s the only way to describe it. It wasn’t his fault, we tried to help, owning up, etc, but the opposition thought that they were playing in a league match. It quickly got out of control, and stayed that way for most of the match. As I walked off the pitch at the end, two things ran through my mind. One…..how sorry I felt for our improvised umpire, and two, what a complete bunch of *********** our opponents were, for the way they played the game, and for the way they were now saying as loudly as possible, what a crap umpire he was, so that all and sundry could hear. I remember watching John Shaw handing the cards and whistle back to ‘Cheese’, and heading straight for his car. Couldn’t blame him really, especially when he was doing everyone a favour and umpiring so that the game could go ahead. The Haunchers, as we picked up our kit all voiced our thoughts, quite strongly as it happens to our captain, but being the composed, calm voice of reason that he is, he just said,

“Let’s just forget about it and move on.”

While we were warming down (not really sure that was me, just the rest of them), and the other team were too, something had happened at the far end of the pitch, by the entrance. John Shaw had walked back onto the pitch, minus tracksuit, and was busy putting balls from a bucket at different points around the edge of the D. You could have used the smile on my face to light up the far side of the moon, as I, and the rest of the Haunchers, knew exactly what was about to happen, unlike our very unsporting opponents, who, even as John was setting the balls out, were still mocking him. And then it happened…………………..BOOM!!!! One after another he moved around the edge of the D, firing the dozen or so balls that he’d laid out right into the top corners of the goal. Impressive doesn’t begin to cover what happened during those few moments. I think the Haunchers all as one, took a sneaky peak at our opposition further down the pitch, as they watched one of the best players in the country doing what he did best, in open mouthed bewilderment. As we all wandered past them, on the way back to the car park, we all told them,

“Didn’t you know? That’s John Shaw….Great Britain international!” The look on their faces was a picture. They all scarpered pretty damn quick.

My last encounter with John was when the new Astroturf pitch at Salisbury hockey club was unveiled quite some time ago. I was fortunate enough to be playing in the Salisbury 1st XI at the time, and John had kindly brought a few of his friends along, and combined with some present and ex-Salisbury club players, had agreed to take us on, in a day of festivities, with the ladies playing later that afternoon. The game was great, played in the right spirit, a great crowd, with lots of new faces and old, all appearing to celebrate this momentous event that had taken so long to come to fruition. Memorable moments include a ‘Barter’ aerial ball that flew over his shoulder, up in the air about thirty feet, and landed outside the fence of the Astroturf, and the skill and ability of John Shaw and some of the friends he’d bought along. The first team, needless to say, were outclassed that day and ended up losing, but at one point I found myself  covering back (as sweeper) behind my keeper, who’d gone rushing out to meet, of all players, John Shaw, on a breakaway attack. The entire first team, with the exception of myself and the keeper, had moved up to try and even up the score. In the blink of an eye, John had rounded the keeper with consumate ease and was now at the top of the D, pulling back his stick, ready to unleash a shot at goal, with only me standing on the goal line, in his way. Talk about your life flashing before your eyes! Moments from the previous story, yes the one with him belting the balls in the top corner of the goal many years before, ran through my head like an out of control steam train. But still, there was a big part of me that fancied myself to save whatever shot he unleashed……..I’d done similar things numerous times before, but why should this be any different, I remember thinking. Anyway, he scored with what was a powerful, and accurate strike, kept away from me. I recall coming off the pitch and thinking about that moment. I’m sure he could have let go with a much more powerful shot (don’t get me wrong, it was a sweet strike), but not only that, I was sure I should have got my stick on it and saved it. My reasoning then, as it is now, is that the sun was bright and low, and shining directly into my eyes……It was….HONEST!  If not for that, then I was sure I would have at least got something on the shot. That’s how I felt then, and exactly how I feel now….stupid really!

Anyhow, a great ladies game progressed after our match and the festivities went on for many hours in the bar afterwards. A great and special day was had by all, marred only by a bad injury to one of the first XI, my best friend from school, mentioned above, the one, who like me, stood and watched John Shaw dribbling the ball in and out of the displays of that wonderful sports shop. Thankfully,although it took some time, he recovered from injury and returned to play again.

So there you have it, my encounters with, for me, a hero, a legend and an inspiration. John Shaw, thank you very much for inspiring that young schoolboy, and I’m sure many others at Salisbury hockey club.

A clip from the Salisbury Journal about the Astroturf opening mentioned above.

Olympic Hockey Memories 2

What seems like a very long time ago, when Havant were widely regarded as the best men’s hockey side in the country, Salisbury 1st XI were drawn against them in the cup. Of all the teams we could have drawn……WOW! There was much excitement in the build up and quite a few of the club’s men and ladies who weren’t playing in the game travelled down to Havant to support us.

Warming up was quite surreal really, looking across to the other half of the pitch, to where numerous international players were going about their normal routines. To say I was in awe was something of an understatement. David Faulkner, Rob Hill and Russell Garcia were there, as well as a few more. To describe things as a David vs Goliath situation would perhaps not have done justice to it.

I can honestly say it’s the only time I’ve been nervous before the start of a hockey match. Even when I was young, nerves never really played a part. I was always too excited about playing to get nervous. As we lined up as a team, I’m sure we all looked around at each other as if to say,

“What the hell have we got ourselves into!”

Looking at the Havant line up, they all seemed to have a steely determination that I’d never seen before, or since, in a team I’ve played against. Perhaps that’s what made them so good. Before I could shake the importance of what we were about to embark upon out of my head, the whistle blew to start the game.

Realistically we never stood a chance, but for me two things stand out from that game, apart from the fact that we were playing against some truly brilliant players (often seen on the TV), and would get to see just how good they were up close. (Oh God they were good………just watching Rob Hill flick the ball in the warm up was awesome.)

The game started, and to our utter bewilderment, we weren’t a goal down after 30 seconds or so. Then it reached a minute, two, three, and then the most bizarre thing happened. We got the ball, slipped it through to one of our best forwards who picked it up, raced through to the top of the D, pulled back his stick and unleashed one hell of a shot. I know, as I was standing at the back (as sweeper), mouth agog, barely able to believe what I was seeing, and I wasn’t the only one of our team in this condition.

With the keeper watching on, the ball smashed into the post and went behind for a Havant sixteen yard hit. You could see the whole of our team thinking the same thing, all at the same time…..

“We’ve actually got a chance.”

However, I believe it was this incident that had a twofold effect. One…..it woke Havant up, something I’m surprised needed to happen (perhaps they’d all been on the purple nasties the night before), and two……it made them very, very angry.

Needless to say, I don’t think we even got into their half for the rest of the game and we ended up keeping it to a very respectable 11-0 loss (you think I’m joking, but we actually played about as well as we could…..honest).

The other moment of note, for me at least, came about ten minutes before the end of the match. Havant had pushed nearly all their players forward…..well, you would wouldn’t you in a game like that, and we were defending for our lives. I’d found myself marking David Faulkner (a big hero of mine). As I stood behind him, goal side, he abruptly took a step backward and stood right on my foot. Before I had a chance to even move, he removed his foot, turned round, looked me straight in the face and said……………

“I’m really sorry.”

And there you have it……..my claim to fame…..David Faulkner apologising for stepping on my foot in a hockey match.

Despite losing, the opportunity to play in that particular match was great. I know all the Salisbury players involved that day gave everything they had, but we were purely and simply outclassed. Still I had a great time, and in fact I would say that most of my favourite matches have been when we’ve lost, whether that’s because I see more of the ball at the back as sweeper, or because the majority of matches I’ve played in have been lost, I simply don’t know. Anyhow, I’ve had a great time playing hockey, win, lose or draw and my children are forever having it drummed into them that It’s not the winning or losing, it’s the taking part and having fun that counts…..something I truly believe.

On the subject of the hockey match against Havant, I mentioned how amazing Rob Hill’s flicking was. I quite fancy myself at flicking, and at my best, used to be able to flick it just over half a pitch length. I’ve also scored a few decent open play goals from flicks, despite the fact that I’m a sweeper. Anyway one day I was playing for one of the Salisbury sides (can’t remember which one, but not the 1st XI) at Warminster against West Wilts. After arriving, most of my team wandered off to find somewhere to get changed, but since I was already in my kit, I decided to take a closer look at the game taking place on the Astroturf, which I could already tell from a distance looked like it was a real humdinger, with tackles flying in left, right and centre. Standing on the sidelines, it became apparent that the game was being played between West Wilts 1st XI and Yeovil 1st XI, and yes you’ve guessed it, Rob Hill was playing at the back for Yeovil. I watched intently, hooked on the fast paced and fully committed action from both sides. And then it happened. A West Wilts player had dribbled into the D, about to shoot at goal. Rob Hill made a great tackle, and then swiftly dribbled over to what would have been his own left hand corner of the pitch, taking a little glance up the pitch as the opponent he’d just robbed of the ball chased him down. I wasn’t standing too far away on the side line, and wondered exactly what it was he’d do now, as there was no obvious pass to get him out of trouble, and his defenders weren’t exactly ‘busting a gut’ to get back and help. With the ball on his reverse stick, and all the time on the move, Rob Hill, very casually, with what looked like a very tiny flick of both his wrists, played an aerial ball. Not just any aerial ball either: the single most amazing pass I’ve ever seen. The ball left his reverse stick while he was running in the bottom left hand corner of the pitch. It took off like a rocket, with the Yeovil right wing picking up the pass as it dropped, wide right, halfway inside the opponent’s twenty five, and going on to have a shot at goal. The ball had travelled the full length of the pitch, probably because it went diagonally. From a reverse stick on the run…………wow!

To this day I can remember it in exact detail. Of course I told all of my team mates when they arrived at the pitch…..and of course, none of them believed me. It was brilliant….Rob Hill…LEGEND!!

Please add your thoughts and comments for a chance to win a signed copy of my book ‘Bentwhistle the Dragon in a Threat from the Past’. Click on the ‘read all’ version of the post to view comments box at the end.




Olympic Hockey Memories 1

Sean Kerly, Ian Taylor, Imran Sherwani, David Faulkner, Richard Dodds, John Shaw, Rob Hill and Russell  Garcia are all names that conjure up powerful emotions and memories for me. The Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984 were the first to really capture my imagination, despite the fact that I’d been playing hockey for many, many years by then. Whether it was the prominence of the hockey in my life (probably!!), the media coverage, because we had such a good team at the time (I seem to remember hockey items everywhere in the newspapers and on TV…….long before the internet, children), perhaps the age I’d reached (15), or just the fact that it seemed so much more amazing than any of the others….with the opening ceremony featuring the man in the jetpack zooming around the Olympic stadium over all the spectators’ heads, I just couldn’t tell you. All I know is that it stands out vividly, and I can remember organising my time so that I could see each GB game. The excitement of watching each and every game that year, and in the following two Olympics (Seoul in 1988 where we won Gold and Barcelona in 1992) was probably the greatest I’ve ever experienced watching any sporting event on TV (and I try to watch a lot of sport on TV, when I’m not trying to play it)…..even to this very day. Sean Kerly’s prolific goals, Ian Taylor’s amazing saves (particularly when facing a penalty stroke), and Imran Sherwani’s mesmerising dribbling skills were the ingredients of a young hockey player’s dreams, and I couldn’t wait for each and every opportunity to see my heroes on the television, of which there seem to be a lot, back in those days. While I’ve never met Ian Taylor or Imran Sherwani or Richard Dodds, I did once see Sean Kerly from a distance in a crowd (quite a thrill at the time), and have played against David Faulkner, Rob Hill, Russell Garcia and John Shaw (as well as having been umpired by John Shaw, something I’m very sure he has forgotten, or has been trying to. More on that later.)

But the first one of these amazing hockey players I want to mention is Richard Dodds. As I said, I’ve never met him, only ever watched his games on the TV as a youngster………and you know how it is. You sit there…..thinking you know more about the game than they do, thinking you could slip right into the side and do a better job at a certain position……YEAH RIGHT!! But I’m sure most fans are the same whether it’s hockey, rugby, football…..whatever. I remember watching GB and England matches on the TV and for whatever reason, always thinking that I never really fancied Dodds as a player very much…….that is until this certain moment!! I can’t quite remember the exact details, but I think for some reason that it might have been an indoor game. He was playing (captain I think), and I was sitting watching excitedly, once again thinking that he and I could have swapped over pretty much seamlessly and nobody would have spotted the difference (except the name on the shirt). Then it happened. The opposition broke away…quickly. I moved forward, and was now perched right on the edge of my seat. I can remember thinking,

“We’re outnumbered. They’re all over us. How will this not be a goal?”

All of these things flashed through my mind in practically a split second. Our keeper came out (I think it was Taylor, but can’t be too sure). The opponent moved the ball across to their right hand side, leaving the opposition player with an open goal. With a flick of his wrist he powerfully guided the ball towards the empty goal. I sat and watched as they scored. Only…….they didn’t. From out of nowhere a defender dived full length at top speed, and with his reverse deflected the ball away from the goal. I sat there astounded….well and truly. Who was this defender I hear you ask? Who do you think? That’s right………Richard Dodds!

From that day on, I paid more attention to what he did in each game I watched, and do you know what I discovered? I was kind of right. He wasn’t good……..he was great! Oh, he wasn’t showy or fancy. He didn’t stand out like some of the others (nobody did when Sherwani was dribbling). He just did everything really, really well. He was a fantastic defender who just got on with it and led by example. He was someone I really, really wanted to emulate. So, Richard Dodds, if you ever have the misfortune to read this, then two things. One….I’m really sorry I ever doubted you as a player….I was an idiot (and yes I don’t discount the fact that I may still be one). Two…..you really inspired me to play the way I have during a very long hockey career….so thank you very much.

One last thing on this subject. Certain games, actions, moments, call them what you will, tend to stand out when you play hockey for a long time, any game in fact. One of these moments for me was in a summer league game at Bournemouth against a very good team. During that match, I found myself in the exact same position that Dodds had done in the situation mentioned previously. We’d were outnumbered at the back (not an unusual occurrence for a Salisbury side), with the opposition having any number of choices as to who to pass to. As sweeper I tried to go to the ball, but it was moved on quickly. As I turned and tried to run back (yes I know, me…..run. That’s how bad it was,) our keeper had come rushing out and the opposing centre forward had just slipped it right to one of his team mates, who by now had an open goal. I was near, and rapidly closing down the angle, but not near enough. That Dodds moment that I’d seen on TV flashed through my mind, and as the winger brought back his stick to strike the ball, I launched myself, stick out in front of me, and amazingly did exactly what he’d done. I deflected the ball, reverse stick, off the pitch. It can’t have been too shabby as everyone watching the game gave me a round of applause. I was a little disappointed though! The umpire (who I knew a little) signalled for a penalty corner. As I got back to my feet, blood pouring from my knees, I spread my arms and clearly remember saying to the him,

“I was trying to get it out to the sideline……honest!”

To be continued……..

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Olympic superstar Michael Johnson carrying the Olympic Torch in Salisbury recently.

Npower Big Dribble, Southampton

My family and I attended the npower Big Dribble yesterday at West Quay, Southampton and had a wonderful time. All of the staff and the lovely Alex Danson were incredibly kind and both of my children had a great time dribbling around the course. I’m pretty sure that my eldest daughter would still be there dribbling now, if we hadn’t dragged her away!! I know during the Olympics, we will be supporting all of the GB athletes, in particular, all of the hockey players, and I don’t doubt we will be watching all of the matches. Good luck team GB.

You too can support Great Britain, and the Big Dribble….join in while there’s still time!
  Great Britain Hockey
The npower Big Dribble

Alex Danson sitting in front of the giant hockey ball with my children.