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…….


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.

My Achilles Heel….Well, One of Them.

I hate being injured! Not just a little either. And it always happens when I’ve put so much work in. These last few months I’ve worked really hard, and honestly felt it was starting to pay off……..but here I am really struggling with my Achilles injury. A few weeks ago I was chatting to one of my best friends – another hockey player – about it. He told me he’d played in a match about a month ago, on a freezing cold, really poor astroturf. He recounted how, within ten or fifteen minutes of the match starting, he felt something ‘twang’ at the top of his leg. With one or two substitutes on the sideline, immediately he took himself off, and spent the rest of the game wrapped up and warm. The following week, he’d healed up fully, and was able to play the whole game….all seemingly because at the first sign of trouble, he stopped and came straight off. Very sensible…..unlike me!

I knew I’d done something, about a month ago, on a Thursday night at training. It wasn’t something that suddenly happened and you think…….ouch! It was a gradual, niggling kind of pain. By the end of the session, and in particular on my walk home, I could feel that something wasn’t right and was in fact, almost certainly, very wrong. I have, being nearly 100 years old (well at least that’s the way if feels most of the time) been brought up to just try and carry on with respect to hockey – run it off, or just continue regardless….yes I know, not very sensible. However, that’s just the way things were when I started playing. There were no rolling subs (you were in fact lucky if there was a sub at all……note the singular!), no squads going to games….and most of the time, because you were playing in the mud on a rain swept pitch somewhere, very few other players ever turning out to watch who could come on and take your place…..that’s just how it was. And, it was GREAT!!! But it was kind of a given, that unless you’d broken a couple of bones, lost half your body weight in blood, or had some of your internal organs showing…….you kind of just played on. So, very stupidly, I did just that last month. After training, I went home, applied ice, and just hobbled a bit until the league game on the following Saturday. Again stupidly I played………..yes, the entire game, despite the fact that I was limping in the warm up. And even more stupidly, I trained the following week, and played in the league game, fully aware that something was clearly very wrong. We won both games, but by the end of the second (I’d been substituted with 10 minutes to go……….probably because of the limp) it was blatantly obvious, even to me, that I was going to have to lay off the hockey, and everything else, for a few weeks at the very least. And yes…..I know, I did exactly the opposite and played in last week’s reunion match. (I am a very stupid boy……there, I’ve said it!)

But now, I find myself desperate to play, in considerable pain, and not really sure what to do. The obvious thing……physio. Not at the moment……too much money and the wrong time of year…..simply not an option. Friends last week mentioned being measured for a foot support and buying the right sort of shoes. Being measured for a foot support again sounds expensive, and I have to ask…………….how do you know the right sort of shoes? I have been applying ice whenever I can….mainly all evening. I’ve been trying compression as well….and both have made a difference. But I want to know if there’s anything else I can do that would help me heal quicker, how do I know when the injury is fully healed and what can I do to stop it happening again? When I played last week I used sports tape to tape it up……….but only using information found on the internet. Did it have an effect? Tough to know. I managed to run around (yes, again I know….me running around haha) for the full game, so it might have made a difference, but equally it might have done very little, or nothing at all. It was intensely painful from start to finish, and I have been limping all week, and it is getting better, but if any of you can help….I would appreciate it very much. Whether you have medical knowledge, suggestions that have helped you or someone you know, or just an understanding of footwear and the condition in general.

One other thing to point out. Since this has happened I’ve come across numerous other people, all hockey related, with a similar if not the same condition. Before this, I don’t think I’d ever seen or heard of anyone with anything like this (apart from once when I played in a match where someone’s Achilles snapped while we were playing…….terrible) but I must have spoken to about half a dozen people who are suffering in the same way I am. Could it all be related somehow? I don’t see how it could be, but I did think it relevant to mention. So there you go. If you could help me get back to playing again as soon as possible, I would be very grateful…………not sure my team mates would agree, but there you go. If you could leave your comments for me to post here that would be wonderful…..looking forward to your help.

Today’s Hockey 13-10-12

Trojans 6th XI vs Salisbury 4th XI

A repeat of the match from 3 weeks ago, only this time with league points at stake.

Both sides seemed to have a few different faces, but early on a surprisingly warm Saturday morning, the action kicked off. Possession seemed fairly even to start with, Trojans using their wide players slightly better than we did, and they were more dangerous in and around the D. Our goalkeeper was tested early on, and Ali Barrett made some great interceptions for us at centre back. That’s not to say we didn’t have attacking moments……we did, mainly through some great distribution from the back from Kev Parker. We did however, for a short period around the middle of the half. have the majority of play in and around the centre of the pitch, and in a well worked attacking move…….Tom McCormack scored! 0-1 Salisbury. Unfortunately for us we seemed to take our foot off the gas so to speak after this, and as a team we dropped a little deeper, allowing Trojans more possession in the midfield areas. More worrying I thought, was that when we did get the ball, we quickly gave it back to Trojans, who once again surged forward relentlessly. The half ended, I thought, with us hanging on a little, but we did go in at the break, one nil up.

One of the things talked about in the half time team talk was slowing the game down, and moving up the pitch together, as we seemed to be giving the ball back to Trojans far too easily and often towards the end of the first half. Refreshed, and in good spirits due to being in front, we lined up.

The second half started off at a cracking pace, at least that’s the way it seemed. And despite talking about slowing the game down, for ten minutes or so, the exact opposite happened. Time after time we gave the ball away needlessly, or our passes failed to go to one of our own players. This of course put immense pressure on our defence who’d played brilliantly throughout the course of the first half. As well, Trojans seemed to have found another gear, and were dominating the centre of the pitch, picking off passes and running through us almost at will. Eventually we dug ourselves out of the hole we were in and started playing some good passes to each other. I do think though, that the damage had already been done, as a lot of players had spent ten or so minutes chasing the ball and making last ditch tackles. With us getting back into the game more, the outcome looked far more certain. But I think a combination of tiredness, a little overconfidence and Trojans’ belief in themselves led to them scoring an equaliser. After this we were deflated, while Trojans themselves were buoyed to be back in the game and looked as though they wanted to win more than we did. More brave tackles ensued, with the ever present Ali Barrett getting two blows to the head for his trouble. Trojans were by now sensing more goals, and with us being stretched even more, giving the ball away and not being able to get back once we had given the ball away, inevitably Trojans scored, not just one more, but two. The last few minutes saw us give everything in a fight back, and we scored from sustained pressure in the D, with Alan ‘Noddy’ Garrett trying to claim it, but being only four feet away, I can assure you it was Jacob Breach’s goal………sorry Nods! Unfortunately for us, it was too little too late, and the umpire’s whistle blew to end the game before we had a chance to mount another serious attack.

Well done Trojans…..good game, played in the right spirit….. Thank You! Notable mentions must go to our man of the match and fantastic keeper Matt Salmon, without whom it might have been very different.

‘Dick of the Day’……..Dave Hillier!

Also to Tim Garston, Dan Hawkesworth and Tom McCormack, who all showed glimpses of their true potential…………..keep it up guys…..more of the same next week! Ohhh…….as well, I should mention our ‘dick of the day’….today the super duper DAVE HILLIER (see picture)….who, as I’ve said before, should just admit that he’s a defender and have done with it. Don’t forget Dave…….watch the ball in training, not where your opponent is looking…haha! More next time……………………



Today’s Hockey…..Saturday 6th October 2012

Salisbury 4th XI vs Poole Dolphins

After last week’s defeat to Blandford and Sturminster, a changed squad played their first home game of the season against Poole Dolphins in the league. Right from the start Salisbury overpowered a Poole side with a number of very young, but obviously very talented, players in it. In the first few minutes our first shot on goal fell to me (just be pleased that I got in the right position), and I put it well wide of the post. Soon after we scored our first goal, which just added to our confidence (or in my opinion, over confidence). Another followed quickly after, and I think most of the team felt that victory was assured. The seasoned veterans at the back for Poole (yes Nick……YOU!), steadied the ship, thwarting many of the Salisbury attacking moves. The more we attacked, the more gaps we seemingly left for the Poole youngsters in midfield, with Poole being able to counter dangerously on a number of occasions. It wasn’t long before Poole won a penalty corner, and something I’d never seen before happened. As I jogged back to the halfway line (it was either that, or run out…………yeah, like that’s gonna happen!), I noticed that not a single outfield player stood in front of me. Every outfield player Poole possessed had gone up for the penalty corner. I encouraged (shouted!) at our forwards to get back, PDQ, but run as we might, Poole scored a deserved equaliser from that corner. After that, the game got a little scrappy, with a lot of it being played out in the midfield, poor passes from both teams going straight to the opposition, and the occasional breakaway attack that neither team dealt with in sufficient numbers.

At halftime the team talk for us was all about how well we were doing, being, I think 3-1 up at the time. But for me, it felt as though it was going anything but right…..yes we were winning, but I thought our play was sloppier than it should have been; we were almost casual. And yes I know we had players missing, and yes I know we were winning, but I thought Poole were a constant danger, and it was almost as if we weren’t paying them enough respect. We seemed to all bundle forward, with little thought when things broke down, and the Poole midfield players got it. This, of course, is only my view for what it’s worth, and we did go on to win the game 7-1, but I felt then as I do now, that against a better, more experienced side, we would be punished dearly……..just like against Blandford and Sturminster last week.

Man of the match for me was again Nick Hillier (not nearly the same without his pink outfit each week), while notable mentions from me must go to Hector Lyons for great work on and off the ball, Dave Hillier, who I thought played better in defence than he did anywhere else (I know this will please you Dave!), Paul Newman for his effort and commitment, and finally Tim Garston and Tom McCormack for their great runs.

Good result all, but it’s Trojans again next week, and if we’re to beat them, we must all work harder……………..until then!

Photos from this match can be found on the ‘Bentwhistle the Dragon’ facebook page. Click the button above to take you there and at the same time ‘like’ the page…….thanks!

This Week’s Hockey

No match report from me this week as I ended up umpiring….something I haven’t done for some time, and because it was a league match, I found myself concentrating very hard indeed. So hard indeed, that after the game when I thought about the match with a view to writing something down, it soon became apparent that my view of things was particularly sketchy, because I’d been concentrating so hard on umpiring well.

All I can really tell you about the game is that we were playing Blandford 2nd XI away, had to meet at……….8.15am…OUCH!, we lost 6-0 and we scored our first…..’own goal’…..OUCH!. That really about covers things from my point of view. Blandford deserved to win the game, whether by that many it’s hard to judge, but they were a much better side, passing it around brilliantly at times, and some of the goals they scored were very good indeed. We definitely had chances to score, but unfortunately couldn’t take them. We need to learn from playing teams like Blandford, and although it’s not easy, we need to take in how they play, pass, and move off the ball….all of which they did really, really well. We as a team most certainly have the ability and the know-how, but my opinion is that we need to use our brains a little more, and work a little harder off the ball. Anyway…..what do I know……….it’s only an opinion.

Looking forward to next week…………our first home game of the season. Hopefully a full report from an exhausted sweeper……….already looking forward to it……….well, maybe!

Trojans vs Salisbury 22nd September 2012

With a big squad, we travelled to Trojans for our last friendly before the league starts next week. The game started at quite a pace, with both sides passing the ball around quickly and crisply. It’s hard for me to decide who had more pressure in the first part of the game, but I’d probably go with Trojans, who seemed very dangerous on the counter attack, and were probably unlucky not to have more shots at goal. Their midfield passed the ball around incredibly well, something that we as a team have to do a lot more, and a lot better.

One thing that stood out from early on in the game, was the umpiring. I thought it was great and not only that, but all the players on the pitch were playing the game in the right manner……second week running and great to be part of.

Despite some good goalkeeping from Alastair Barrett, we found ourselves going a goal down, not really with or against the run of play. What was pleasing to see was the team’s reaction. To a man, we were all straight back at it, seemingly not affected by it at all. This might well have been one of our best periods of the game, but despite all the pressure, we still couldn’t make it pay in the goal department.

The second half seemed to carry on much as the first had… quite a pace. Although again we seemed to have plenty of sustained pressure, when the Trojans’ midfield came forward, their passing was neat, intricate and always finding their players’ sticks. Several times last ditch tackles were made by Salisbury defenders. But still, we were giving everything we had, with the entire team running their socks off, something very different to last week against Romsey. Still maintaining good pressure, I missed one of our best chances………..that’s why I’m not a forward, but luckily for me, shortly afterwards we converted a well worked goal. Trojans seemed more than a little deflated after this, and keeping the pressure up we managed to score a second shortly after, nicely worked, almost passed into the goal. This seemed to be the prompt that Trojans had been waiting for and they came at us all guns blazing in the last ten minutes. I can’t really remember us getting out of our own half, but we tackled, harried and chased down well, determined I think to close out the game. Unfortunately for us, a momentary lapse of  concentration left a Trojans forward free at the top of the D, who scored to level things up. With only a few minutes to go, it was us hanging on, which we did, albeit a little scrappily. My view….a great friendly game, well umpired, taken in the right spirit and probably the correct result.

Notable mentions…Kevin Parker for some great defending, and for what I thought were some brilliant passes. Alan Garrett for his goal (lucky!!!) and Nick Hillier, not only for his goal, but what I thought was an accomplished display at centre half, worthy of someone with many more years of experience at that position.

Well played Trojans. Good luck for next week – see you the week after for our league battle!

Next week……………….Blandford in the league!!! We have to meet at what time?

Romsey 3rd XI vs Salisbury 4th XI

First things first. I was handed the skipper’s armband before we’d even left our club to travel to Romsey…..oh woe is me! I’m far too old and unfit to be captaining any side, and it’s hard enough concentrate on my own game, let alone everyone else’s. Anyway, off we went…..usual magical mystery tour.

On arrival, we duly changed into our away strip……black. Good job it wasn’t sunny and really, really hot…………oh…that’s right, it was! After a brief introduction and warm up….the game started. First of all, I’d like to say thanks to the umpires. I thought they performed fantastically, and what common sense to suggest that we break the game up into quarters so that everyone can take on a drink….what a difference that made. Very good!

The game started, and right from the off it appeared that both teams were quite evenly matched. I think we had more possession in the first and second quarters of the game, but Romsey had some great breakaways, which, but for some last ditch defending, could have seen us two or three nil down. As it was, we went into half time one nil ahead. Nice goal, converting the pressure that we’d had, by keeping them camped in their half most of the time. That being said, when Romsey had the ball, they certainly passed it around better than we did, and their running off of the ball was more evident…….all of which was discussed during the half time team talk.

The second half (or quarters three and four) was a very different affair. While we still had a fair amount of pressure, Romsey’s quick breakaways were more frequent and more threatening, culminating in their first goal from a penalty corner, and their second not long after, from one of our penalty corners, which broke down and on a quick break away, Romsey outnumbered us and made it look very easy to score the goal they did. Our defending on that occasion was exceptionally poor, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Romsey’s attacking. At times afterwards, we seemed camped in and around the edge of their D, but not at any point could we find that final shot, or win the number of penalty corners that we should have. I wastefully flicked the ball at one of our few corners, while that final pass continued to eldude us. Romsey’s counter attacking style led to them having some sustained pressure towards the end of the game, and although we battled well, I have to say Romsey thoroughly deserved the win.

From my own point of view…it was a great game, played in great weather and umpired really well. I enjoyed every second of it, despite really not wanting the captain’s armband. Mentions should go to our joint man of the match winners. First…Neil Twentyman….official captian, and shurker of the armband. The reason he passed the armband on, was because we had no goalkeeper, and very unselfishly, he put himself in goal, despite having never played there before. What surprised even him, was exactly how good he was. And he was good…..I should know, I’ve played in front of many, many good goalies. He deserved his man of the match award. Secondly, to our other joint man of the match……….Sam Parker. Solid wherever he plays on the pitch, he did a sterling job at the back, and pushing forward, yesterday. Greater things beckon for young Sam, and so he’s off to one of the higher sides in the club. So….good luck Sam, and don’t forget……………Noddy and I know your SECRET!!!! Haaaaahaaaaa!!!

So thanks Romsey for a great game, and all the Salisbury players….well done. Just need a little bit more next week, plus a better captain!