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.