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……..

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’. 

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

Lacrosse

Not written in my blog for a while so, here goes. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been fortunate enough to play in two great games of mixed hockey, both of which I’ve enjoyed immensely, incorporating new friends and old, which has been just great but ….here’s the surprise….I’ve been to two lacrosse training sessions with my eldest daughter on the same astroturf pitch that Salisbury hockey club use. It’s the first time I’ve ever had the chance to try lacrosse, despite having watched a few games in the past, and having looked at thousands of lacrosse websites across the world for the ‘sport near you’ section of my website www.bentwhistlethedragon.co.uk. Not having ever picked up a lacrosse stick before last Sunday, it was a real thrill to finally do so at the same time as my nine year old daughter. The smile on her face when she started trying to pick the ball up and throw it was a delight to see, a smile that gradually got bigger and bigger as she had to train alongside me and then run out against me in a few of the exercises. I’d like to say I let her win the ball all the time, and some of the time I did, but it was only really my hockey experience and hand-eye coordination that gave me an advantage over her. I suspect it won’t be long before I won’t get anywhere near her, either at hockey or lacrosse, as I know she’s excited to continue with the coaching sessions and hopefully play a part in the new club that’s trying to be formed in this part of the world. So to all of you Salisbury residents old and young alike, I urge you to come and have a go at lacrosse. It’s free of charge, fantastic fun, run by friendly, knowledgable coaches and offers the chance to make some new friends while keeping fit and having fun at the same time.The sessions run until 15th July every Sunday, 2-3pm as South Wilts Sports Club, Wilton Road, Salisbury. For more information contact Holly Benton at salisburylacrosse@live.co.uk. I look forward to seeing you there.

A couple of other things to mention. First, I seem to have had my twitter account suspended for no reason that I know of. I’ve sent quite a few messages to twitter support, and so far have had no reply. So for anyone who’s tried to follow me on twitter, I can only offer my apologies and assure you that I’m doing my best to try and resolve the problem. The second thing I would like to say is that no one has commented on anything I’ve had to say…………..ouch! Now I can honestly say I don’t really like the sound of my own voice, and part of me thinks that no one at all is reading any of this…..but I know that the blog page of my website is most definitely looked at. So, once again to try and get things going……I’ll offer a free copy of my book to the first person to make a sensible, thoughtful and hopefully amusing post….and yes, wherever you are in the world, so long as it’s not in the middle of the Amazon, or Antarctica, etc, etc.

Looking forward to hearing from you all…..well…both of you anyway!

My daughter and I at the second Salisbury lacrosse coaching session.

Should I Let My Kids……….

The first thing I have to say here, is that my post today is not going to be the one I had planned. The one I had planned was either going to be about the first/best piece of sporting equipment you’ve ever owned (i.e. stick, ball, boots, gloves, etc) or the best sporting festival that you’ve ever been to. As normal I was going to recount my answer to the question, and then sit at home and pray that someone might take pity on me and post a comment. The reason that this post is not the one planned is…..well because of my weekend. I managed to watch (on the TV) some of the Olympic Test Event hockey from the Riverbank Arena on Olympic Park. I really enjoyed watching, which I can’t always say despite my many years as a hockey player. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m not playing, the commentary, the viewing angles, lack of replays, or just missing the kind of angles that I’d like to see it from, but sometimes I find it really hard to get into.  Oh how I’d like the kind of technology that Sky apply to their football coverage to be available to cover hockey matches…..how totally and utterly amazing would that be?

Anyhow, I really enjoyed watching despite some dubious commentary at times, my TV showing that Argentina were playing China, when in fact it should have been Argentina playing Great Britain, and the timing disappearing and reappearing, seemingly at random…..anyhow, I digress. The hockey was great in each and every one of the games…and you know this is the case when you are still thinking about it, hours after it’s finished.

As well as the hockey, one of the things that played on my mind was ….injuries. Watching Crista Cullen score two goals and then have to leave the pitch with a damaged ankle, and then watch Alex Danson join her on the sidelines shortly afterwards really stood out, and played on my mind. “How would they both recover? Would they be fit and ready for the Olympics?” were important questions. While the GB team played well after they’d both gone off, with I have to say some magnificent defending (I seem to appreciate that more than the attacking, what with being a defender myself and having been so for what seems like a million years), the team as a whole did seem a very different prospect, with Argentina not facing nearly the attacking threat that they had been. Wondering about all of this sent my mind racing back through a history of hockey matches and all of the injuries I had suffered.  During numerous trips to A&E, I’ve given the wonderful doctors and nurses cause to treat me for two cracked ribs (twice in the last four years), stitches in my face (twice), a broken finger (in two places that had to be operated on that night), my top lip being hit by a stick and split apart (requiring thirty-two stitches from the on-duty plastic surgeon), not to mention numerous torn ligaments, chipped bones, bruises, grazes, etc. Casting my mind back over all of this makes me think …one…just how injury prone I’ve been (is it just me, or does everyone know of players that pick up no knocks at all?), and…two…however badly I’ve been hurt, I’ve always been desperate just to get back on a pitch and chase that stupid little ball about. When I was hit with a stick in the face and needed thirty-two stitches, (and this next bit is very stupid looking back on it, I can see that now, but probably would still do the same again if I had to choose), it was at my home hockey festival at Salisbury and, yes, I played in a game the next day. The game I played in the next day was as the only ‘grown up’….hmmm…that doesn’t sound right….the only ‘adult’ in a team of junior girls that I helped coach against the ladies 1st XI. While the game was a drew, and as games go, might not have been that memorable to everyone else, I can still remember vividly everything that happened, and I have to say, it sticks out as being up there in my top ten games that I’ve ever played in.

“What is my point? ” you might ask. Well….I’m not really too sure. Only that as a hockey player, and almost certainly any player of team sport, there’s an almost desperation to get back out and be part of the team. Looking back on that game…was I doing it to be part of the team?, knowing that me being in the team would have made a difference….sadly I think not. Don’t get me wrong, I really wanted to be part of the team and play against the ladies 1st XI, but I think it was for a more selfish reason…..because I  knew how much I would enjoy it, and essentially carry the memory with me…which I have. So to return to play, we do what we have to, sometimes still going back injured, even when it’s not such a good idea. Why, I don’t know…perhaps you could let me know your thoughts, and the injuries you’ve received playing your sport….(not in too graphic detail).

I wish Crista Cullen, Alex Danson and anyone else who has been injured playing team sport this weekend, a speedy recovery.

While hockey watching, I also found myself tweeting at the same time, something that’s very new to me, not something I could ever really see myself doing, but thoroughly enjoying the banter with everyone else. During the afternoon a tweet flicked across my screen about Lizzie Watkins, a hockey player in Australia who had died from being hit by a hockey ball. There was me, thinking about injuries, the hockey on the TV, and a young hockey player in Australia had died, doing what I love to do. This new is still going around my head now, which I suppose is why I’ve seen fit to write about it. My thoughts go out to Lizzie’s family…I’m so very sorry. The sad news about Lizzie and all the injury thoughts don’t seem to want to part from my head (if you knew how little room there is in there, you’d think they’d be fighting to get out), all of which brings me to my children. Both love playing hockey, and the eldest one (who’s 9) and I are supposed to be going along to Lacrosse sessions in less than a week’s time, something I’m really looking forward to trying. But all the time turning over in my head is………do I really want my kids doing all of this…particularly in light of what’s happened to Lizzie? I love my kids more than life itself and would do anything for them, but do I do something as simple as let them play? Hockey for me has been more than just a sport. I know it sounds stupid, but it’s been a way of life. ..how I conduct myself on and off the pitch…it was how I was taught, and I know that there might be people reading this now (good one eh? people reading this!) who don’t understand what I’m talking about, but I also know that there will be people/players reading this who do. I have friends who understand what I’m talking about and conduct themselves in the very same way. So it’s all of this, and the fact that hockey has been so life changing and enjoyable that makes me think that I have no choice but to let my children play, despite the terrible sadness of what has happened in Australia to Lizzie.

So to all parents…let your children play. Ferry them to the pitches in the cold, the wind, the rain, the snow, and let them experience all the joy and friendship that can spring up from playing a team sport…I know I will!

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.

New Hockey Pictures Gallery

A new gallery containing hockey photos of the teams I have played for in the past, starting from when I was a boy, has been added to my website www.bentwhistlethedragon.co.uk

Check out the ‘galleries’ button at the bottom of the page for a look. Here’s the first picture, just to give you a taste.

That’s me in the back row, taking down the average age by about 100 years. My first team picture to be published in the local paper…..a long time ago, almost before newspapers were around!!!

I would like to keep the competition from my ‘Getting the Ball Rolling’ post, going for another week. Go on, post how you got in to your team sport…..you know you want to !!!

Getting The Ball Rolling

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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