I’ve been playing hockey on and off since 1996, mostly off due to my useless body which continually gets injured. Two years ago after a summer 1’s game at OMT we were laughing about how the youngsters were all flying past us and wouldn’t it be a good idea to (re)start the ACHC men’s Over 40’s team. So a germ of an idea snowballed into reality and somehow I was Captain and using my (and the teams) extensive list of contacts, we set about creating a squad and entered the England Hockey Over 40’s national competition.
After dredging through my contacts and getting back in touch with a heap of people I hadn’t spoken to for many years, we gathered a fearless group of players, some who hadn’t played for many years and had a friendly against Marlow Hockey Club who helped us out tremendously. The first game and real thing came against Old Cranleighan hockey club. We were fortunate in that game and the old competitive spirit came back into everyone and we won on flicks, though this meant we stayed in Tier 2 and not drop into Tier 3 which would have been more suitable for this newly assembled group of friends. We lost to Marlow in an absolute humdinger on a hot day 6-5, but we had all re-formed and the banter was non stop – something that I think is missing from many current Saturday teams with many players not going back to the bar and mixing, or just sitting on their phones – maybe i’m just getting old!
So roll on the 2017-18 season and I was still the Captain of the team despite being long term sidelined again, this time with an achilles problem. This time we lost our first game of the campaign against previous Tier 2 winners and runners up Henley. With only 11 players we started slowly and the game was over by the end of the first half at 5-0. We drew the second half 1-1. So the third tier beckoned.
The next couple of fixtures we squeaked through against West Herts b team and Luton (won on flicks though we did dominate the game) and a very stressful re-arrangement due to snow. The game against Broxbourne was interesting as it was half term – my goodness it was tough to get a team out, but I turned up some unexpected gems who hadn’t picked up a stick for quite some time. Trick even turned up from Cambridge to help us out. Somehow, we battered them 7-2, our only comfortable win of the cup run.
So the quarter finals arrived against Petersfield, and snow threatened to intervene again, what a nightmare. The squad came out on the Saturday and cleared the entire pitch of snow – though typically it would probably have cleared with warmer weather – but the team bonded even closer. From this point, I said that the team would not change unless there was unavailability or injured – we had the same squad of 16 players for the last three games, which was really tough on a couple of players who were back from injury or illness – including this season’s captain Paul who would probably have made the difference in the final.
The semi finals saw us turn up at Witham, a club where one of my hockey touring colleagues was chairman for a while and have a great hockey pedigree. We got hammered 5-1, with a couple of their players dominating the game. Our best players Richie and John commented at half time that they weren’t able to get near them but they battled on and on. Whilst we drowned our sorrows in the bar afterwards, their Captain told us that the team was an amalgamation from other teams (as some of our previous oppo was) and it turns out, England Hockey adjudged that they shouldn’t have been playing in Tier 3 as they were regularly playing at too high a level.
So completely unexpectedly, we were through to the final and rather disappointingly, they had moved the date and venue to Birmingham University – superb facilities but we were rather hoping it would be at the Olympic Park! Despite the date change, every one of the 16 players made themselves available and the club vintage team were so generous and sorted out a coach to take most of the players and spectators – spectators who would have to buy a ticket to watch us play!!!
This would be the greatest day of my hockey career (only the CSP 1st XI being promoted can compete) and I woke up feeling rough / temperature (probably stress!) and highly dubious about my other achilles lasting the game. Paul was still on standby, should I be unselfish and get him playing instead of me – unfortunately, I decided to play myself and had the honour and privilege of leading the squad out onto the pitch and various team announcements. We were playing Holcombe, a club who are right at the top of the hockey family tree, a fact that I think got into our heads for the start of the game.
By half time, we were 3-0 down and at one point it looked like a drubbing was on the cards. Then we realised that we could play, we were fit and nerves seemed to disappear and we eventually clawed our way back to 3-2 with all the chances going our way. I still maintain another 10 minutes and we’d have won!
Even though we didn’t make it, I’ve never been so proud to be a Captain and be part of that squad of players on that day – I was bursting with pride with what we created over those two seasons. The coach home was just as good, clearing off three mini barrels of beer from the Rebellion brewery and just as many bottles of lager. Twenty five people went for a curry in Amersham – what a day (and night). Unfortunately, my other achilles went half way through the game and I could hardly run and has again put me out of hockey for the foreseeable (the physio did say forever, but I want to play with Jamie next season).
So in summary, we had seven games, lost three, drew one and won only three (fourth on flicks) and despite hardly playing, it was one of the best season’s of hockey of my life, something I will treasure forever.
Below are a few photos from the day: