MY HOCKEY JOURNEY

    I grew up in the remotest capital city in the world. Unlike the ‘Great Wall’, you can see Perth from space. In fact, Perth is defined by space, or more precisely, the space between it and anywhere else you can see from space. Which is a considerable distance according to John Glenn*. He went in to space, so he should know.

   Like all kids of my era, as far as sport went, there was cricket and tennis in summer, as well as swimming, football (Australian Rules) and netball in winter. Soccer was a game played in England or at lunchtime. But I knew something my grade 4 classmates didn’t. There was another sport people played in winter. It was called Hockey.

   I have a very early childhood memory of attending a game with my father. He had leather ankle length lace up boots with aluminium studs nailed in the sole. Sticks were shaped like scythes and protective equipment consisted of the latest in cane and stuffing technology.  It looked pretty cool to me.

   As it turned out I was born into an era of what you can only consider as Hockey greatness. I doubt that one city has provided as many great hockey names in such a short period of time as Perth. Men and Woman. Pearce, Dick, Glencross, Clement, Buchannan, Charlesworth, Capes, Walsh, Hawkes, Evans, Pereria, Hazelhurst, Bell, Davies and many, many more (yep, that’s you Kegs). And in fairness to our country cousins, many of them were from the ‘bush’. There were no plush private school fields in Beacon or Wyalkatchem. I grew up surrounded by players and coaches that were, or would be, great. Even down to such a random event as having ’76 Olympian Mal Poole as a high school history teacher. And I loved the game. I still have an autograph book containing the signatures of the Irish national team that toured Australia in the early 1980’s. If anybody reading this was on that tour could they get in touch, cause I can’t read any of the signatures? It would be fair to say I had all the advantages to become a very good Hockey player.

   Except talent and ability.  As a youngster I would often find myself playing on the left wing, and some who have only known me as a ‘grown up’ would say that is entirely appropriate. As much as I may find that metaphor irritating there is no doubt that I was a ‘genuine’ left wing, or in cricket terms, the same way that Glen McGrath was a ‘genuine number 11’. But I still loved it. I kept playing, went to training and even attended coaching clinics. Hand on heart I can say Ric Charlesworth taught me the fundamentals of ‘channelling’ when I was 14. That is knowledge I take with me onto the field in every game I play now, but was nearly useless at the time. Sorry Ric, channelling is pretty limited at left wing. Especially at 14. Remember this was the 1980’s: European soccer clubs hadn’t started signing nine year olds yet.

   Then out of the mist, I saw Terry Walsh play. It was not the first time I had seen him play. I knew who he was. But what fascinated me that day was seeing him line up at left wing. I played left wing! I can’t remember whom he was playing for or against, I have a feeling it may have been the aforementioned Irishmen. What I do remember was a pair of giant thighs barrelling themselves through hapless defenders. ‘Hang on,’ I thought, ‘left wing isn’t just the bloke you hit the ball to when you have no other alternative’. The best bit for me was being close enough to hear Terry critique his opponent’s efforts to nullify his giant barrelling thighs. While I was not able to carry Terry’s physical presence onto the field I did fully embrace his vocabulary.

    And Terry was firmly in my mind when I fronted up for the following season. I was the team’s incumbent left wing, and I had something to prove. I also had a few things to say as it turned out. I scored a goal in our first game for the season. Woo Hoo, off to a flyer. My next goal was in the grand final, the winner as it happens, and off side was such subjective rule back in the day. I should know, I was channelling T.W. when two weeks previously I had tried to convince an umpire that his judgment was lacking in his offside call and he decided I should view the game from behind our goalkeeper. And the player that laid off the pass that allowed me to score that winning goal? He went on to win 3 consecutive national titles with the Perth Thundersticks. Thanks, Pete, you are still one of the most exciting players I have seen.

    So you grow up and those junior years leave you behind. The world changes, Hockey changes. But my love for the game remains. I played in my first premiership team in 1983, I was 16. The next was in 2009, and that premiership meant a lot. It was my friend Jason’s last game: before the start of the next season he passed away from cancer. He was just 28. It is only in reflection that I realise how ill he really was when he played in that grand final, and scored both goals in a 2-0 victory. Jason is my Hockey hero now. He also played the greatest 15 minutes of hockey I have ever witnessed, scoring three sensational goals to lift a team from 2-0 down halfway through the second half to a 5-2 grand final victory, a year or so before his illness struck for the first time. Yeah, first time. He was a tough fella. In 2016 I won my third premiership with the Mighty (name removed to protect the innocent. Ed), arguably the greatest team to ever run out and say, “Hip, rah rah rah”. Three in 40 odd years ain’t bad. And I can’t wait for the next one.


* John Glenn was born in 1921. In 1962 he was the first American to orbit the Earth, circling it three times. Before joining NASA, Glenn was a distinguished fighter pilot in WW2 and Korea with six Distinguished Flying Crosses and eighteen clusters on his Air Medal. He served in the US senate from 1974 until 1999 and became the oldest man to fly in space on the Discovery space shuttle in 1998. During his orbit in 1962 he dubbed Perth as “The City of Lights”

He passed away on Dec 8, 2016. The last hero of the analog age.

Thursday June 15
  Hockey Tip No 001:   Just Play
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