I last played hockey at school. I played left back. And my signature tactic was to run, roaring, at the players on the opposite team. It often worked. My school was a comprehensive and, in the off-season, our girls hockey team played touch rugby with the boys rugby team.
I wondered how my experience and tactics would go down with Remnants Hockey Club.
Based in SE London, Remnants Hockey Club fields two teams in the Kent League, a First XI in Division 3 and a Second XI in Division 5. The team trains every Wednesday during the season (September-April) and after training sessions heads off to a local pub for essential strategising.
The club is the only openly gay hockey club in London, probably in the UK, and celebrated its 21st anniversary in 2012. Their team slogan is ‘Get Fit with Fit Women’ and who can argue with that?
So it wasn’t surprising that coach Aurelie presented me with a pair of rainbow laces when I arrived for a training session at the all-weather pitch on a chilly November evening.
She had also thoughtfully brought along a pair of hockey shoes (with rainbow laces in place), so I swapped out of my trainers. Handing me a pair of shin pads, she said: ‘I saw some of the chat on Facebook and decided I’d bring these for you.’ I blushed and realised she’d spotted the shinpad conversation I’d had during the day.
I fiddled around with the shin pads, trying to fasten them over my not-insubstantial calves, dressed in Blackheath Women’s Rugby Football Club socks. I noticed a smart hockey stick, with aerodynamic holes and started to fret about the stick I’d borrowed from Lola.
We warmed up with a couple of jogs around the pitch while I explained Freyathlon to captain Kate. We discussed knee injuries and the toll of the ageing process on joints and limbs. Then it was on to a few drills: zig-zagging between lines, side-jumping over a central line, side-drops.
We picked up our sticks and, in pairs, dribbled the ball along a line – mirroring each other’s movements. I was partnered with Kate and it quickly became evident that my lack of knee injuries was no match for her speed, skill, and experience. We moved on to practice goal shots and Lesley kept reminding me to stop the ball before I passed it. I kept forgetting – which says more about my ability to retain information than it does about Lesley’s advice.
I was grateful when Aurelie called time and we moved on to practice goal shots and long corners – which have come a long way since my roaring days on hockey fields in Oxfordshire. Aurelie and Kate explained the rules and I listened. Some of it seemed to slow the game down and made no sense to someone who hasn’t played the game for a few decades. But I didn’t seem to be the only Team Remnant player who was struggling with the rule. Anyway, we practised long corners and tried a few set-pieces to circumvent how the rules now require the game to be played.
That was when I noticed how well-protected the two goalies were. Thinking back to my school days, I dimly remembered Alice wearing leg pads and possibly a breast and a head guard. But these two (Linda and Martina) were wearing layers of protective clothing, impressive footwear, and a substantial helmet. Either the game has changed a lot or there’s more concern about people sustaining injuries.
We divided into two teams, and I pulled on a red vest. The rest of my team (Kate, Cathy, and Yolande) said they’d be my handicap but I suspected it might be the opposite. It was.
What I lacked in skill, I made up for in foolhardy bravado: a rule that’s served me well through the years. I went for as many tackles as I could, hoping my opponents would take pity on the newbie. I can’t recommend it as a match tactic but I surprised myself by winning the ball on at least two occasions. I may also have scored a goal but only because everyone else had stopped playing some moments earlier after an infringement I knew nothing about and had nothing to do with.
We changed ends and I continued to style it out. I noticed how Kate used her stick as an extension to her arm and how Wendy chopped her stick against the ball. I tried to stop swinging my stick like a golf club and check where my team members were before attempting to pass the ball.
At the final whistle I had no idea of the score but I knew the blue team had won.
We set off for a warm-down jog around the pitch and Wendy asked whether I’d enjoyed the training session. ‘No aches or strains? A woman came to train with us the other week for the first time and broke her arm.’ I looked startled and asked if they’d been more gentle with me. ‘No. She just slipped and fell.’
I didn’t like to ask what she’d been wearing on her feet but made a mental note to invest in a pair of hockey shoes before I return to play with the Remnants – which I will be doing, just as soon as the Freyathlon schedule allows.
Hockey. 18 November 2015
Sedgehill School, Beckenham Hill Rd
Cost: Free for trial session, £110 for club membership