I played for Cardiff in two seasons, 1984-1986, followed by a longer spell from 2010 onwards. On reflection there was a massive difference between the 2 spells. The club was not amalgamated with Cardiff Met in the first spell and hockey was totally different to the game played today. I remember offsides and roll ins and grass (The playing surface not the stuff you smoke!). A drag flick was unheard of. The venue was Sophia gardens. The grass pitches were immaculate, kept in top shape by Albert the Maniacal Groundsman, who after every game, insisted we replace every divot.
On the playing side I was joining a team which had enjoyed a golden era both club wise and with Welsh Hockey but was going through a phase of rebuilding well-articulated by Tim and Andy in earlier posts. Andy Gowman asked me to join and the rest is history. I am in no doubt, that if had not joined I would not have enjoyed such a rich and winning career.
I was surrounded by some superb players who not only knew hockey inside out but also played very hard off it. I did not have a great deal of experience playing on Astroturf so I had to remodel my game. I received incredible help and support and at the end of the second season was made player of the year. The team was made up of some real legends. Apart from Andy there was Howie Williams , Sparkes, Nunnie, Naz, Medlow and Percy, to name just a few. Andy Rhys Jones and Fleming were just appearing to give the side some fresh legs. The big outdoor game was always Whitchurch, always focused around stopping Mark Lewis, who has just made a GB appearance.
Tony Rhys Jones helped me (as a poor student), always making sure I could get to games etc. A sad loss of an outstanding chairman. Indoor Hockey was great as well. Tuesday nights in the Sophia Gardens sports centre were brilliant. That year we went to Zwolle to play in the Euro indoors in front of 5000 plus people. We went to the outdoor Euros in Gothenburg Sweden. We didn’t have the squad to do well, however what we lacked on the pitch we certainly made up in the bars drinking £8 a pint beers.
At the start of my Cardiff career, I was befriended by Howie Williams. On the pitch he worked hard to improve my game and it was great honour to play alongside him against France for Wales for my first cap. He was great then what must he have been like when he was playing GB? He also made sure I was fully versed in all off-pitch activities. Spoof was one such game! I was always rubbish at it so ended up in a befuddled, drunken state after every ‘tournament’. The post-match nights in Sophia Gardens were legendary. Avril Gowman (with others) was just starting up the Women’s section, so Saturdays became even more lively if that was possible.
Howie put me in the ‘Registered Chucker’s’ book due to my inability to hold more than 10 pints of beer! I was in illustrious company Andy Gowman and Naz were also members! In those days Andy lived in the flats behind the Arms Park and inevitability I ended up on the sofa. Bill Hunt was never far away from the action and it was not long before ‘Weymouth’ raised its legendary head. I will leave Bill to tell his stories but there were a couple….
One of my few publishable recollections of Weymouth was Andy Jones appearing outside my bedroom window at 4am. Why was that unusual you may ask? I was 6 floors up and he was hanging from the drainpipe. Steve Sparkes also decided to add to his hockey skills by rugby tackling a player on the half way line. Andy Jones drove his brand-new Ford Orion down, of which we were all very jealous. He parked it up in the road in front of the Crown Hotel in the evening. He came down to find the tide had come in and flooded it up to the roof. He waited for it to subside, called the AA and told them the engine has just stopped. They towed and diagnosed a blown head gasket which was then replaced by Ford!
Our other drinking venue was the Mid Glamorgan Staff Club. How I managed to get in on a Saturday or get home was a mystery but Howie, as a member could always get us in. One of my favourite memories from there was playing spoof with Howie, Gowman, Percy and Gary Cope from Swansea. For some reason, the game turned into ‘Punch’ Spoof. The barman was startled as Andy Gowman proceeded to smash Cope in the face. Gary took it without flinching and waited for his moment to whack Gowman. It was not long before we were asked to vacate the premises!
In between my first and second spell we lost Howie. To this day I still remember the coaching, ranting and legendary nights out and I cannot ever thank him enough for helping me achieve so much on the hockey pitch. However, I can’t thank him for making me so ill so many times!
I took up playing again in 2000. I was living in Bridgend and joined them as I wanted to start to play Welsh Vets hockey. I had 10 brilliant years with them. However, the call of winning trophies reappeared again when Shelts sidled up to me in the Bridgend Bar and asked if I wanted to come back and play. It was a tough decision, but I have never regretted it. The club had amalgamated and gone through its very successful Antipodian phase. I joined the 4’s under the captaincy of Euan Savage. He proved to be a very good captain and we were promoted the following year.
It was great to play with younger players again and they helped keep the motivation to carry on playing. Jake Draper was a key player and again its very good to see how the club can progress players to the highest levels. However, the game was changing particularly the increasing number of rolling substitutions. As Saturday was my only game, I know this initiative has not helped older club players like myself. I want to play not keep running on and off every 7.5 mins. Quite rightly the 4’s became a younger side, and as I became fatter and slower, the inevitable happened I had to join the 5’s!
Life in the 5’s was never dull. Shelts had assembled a side created from the flotsam and Jetsam of Cardiff Hockey, the team made up of players most of which have played at the highest levels and certainly many of them could still do that role. Players such as Fil, new to the game, also got involved and have improved every year. Every game was an adventure however the one trait that binds all those players is a winning mentality.
Student teams from Swansea and Cardiff, expecting an easy game against their ‘Dads’ and ‘Grandads’ suddenly realised they were playing for their lives against players who didn’t take a step backwards. I slotted into the Ginger midfield with my surrogate son Morgs. We enjoyed cup success, with some outstanding performances from Clevs in goal at the shoot outs!
The annual Welsh club vets hockey tournament in Swansea was a type of Japanese endurance event, 5 shortened games on 1 day. That would be enough to challenge even younger players not old farts such as us. We even started touring. Bordeaux turned into a gourmet weekend full of great memories, chorizo, olives and red wine. We could have won the tournament if we tried harder (not really). Nick was outstanding despite being unable to see the ball due to red wine poisoning! Steve Way also took on the role of my carer, making sure I had all my kit and got to the game at the right time and venue.
With our appetites wetted for more international Hockey we travelled to Valencia on two occasions. We played on the World Cup pitches, bringing a new level of skill rarely seen in the modern era. We took on some excellent teams and lost to them. However, we did take a few scalps along the way. The Dutch team will think twice before writing us off.
It was great to welcome new vets such as Tim Jones, quite handy if you forget your toothbrush! Nezza was our tour guide and showed all the nooks and crannies of Valencia before arriving at the restaurant. The owner of the Argentinian ‘All inclusive menu including drinks’ restaurant turned a very odd colour when, some very thirsty Cardiff vets ordered 15 pints as a starter! We ate at a pizza restaurant when the bill came to 800 Euros, 600 of which was wine. The manager and all the staff came out and clapped us as we left! On the playing front I have one fond memory. Lining up against a very good Swiss side I told the team to be aware of aerials from the pushback. I had watched them in previous games, and this was a key tactic. Sure enough from the pushback they threw an aerial, all our fully prepared players then proceeded to miss the ball by a mile and it ended up in the back of the net! I smiled!
Another key memory was sitting in a street wine bar, drinking some very, very expensive reds, simply telling more and more outlandish stories of the past. These stories are vital to any club and need to continue when we get back together.
So looking back how would I sum up playing for Cardiff? Overall, it was an immense privilege to play, and be part of a club with such a rich history. On and off the field the experience was second to none. In these odd times Hockey will return, and we can carry on making new memories and experiences. There is no better place to gain those memories than Cardiff and Met Hockey Club and I thoroughly recommend it for any player seeking a club.
I’m currently 60 years old this year and still intend to play on for a while yet and when I look back Hockey has provided me with many of the best moments outside of family life. Steve Way always pulls my leg telling me ‘I have had more clubs than Jack Nicholas’. That is certainly true, often I moved around for work but also, I moved if I felt I needed a fresh challenge.
I was never interested in (to this day) just playing hockey, I still want to win first, as the beer and various other spirits always tasted better. For me, sport was never about participating it was about winning, everything else was recreation.
During my Cardiff years I gained a handful of Senior Welsh caps, won lots of domestic silverware, took part in European Club Hockey (both indoors and outdoors) and have played for (and captained some) every Welsh Vets sides from 40 to over 60’s, playing in two world cups and 2 European cups. The over 60’s World Cup is scheduled for Japan next year so that’s an occasion to aim for. I also gained a massive amount of knowledge from some outstanding players, lessons which have stayed with me today.
It is brilliant to see the club producing players for GB and GB development sides. It demonstrates that the club is in good health both on the playing and coaching front.