Alan is Oxford Hockey Club’s Men’s President and he writes:
The world of hockey was introduced to me shortly after enrolling at Cheney School in 1971 by two teachers who played for City of Oxford Hockey Club’s (COHC) first team: Rich Falla and one Mike Betton (still actively coaching our junior girls today). Whilst I was very keen, I think it’s fair to say I was a late developer in the skills and fitness departments compared to my schoolmates, Andy Small and Steve Curnock (who were the stars of the Cheney School team when I first started), followed by Andy Clarke, Will Clark, Mark Robinson, the Potter brothers and a whole generation of Cheney-bred players, all of whom went on to play for COHC thanks to the ‘guidance of Mike Betton’.
My first memories of playing for the City were the gruelling indoor training sessions, and scanning the Oxford Mail each Thursday to see if I’d been selected for the fourth team, then captained by Mark Whittering (now a VP of Oxford Hockey Club). Early in my time at City I played quite a lot for the Bulls, who were then a mixture of older, wiser heads and young springers like me – fantastic experience and through this I met some of my closest friends even though most of them have retired and are now in their seventies.
In my late teens, I progressed up the sides at City, captaining the third team and eventually progressing to the second team which was in those days run by Paul Wilcox (another OHC VP now). Hockey tours were a huge part of my life from the age of 14 and by hook or by crook I managed to tour with the best players in the club to countless Weymouth and Spalding sessions. I recall a visit to the Isle of Thanet were I was introduced to my first curry – not sure whether it was the alcohol or the spices which made me ill but over the years I’ve managed to train my body to accept vast quantities of both!
Mixed hockey was also a huge part of my life back then. I played for Adastral for many years and also enjoyed several Oxfordshire County Mixed tournaments, some ably led by our very own John Jones.
I can’t remember the exact year, but I remember waking up one day and vowing to win a place in the COHC first team. So, three stone lighter and lots of skills sessions later, I lined up at centre back for my inaugural first team game, ably captained by Andy Clark (now of Hawks fame). I managed to hold my place for seven seasons in what was a fantastic period of my hockey career. To keep the first team fit (and to make sure I kept my place), I enrolled a squad in Abingdon Rowing Club where a highly-tuned quartet of athletes (Andy Clarke, Nick Aveyard, Mark Griffiths and me) learned how to row a coxed four. We travelled to a handful of competitive regattas where Sue Clark tried her best to keep us moving forward and out of trouble; safe to say, we never won anything!
In those days hockey was a very different experience. We rarely travelled with more than 12 players and rolling subs had not yet been invented. On a couple of occasions, COHC missed promotion to the regional leads by just a point, and we were a dominant side in the first four of the Berks, Bucks and Oxon league.
I think we were probably the most unruly first team squad that COHC ever experienced in the 80 years of its existence! The Club officials were regularly getting us out of scrapes and explaining to various authorities that actually we were a decent bunch, just with too much energy and mischievousness for our own good. I won’t go into print for fear of litigation, however, if you ply me with suitable quantities of alcohol, I will divulge more about naked rooftop walks on the Turf Tavern and police cautions in Weymouth.
After seven years of ending up at BRN drunk on a Sunday night at eight o’clock, I decided that my appetite for competitive hockey had ended and, despite a few games for the second team, I drifted into the Veterans for a few years before giving up entirely in about 2005 to settle down and have a family.
Whilst I had a ball on the field and afterwards, I’ve always felt strongly that I should contribute to hockey off the field as well, and attended my first committee meeting at the Wheatsheaf when I was 14. I served COHC in most capacities, including general committee, third team captain, fundraising, entertainments, treasurer, tournament organiser, and ultimately club chairman.
It’s true to say that I met the vast majority of my friends through hockey, including Liz Davies, who was then playing centre forward for the ladies’ second team, popping in goals on a regular basis. As well as scoring on the pitch, Liz scored off as well, and after a brief engagement we married in 1992. Two years of drunken hockey parties in our house in Headington followed, before moving to Kidlington.
I finally hung up my stick in about 2005 to settle down and spend more time with Liz and the kids. Or so I thought, until out of the blue I received a phone call from Mike Corran (who I played in the first team with many moons ago) asking for my assistance with a planned merger of COHC and Rover. Mike and I met up and he explained the benefits of a merger, and the inevitable decline of both clubs if we didn’t combine forces. I’ve known Mike a long time and he has always had the Club’s interests at heart, serving as Treasurer for longer than I can remember, and turning out regularly to support the players. I agreed to meet the ‘Elders’ of COHC, past players and people who had contributed significantly to the development of the Club, to ask for their views and explain why in my view we should support the merger.
In my view, the merger is one of the best things that ever happened for both of the constituent clubs, and brings huge benefits to all the members. All this activity rekindled my enthusiasm, and I realised that I had missed the hockey people I knew, and as I met more people from Rover and of course new faces from COHC, I decided that I would dust off the astro boots and give it a go. I have to say that my basics are rusty at best, and whilst I was never the fastest player in the Club, my ‘pace’ is now glacial. But I really enjoy it and as long as I can still add something to the side will continue to play.
I was extremely honoured to be asked to be Men’s President of Oxford Hockey Club. Hopefully I can contribute by promoting the new Club to the older members of Rover and COHC, by looking after the Vice Presidents with Gill, and use my forty years of hockey participation to aid the hugely enthusiastic OHC Committee to build our new Club – of course highly competent on the pitch but also all-inclusive and friendly too.
Good luck to everyone for the rest of the season.
Alan, Al or Albo
Oxford Hockey Club’s Men’s President