I notice that the last report filed by me on OBHC appeared in 2009, so I had better come out from behind that rock and start writing!
All sports evolve in their respective strategies, playing skills and techniques, equipment, fitness levels and the rules of the sport, but few, I would suggest, have evolved to such an extent as has hockey. The days of turning up for a game with the dregs of a pint in one hand, a fag in the other, and the stick still in the changing room are long gone.
No trees are felled these days in order to provide our hockey sticks: carbon fibre is the base component of sticks now. I remember well the revolutionary change in the shape of the head of the stick from the long English head to the shorter Indian head, the first major advance in the sport in my playing career, and how modern and professional we felt when Borden took delivery of its first batch of Indian-head sticks! [Editor's note - the old English head version of the hockey still exists in some households. Peter Lusted, Old Bordenian 1962-69, provided these pictures of his stick.]
The shorter head has speeded up the game and offers increased opportunities for high-skilled players in dribbling and ball retention. Protective equipment has greatly improved, and needed to do so given the vastly increased pace of the game and of the ball in particular. Outfield players now have the protection of face masks at short corners and of a glove to protect the leading hand on the stick: goalkeeping equipment has evolved far beyond the dual-use of a pair of cricket pads.
The coaching of hockey is now a profession in its own right and most top level teams will have a staff which comprises a lead coach, an assistant coach, a video analyst, a physiotherapist, a fitness coach and a manager.
The greatest change in hockey has to be the introduction of artificial grass surfaces. First used in a major international competition in 1988, at the Seoul Olympics, the use of artificial grass pitches has transformed the sport in so many ways: the game is played at a much faster pace, fitness levels are, of necessity, much higher, the use of drag-flicks at short corners has demanded new strategies from both the attacking and the defending team and the ball is transferred around the pitch at a much more rapid pace than used to be the case on grass. I am not aware of any grass hockey being played currently.
There is now much more, and much better, television coverage of international hockey matches and competitions. For many years, viewers of the rather limited amount of hockey available on television were frustrated by the not inconsiderable problem of not being able to see the ball when it moved at speed. These days, the quality is as good as it is for other ball sports.
So what about Old Boys? Have we evolved and are we keeping up with the times? We certainly are. Twelve years ago, in partnership with the School, we raised just over £1 million and built the floodlit pitch and pavilion, a big step forwards in the provision of hockey for the Club and the School, and the creation of a major community sport facility in Swale.
Shortly after the completion of the pitch and pavilion, OBHC merged with Rodmersham Ladies HC and has expanded even further since then. Currently, we run six men’s teams, two ladies teams and junior teams at under-14, under-16 and under-18 age groups. The pitch is in use by the Club on six days of the week for coaching, training and matches and, in addition, OBHC runs the Swale Junior Hockey Development Centre on behalf of Kent Hockey Association and hosts and manages the Kent Under-13 Boys Junior Academy Centre. The Pavilion provides not only shower and changing facilities, but is also a social centre for all ages in the Club, from age five through to members in their seventies, and it has the very considerable benefit of being right beside the pitch (see pictures above).
Our junior coaching syllabus is of the best, having been written exclusively for the Club by Andrew Wilson, a former Old Boy, who is now a member of the coaching staff for the full Spain ladies team; he also coaches hockey at Club Egara, one of Spain’s leading clubs, is Assistant Coach for the Province of Catalunya and Assistant Coach for the Spain under-21 ladies. The quality of our club coaching is clearly paying dividends as OBHC members were the captains of Kent Under-16s and Under-13s in the 2013/14 season, and the captains of the Kent Under-13s and Under-14s in the 2014/15 season. For our men’s 1st X1, we have secured the coaching services of Ross Gilham-Jones, a former GB under-21 captain and our ladies are coached by Sunjit Atwal, a club member who is a Level 2 Kent County coach and, last year, was on the staff of BGS.
OBHC has England Hockey ClubsFirst accreditation which we have held for ten years. This is recognition on the part of England Hockey and Sport England that the Club maintains high standards in child protection, junior coaching and the general provision of hockey for junior members.
We play our part in the local community in many ways and, in particular, in partnership with BGS and Swale Borough Council, we fund the post of Swale Community Hockey Coach, through which we take our junior coaching into local schools.
A final word on our pitch. I have extolled the virtues and advantages which modern pitches confer on the sport and these are many and varied. One very great problem which they bring, however, is the cost of the renewal of the playing surface. Pitch carpets typically last for around ten to twelve years, and ours is nearing the point at which we need to replace and upgrade it and this comes at an extremely high cost – around £200,000. If any Old Bordenians can point us in the direction of a benefactor, we would be very grateful.
The quest for success on the part of some clubs has meant the sacrifice, to varying degrees, of their club spirit and ethos. I am pleased to be able to report that this does not apply to Old Bordenian Hockey Club. The club spirit has never been stronger.