Hockey: Organised Riot?

Michael Ostheimer 25 January 2008

Lying somewhere between well known trivia and the complete unknown is the fact that the sport of Hockey has been with us for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptian depictions of men playing a ‘ball and stick game’ were found at Beni-Hasen in the Nile Valley by archaeologists and dated at “older than 1272BC”, a date that is at once impressively precise and pretty vague.

The Hockey Association was founded in London in 1886 putting ‘ball and stick’ on the official sporting map and Cambridge wasn’t far behind, forming its hockey club in 1890.

I’m sure some old-school players were sad to see the days go when medieval towns would field over one hundred players per team and play games that would last in the vicinity of two or three weeks, but standardisation of the rules developed quickly – if three and a half thousand years counts as ‘quickly’ that is. Thankfully it is all relative.

At the same time, the British spread the game across the world via the cunning technique of forming an Empire and invading other people’s countries. Thankfully they reached far and wide including the Americas, Asia and even Egypt. Despite the rapid growth, actual rules still weren’t in favour when the first official international game was played in 1895 as the International Rules Board wasn’t founded until five years after the game. I presume it wasn’t too violent.

In local news, so far this season the men’s blues have played 14, won 3, drawn 1 and lost 10. The women’s equivalent are renowned for their very high standard and this season have only lost 6 from 20.

Thanks to the blessing of intercollegiate sport at Cambridge, there are over eight hundred players university-wide providing a large pool for the ninety university players to be selected from.

Unlike in the old days, the ninety don’t all play at the same time and Cambridge favours the modern approach of eleven-a-side; gone are the days when you could go for a weekend holiday during a match without the other ninety-nine members of your team really noticing.

The injuries from hockey can be serious. The relaxation of the traditional rules (though not quite to the level of the middle ages) which allow the ball off the ground, especially for shots, has lead to an increase in the purchase of gladiatorial looking protective equipment – epitomised by the last Spanish Olympic Squad sporting rather fetching protective face masks.

Jonathan Nye (Queens’ College Hockey Club, former goalkeeper for North Wales) has noted a particular hazard is goals falling on keepers during windy games: “It’s a constant worry that not many people appreciate. I’ve seen far too many talented youngsters walk away from the game as a result of these or similar incidents”.

I’m yet to see it happen, but then again, I’m yet to play hockey in North Wales.

Despite what some school children’s behaviour might suggest, hockey has never been closely linked with the world of golf. It would not be controversial to say that use of hockey sticks as golf clubs is frowned upon by the majority of school teachers and indeed professional players.

Having cleared up that confusion it is safe to say that hockey, unlike golf, is one of the most fast-paced mainstream sports. Everyone, so long as you’re fast-paced, can get involved. The sport even provides for those seeking near-death experiences; such people can join a team and opt to be a goalkeeper. To be honest, if you’re not quite that way inclined, you can probably even try just rolling a ball around with a stick – you never know where it might lead.

Michael Ostheimer