Down Memory Lane

I heard recently from Derek Matthews, a long time Vice President of the Club and former 1st XI captain and thought that his reminiscences might be of interest.

Derek played in every 1st team game from the 1957/58 season through to midway in the 1972/73 season missing only 2 games (when he got married in Oct 64) during which time he played for Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and the Hockey Association.

He actually first played for the club, in goal, towards the end of the 1955 season when Eric Holmes was not available and W.C. Jones (Alleyne’s teacher and club founder member) gave him special dispensation to miss Sports Day! It must have been one of the last games of the season and was at Wardown Park against Luton. The team was captained by Eric Custance at right back, stalwart Ron Watson, a great buddy of Eric’s at left back and a dashing Bob Bedford on the right wing, Harry Hummerstone may also have played. At the time, he was in the School first eleven, captained by David Tomlinson, and he believed it was expected that he would take over from Eric, in goal, when he retired. However the next season he was converted to a right back in the school team and therefore played in that position in front of Eric in 1957 until he (Eric) retired in 1960. Ray Hopwood took over in goal from Eric and was an ever present until he retired in 1972.

From 1960 onwards the club began to play further afield; Eastcote, Norfolk Wanderers and Old Bechanamians to mention a few. Harry Hummerstone was the captain, up to his premature death in 1963, and Derek took over from him. He told me that he has a team photo of that season, resplendent in white shirts. The team comprised of Ray Hopward in goal, Derek was right back and Terry Collins at left back, Trevor Stocks at right Ron Raymond at centre and Peter Hunt at left half, with the forward line of Brian Ivory, Roger Harrison, Harry, Jim Huckle and John Austin (note the 2-3-5 formation). On the day the photo was taken Roger, a popular 2nd XI player, was standing in for Tony Huckle. Jim and Tony joined the club that season, following the demise of the British Tabulating Club (ICL) in Letchworth, choosing to join us rather than the newly formed Letchworth club; both were talented players. Also in the picture are Tom Saul, who regularly umpired the 1st XI, and Tony Farrell, who normally umpired for the seconds. The photograph is actually on the gallery wall in the club and, if you are interested, I can show it to you if you ask me. Another stalwart umpire for club in the mid to late 60s was Anne Fitch (another long time VP).

The team was relatively successful, enjoying an especially fierce rivalry with Blueharts. Other teams on the fixture list included Welwyn G C, West Herts, Broxbourne, Rickmansworth, Bedford, Luton, Old Dunstablians, Downing College, Crostyx, Old Loughtonians and Southgate Adelaide to name but a few.

Derek captained the side until about 1970, when Peter Nash took over and he gave up playing in 1972. He also has another photo of that period (1970) which features, amongst others, Chris Thurlow, Ray Hopward, Mike Smith, Terry Collins, Jim Huckle, Glyn Welch, Peter Nash and himself. He still has his red shirt and red socks, which were used as christmas stockings for his children. He has fond memories of his time as a member of the club and in particular Eric. Many a Saturday the two of them would drink at the club, move on to the Royal British Legion then stagger up Walkern Road, natter outside Derek’s home, much to the annoyance of the neighbours, before Eric carried on to his home in Rowan Crescent and his very tolerant wife!

One final abiding memory he has is of the late John Austin leaving the pitch mid game to open the Chapel of Rest. John, of course, was a director of Austin’s Funeral Service. “Those were the days” Derek says!

Tony Parker
August 2014

The History of Stevenage Hockey Club


Hockey was played at Stevenage Cricket Ground in the 1930s and perhaps as early as 1929 - but not by a formally constituted club. It was played at Alleynes Grammar School - as it then was - from about 1933 when Charles Jones joined the school as a teacher. Many of the games at the Cricket Ground were mixed - men and women - but it was a men's club that was to be first established on the ground.

The Second World War was a pivotal time for young men of that era and it was only when hostilities ended that attention turned to sports clubs. A 25 year old Eric Holmes was instrumental in the formation in 1945 of what was to become Blueharts Hockey Club, but that was a closed club - only former pupils of Hitchin Boys School could join - so Eric returned to Stevenage and joined forces with his former schoolmaster, Charles Jones, and others to establish Stevenage Hockey Club in the same year.

The club operated on a largely informal basis for a number of years but still managed to assist the emergence of at least two highly talented players - Ian Jones, son of Charles, and David Tomlinson, elder brother of club stalwart Mike and product of Knebworth HC, merged into the Club in the sixties. Both went on to represent Great Britain.

By 1962 the club was thriving and running 2 elevens but the old wooden cricket pavilion - situated at the east corner of the ground - had seen better days (even the dry rot had got dry rot). So a new building was erected and, because of the grants received, the hockey club had to be put on a more formal basis and a constitution drawn up.  It was a source of some annoyance at the time that the new clubhouse was constructed less than two yards away from a position that would have enabled County Championship hockey matches to be staged on the main grass  pitch, which was nevertheless one of the best in the area and used for friendly County games.

W C (Charles) Jones became the first President in 1962 and held the post for 7 years, followed by Reg Brendish (another teacher at Alleynes) for just a year and then from 1970 to 1982, it was Eric Holmes. Eric had kept goal with distinction until 1960 and then taken up the whistle, also progressing to a good level. He was a popular and sociable President, as well known in hockey circles throughout the East as he was in the club bar, and it was he who established the much loved SHC President's Day: Stevenage Hockey Club was to be known as, if not one of the most successful, one of the most sociable in the County.

Despite a number of fine players in the 1950s  - Harry Humerstone, ace goal scorer Roy Cross and former St Albans centre half Ralph Dainty (father of David) among them - Stevenage were not regarded as one of the leading teams in Hertfordshire in this era of non-league hockey. By 1965 the number of teams had increased to 3 and by 1969 it was up to 5, so it was quite a rapid growth. Also in about 1965, Knebworth Hockey Club folded and merged with Stevenage bringing with it some very useful players.

In 1971 a 6th XI was introduced but it lasted only two seasons. In 1990 we tried again and this time managed 3 seasons before we had to give up once more. For many years we also ran a regular Sunday XI, the last game being played in 1991. Finally, in 2005 we once again introduced a 6th XI and I’m pleased to say that we have been able to keep it going and that it has become an important part of our junior development program and for ensuring that Phil Hutchinson has something to do on a Saturday afternoon. We have to thank Geoff Trew for this because he gave up a lucrative contract with the 2nd XI to skipper the side and get it going.

Initially club colours were white shirts, blue shorts and red socks, but sometime between 1965 and 1969 the shirts were changed to red. Again I’m not sure exactly when.

In 1965 the annual sub was £3 and the match fee was 15p. Communication was mainly by Royal Mail (we used to send out postcards saying “you have been selected to play for such & such an eleven). Not too many members had telephones, and of course there was no such thing as mobile phones and e-mail. What is now Ditchmore Lane was, until the A1M bypass was built in 1962, the main A1 London road, and because of the lack of parking space at the club, we used to meet for away games outside, and quite often inside, The White Lion pub in the High Street.

In 2001, after many years of valiant efforts by the ladies to join forces, the men’s and ladies’ hockey clubs finally merged. The ladies were running 4 elevens at the time and Viv Hamilton became the first President of the new club. By 2003/4 a 5th eleven was added and we thus arrive at the current make up of the club today.

The club has had several successes over the years the most notable of which was probably the 1st XI’s promotion to the East League Premier Division in 1991/92 where they stayed I think for 4 years. Also winning promotion to the Premier Division was the Ladies 1st XI in 2001/02. Another notable win was that of the Boys U18 juniors in the final of the England Hockey U18 National Plate in 2005.

Over the years, since the inception of league hockey, various XI’s have won or been promoted from their respective leagues. However, perhaps the greatest achievement of all was that of the Mens 5th XI in winning the East League Division 8SW title in 2000 with a 10 year old, a 16 year old, two ex 1st XI has beens and 8 or 9 old farts whose combined age must have been approaching 500! It was a miracle that we finished a game let alone win the league. Well, maybe not the club’s finest hour, but it was certainly the 5thXI’s.

So, we have had our fair share of success and long may it continue.

Eric Holmes

ERIC HOLMES: Eric was a founder member of Stevenage Men’s Hockey Club. In 1943, in collaboration with a friend, Peter Russell, he established a club in Hitchin which was later to become Blueharts Hockey Club. At the time of the change of name it also became a “closed club,” open only to former pupils of Hitchin Boys School. 

As a result Eric had to leave and, in 1945 together with Charles Jones, his former schoolmaster at Alleyne’s Grammar School, started a hockey club in Stevenage. 

Eric was to play in a variety of positions, including goalkeeper, for the 1st XI until 1960 when he decided to retire from playing. At that point he took up umpiring and became well known, not only in Hertfordshire, but across the whole of the east of England, achieving qualification with the Eastern Counties Hockey Umpiring Association and becoming a marvellous ambassador for the club, not only in the East but also within, what was then called, the Hockey Association. 

During his time with the club Eric held a number of positions. He was Fixture Secretary for many years until 1970 when he was elected President of the club. For a while between 1977 and 1980 he also held the position of Chairman and it was Eric who first established what is now the very popular President’s Day. When an old knee injury caused him to give up umpiring in 1982, he called time on his Presidency and was made an Honorary Life Member. 

A permanent fixture in the clubhouse every Saturday evening during his playing and umpiring days, Eric’s visits have gradually diminished over the years but his heart remains true to the club he founded. In July 2010 he celebrated his 90th birthday and remains to this day, an icon of Stevenage Men’s Hockey Club.

AWP, Oct 2010

Geoff Middleton

The Geoff Middleton Memorial Trophy is presented to the club member who has done most to welcome new members to SHC. Who is Geoff? This tribute was written shortly after his death in 2005.

I'm not sure if many of our current, successful U18 side knew Geoff very well. Yet he was a significant reason many of them play their hockey at Stevenage rather than Letchworth or Hitchin. He as much as anyone established Ditchmore Lane as the place to enjoy the day as well as the game and over the years this has attracted and retained more players than could be expected for a town such as ours.

As a hockey player Geoff was a resolute defender with a good eye for a tackle and strong hit. He enjoyed a win, of course, but had a Corinthian attitude to the game which found its way into the psyche of some of the most hard-nosed of fellow players. He was a stalwart of the infamous Sunday Xl of 1960s and 70s when friendly, non-league hockey was still played twice a weekend. He was also a Thyrsus midweek regular and occasionally turned up on time.

In the 1970s when he could have been playing for a higher team he established the Club's 5th Xl and endowed it with a tradition of giving everyone a chance and having a good time whatever the result. He was a much loved 5th team captain for many years instilling the spirit of the game into the youngsters he encouraged and inspired.  He was the "Father of the 5s" and - quite properly - the self appointed guardian of their principles. Geoff continued playing until well into his 60s and thereafter was a great supporter and friend of the Club and, with Janet, a regular Saturday evening visitor.

A sociable man always ready with an anecdote or joke, Geoff made sure he welcomed and introduced himself to every new member of the Club and especially their lady guests. It was a great moment for Geoff when the Stevenage Ladies joined forces with the Men's Club. In the 70s we acquired a piano at the club and Geoff knew exactly which keys to tickle to get us singing, sometimes songs which may not have gone down too well in a mixed club. But Geoff was a man of principle ahead of his time and famously resigned from the Club for 24 hours while a "gentleman's evening" was held to raise funds.

Of course he was a good hockey tourist. Ramsgate in the early days and for the past 30 years he was a Gau-Algesheim regular, including Easter this year. Sandwiched in between was the infamous Uranus trip to Bingley in 1979 and many of the great stories of that incident packed tour feature Geoff [with apologies to Janet who never wanted to hear of it again].

Away from SHC Geoff, a former art teacher, was an accomplished craftsman - painter, illustrator, woodworker, plantsman, winemaker and, perhaps foremost, potter. I have 7 plant pots made by Geoff each one a memento of a party at which he arrived with plant, pot and bottle to fuel hours of conversation, jokes and laughter. He was always one of the first names on my invitation list.

On the Saturday evening two days before his sudden death, Geoff and I were sharing in a barrel of IPA at the club and, as ever, talking of many things: including on this occasion "the afterlife". I think we had broad agreement that if we live on it is through the zest for life, the creative urge, the sense of fun, the spirit which we engender in those that follow us. At Stevenage Hockey Club Geoff lives on.

KB, July 2005

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