The Hockey Tournament by Jennifer Rae
Setting – 1977 Malta. I was a young teacher working for the Service Children’s Education Authority, as the Ceramics specialist but also teaching part-time in the PE Department. At the time, Paddy Stubbs, an ex-pat made it his mission to attract football and hockey teams from other countries onto the island to play local teams.
The Hockey Tournament
I woke up with a mouth as arid as the Sahara and my first thought was,
“Whoever suggested a visit to Dewdrops Night Club last night should have been shot at dawn.”
It had been one of those end of term Friday nights when one thing led to another, without a thought for the next day. A hockey tournament featuring our British team and teams from Sicily and Germany had been arranged for the Saturday morning. I slowly got out of bed and opened the curtains, whereupon the sun shot two lasers through both eyeballs into the back of my skull. I clamped both eyes shut again and stumbled, vision-impaired towards the kitchen and switched on the kettle.
After a couple of Alka-Seltzers and a cup of strong coffee, I managed to regain my faculties enough to make and eat a modest breakfast. I began to feel more like facing the day having washed and splashed my face with cold water. Picking up my kit and a bottle of water, I left for the sports ground where the tournament was to take place.
The thought of hard hockey balls hurtling towards me like grenades at around fifty miles an hour, while standing in a goal mouth, on a pitch sun-baked solid as granite and the colour of white sand, was one I didn’t relish in my present fragile state. I’d played on these pitches before in bright sunlight. The reflective quality of the asphalt blinded the players at the best of times. At the worst of times, like that day, it would be like sticking pins in your eyes. Hockey on asphalt is a fast game compared to grass and one that should be avoided when suffering from a hangover.
Maggie, the captain, and our other unmarried team members, who had been my companions the night before, arrived in dribs and drabs, all wearing sunglasses and feeling the worse for wear, I was delighted to note… all for one and one for all sort of thing.
We were due to play the Sicilian team first according to Paddy, the organiser. And there they were, the Sicilians, already on the pitch limbering up in pristine, dazzling white kit looking like the advertisement for a new soap powder. Their average age must have been around nineteen or twenty and they were fit. Our team ranged in age from late twenties to late thirties and we’d been on the town the night before, reprobates that we were.
“Holy mother of God,” exclaimed Maggie, our good Catholic captain, “we’re going to get slaughtered.”
“Bloody Nora! We’re like St Trinians compared to this bunch,” chipped in somebody else.
“Come on team. Let’s get them,” encouraged Maggie.
I looked around at my team mates. Our centre forward was yawning. The two backs were propping themselves up on their sticks and nobody looked as though they were keen to “get them.” It occurred to me that I was going to have a very busy time in goal.
The whistle went to start the game. Within less than a minute, it went again. The Sicilian centre half had turned on the ball, an elementary mistake. It soon became crystal clear that they were novices. All that prancing about, posing and taking photographs before the match started amounted to nothing but unadulterated affectation with little to back it up.
At half time we collapsed on the benches at the edge of the pitch gasping for water.
The sun was high now and the temperature was rising. We were leading 5-0. I’d saved a few Sicilian shots at goal but the rest of the time nothing much happened in our half. We heard from Paddy that the Germans had won their first match against the other Sicilian team but none of us knew the score.
The second half of our match against Sicily proceeded much the same as the first, despite the pep talk administered to his team by the Sicilian coach. The final score was 8-0 to the Brits. We were very surprised but ecstatic.
“Candy from babies,” remarked Maeve, our centre half as we came off the pitch, “I almost feel sorry for them.”
“Don’t get smug,” warned another. “We still have the Germans to contend with and they were watching our every move during that second half.”
“Yeah, and they’re built like tanks,” from yet another.
As our hangovers abated with some chemical assistance, the next match started. The Germans were a more skilful team but depended on hefty drives into our half. Without the speed to follow them up, our backs retrieved the ball easily and sent it out to one wing or another.
It became apparent after a while that the German/Brit ladies’ hockey match was generating much interest with the male footballers who had just finished their game before us. It was puzzling. Then with a German attempt at goal, the reason dawned on me. As their forward line approached, I noticed that not one of the German players was wearing a bra. Such mammary mobility had never been witnessed before on a hockey pitch and a spectacle not to be missed according to the gathering male spectators. They were a well-built bouncy lot these fraus and frauleins and not a bustenhalter amongst them.
Half time came. Word got round about the attraction of our game and when the whistle went for half time, the pitch was surrounded by mostly male spectators. They had migrated from all directions, Germans, Sicilians, British and Maltese, waiting in anticipation for play to resume.
As the match got underway again, cat-calls, whoops and whistles abounded from the male onlookers and not for the purpose of cheering on their team. Whether it distracted our opposition or not, is difficult to tell. I would like to think that we had won 2-0 fair and square because of our skill, teamwork and tenacity under extreme conditions, those being lack of sleep and bad headaches. We had won the tournament.
“Well done ladies,” praised Maggie. “This calls for a celebration.”
A chorus of groans came from the Friday night revellers. Somebody voiced what all of us were thinking.
“Oh, God. Not tonight, Maggie. Make it some other time.”
We did make it another time but that’s another story.