RIP Phil Hopkins - Memories of the Hockey Club

Sadly we announced that Phil Hopkins passed away on Tuesday the 19th December 2017. Phil held many roles at the club and became president of the Hockey Club from 1999-2000. There may be some newer members who did not know Phil, however a few years ago Phil set down some poignant memoires of his club life:

I have been asked to write about things I remember about the Hockey Club since I became a member in 1953. At that time membership was limited to those who had been to Southend High School.

I understand that in the years immediately after the war games were played at Belfairs where they changed in an old tramcar and the only washing facility was cold water from a single stand pipe.

In the 50s the Club ran 4 Saturday sides and a Sunday XI. The 1sts and 2nds played at Chalkwell Park and the 3rds & 4ths played in Southchurch Park - The Sunday games were still being played at Belfairs. Few people had cars so the fixture card gave details of the nearest railway stations to the grounds and also mentioned that Southchurch Park could be reached by catching a No 5 or No 25 bus from the High Street adding that a No 17 also went to Belfairs from there. There were no match fees and I think the ‘sub’ was about £2 although I’m not absolutely sure of the exact figure. It must, of course, be realised that wages and prices were very low then. A seat in the stalls at the cinema was only 1/9d and one in the circle was either 2/3d or 2/9d (9p, 12p & 14p in today’s money)

Unfortunately Chalkwell Park was very popular with dog walkers so the team members that played there often had to clear the pitch of dogs’ mess before the games could start. This was sometimes the subject of jokes at the Club suppers.

Southchurch Park had its drawbacks too because games often had to be cancelled due to rain waterlogging the pitch. Because of this we moved to Blenheim Park in 1962 only to find that in wet weather it was no better than the one in Southchurch.

In 1976 we were fielding 5 Saturday elevens and by 1978 this had increased to 6 so were using the pitch in Priory Park as well as Chalkwell and Blenheim. After the games we all went back to the Old Southendian Tennis Clubhouse in Crowstone Road for tea and the traditional jug. This is where the committee met on Monday evenings to prepare the bulletins. Before that these meetings were held at somebody’s house. After the bulletins had been typed some unfortunate person had to ‘run off’ the number required on the ‘Gestetner’ - an ancient contraption which usually resulted in the operator getting his hands covered in black printing ink.

In the 1978/79 season we started playing some matches on grass pitches at Warners Park. Visiting teams had to go to the Crowstone Road Clubhouse to change and we had to go to Warners already changed because there was no clubhouse there at that time. Some years ago the Clubhouse and tennis courts at Crowstone Road were demolished and the site is now a housing complex.

By the 81/82 season the 1st & 2nd teams were still playing their matches in Chalkwell Park, but all the other elevens were playing theirs at Warners, but it was still necessary to go back to Crowstone Road for tea.

In the summer of 1984 Club members helped to erect a pre-fabricated temporary Clubhouse at Warners and there are photographic records of this in the Club’s archives.

Members of the Old Southendian Hockey Club who play at Warners now should be indebted to Tony Barrett who was the instigator and prime-mover in the building of the magnificent Clubhouse and Astro pitch that we have today. I know of no other club where spectators can watch games from the comfort of their clubhouse. If I remember correctly the building was completed in 1985 with the final touches such as the painting and decorating having been carried out by Club members. The official opening ceremony was attended by the mayor and there are photographs of the occasion which record the event.

In the spring of 1961 a party of us went over to Calais where we were entertained very well by Calais Hockey Club. It was, however a rather unsettling start to the weekend: We were about to take off from Southend airport in a Bristol Freighter which had been chartered to fly us across the Channel when flames were seen coming from the starboard engine. Mechanics were summoned to the aircraft and after about half an hour they seemed to have found the problem and put it right, but this was obviously not the case because when the plane began to move the flames reappeared and the mechanics were recalled. This time they did succeed in correcting the fault and we took off at the third attempt and reached Calais without further incident.

Ivan Haxell had arranged accommodation for us at the Sauvage, a comfortable hotel in the centre of town. On the Saturday morning members of Calais Hockey Club took us to the town hall where we were led into a palatial room where we were greeted by the mayor and then invited to take champagne from the large number of glasses that had been set out around the rim of a huge table for our delectation. At this ceremony we were all presented with souvenir lapel badges depicting red white and blue hockey sticks. I still have my badge which I have worn at every Club supper I have attended since.

Various matches were played between our two clubs on the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning but I have no memory of what any of the results were. Our hosts laid on a very good dinner for us on the Saturday evening and everyone agreed that the weekend had been most enjoyable.

The following year we were able to reciprocate the Calais Club’s hospitality by inviting them to visit us. Accommodation for their members was arranged in local hotels and of course several matches between our two Clubs took place, and a good dinner in the Clubhouse at Crowstone Road was provided on the Saturday evening. After the dinner, an 8mm cine film that I had taken the previous year in Calais was shown to the accompaniment of cheers and boos from our members as they saw themselves on the screen.

In 1963 we again went over to Calais but the visit was nowhere near as enjoyable as the first one had been. Apart from arranging a few games we were largely left to our own devices. I think it was a manifestation of the old adage ‘Never go back’. My lasting memory of the weekend was the beginning of our return flight from Le Touquet in a Carvair, a lumbering aircraft if ever there was one. As it struggled along the runway to gain flying speed we all sat in our seats flapping our arms to help it take off.

It was a tradition within the Club for some of us to play hockey on Boxing Day mornings, and the game that I will never forget was on that day in 1962. It was a bitterly cold day and soon after the final whistle had blown it began to snow, and in a short space of time the landscape had been transformed into a scene from the Arctic as the whole country became covered in snow. This was the start of one of the coldest winters on record when even the sea froze, pictures of which appeared in the “Southend Standard”. Nevertheless the committee still met on Monday evenings and issued bulletins listing the teams for the following Saturdays, but all to no avail, as week after week every game was cancelled. Little did we know that it would be mid-March before any of us played again. At that time there were no all-weather pitches, but even if there had been I doubt whether many matches would have been played because few people would have wanted to travel on the snow covered frozen roads during those weeks.

For many years during the last century Club suppers were held at various places in the town, but after the Clubhouse at Warners Park was built that became the venue for over 20 years. Just before that, in the early 80s, older members will recall we held a number of them at Crowstone Road, and on several consecutive years, just as we began to tuck into the obligatory steak and kidney pie the room was suddenly plunged into darkness when the lights went out. The ancient electrical system became overloaded when power for full lighting, heating and cooking was required at the same time. I suspect that the Tennis Club committee was aware of the likelihood of this happening as a supply of candles was produced on each occasion so the evening’s proceedings could continue. The phrase ‘candlelight supper’ took on a completely new meaning to me.

On a lighter note (no pun intended) a few memories from years gone by:

League hockey is relatively new. All games were ‘friendlies’ so there were no tables, promotions or relegations. Umpires didn’t have to be qualified, goalkeepers weren’t obliged to wear protective gear; If the team didn’t have a goalkeeper we played with a ‘kicking back’. As a lower XI player I didn’t expect to always play under the best conditions, but there are one or two games I can recall where conditions must seem unbelievable to today’s players with their all weather and Astro pitches, floodlights and top class equipment. At an away game in another county the host Club didn’t even have any goalposts! Fortunately it was autumn so we were able to place two piles of leaves at each end of the pitch to serve the purpose. At another away game which I will also not name, a river ran parallel to the pitch. Whenever the ball went into the river play was brought to a halt until it had been retrieved after it had drifted past a clump of trees.

I remember that in the middle of the season when we played Westcliff and Ilford at Southchurch and Valentine Parks, it was essential to park our cars outside the grounds otherwise they would be shut in for the night because the park keepers locked the gates at dusk. I seem to recall that one small gate was usually left unlocked for us but, if our cars were some distance from it, the preferred option was to jump over the railings.

The aforementioned recollections are stored in my memory and I will always be indebted to The Old Southendian Hockey Club for the many years of pleasure and comradeship that the Club has given me, and I regard it as a great honour to have been the Club’s President in 1999 and 2000. I still go along to Warners from time to time to watch the 1st XI and have to say that I am certain that the standard of play has never been higher.

My advice to today’s players at all levels is to continue playing for as long as you can, once you hang up your boots Saturday afternoons are never the same again.