Hockey Pitches Officially Opened

The official opening of the new Nottingham High School hockey pitches took place at Highfields on Saturday 4th September. Dave Nettleton (ON 1974-84) reports...

I must first pay tribute to the School and staff who organised and ran the event; MyNava for the food and sponsoring; and to all the other teams who played in such a great spirit throughout the afternoon. For all those who have played hockey over the years it was a great day to be a part of. I understand it is likely to become an annual event, though the date may change.

Team NettletON, comprising exclusively of ONs, got off to a slightly inauspicious start, arriving with only four players and no goalie. We were Steve Wightman (Class of '83), David Axtell ('88), Deep Desai ('18) and myself ('84). We quickly put the pre-tournament feelers out and Deep got on his phone to pull in some favours. Soon we were joined by Henry Ellis ('12), Dilip Krishanand ('20) and Shiv ('20) (sorry, don't know Shiv's surname), and shortly thereafter by Henry's younger brother Harvey Ellis ('16). Game on! Who needs a goalie?

Hockey Pitches Officially Opened

The draw was tough, with our first six games back to back! Fortunately we didn't look at the schedule properly until we were four games in and starting to feel the heat. We started with a 4-0 win against Staff & Parents. Next, Team Marcus, a team of young guns, loads of them, and a goalie too! We were well outnumbered with rotating subs, and a fast moving game ensued with full commitment from both sides. On this occasion youth triumphed over experience, a 1-2 defeat for us.

Third game: Team Boots were a club side, who had obviously met before and knew each others' names, so had a bit of an advantage. They kindly lent us a player, as one of our number was feeling the pace. A pretty fierce game this one, played in a good spirit, but little quarter given. A draw beckoned, but our lack of a goalie cost us this time, so another 1-2 defeat.

We then swiftly changed pitch for our fourth game against Team ONs, led by none other than Simon Downer ('89), England over-40 World Cup Winner in 2012 (amongst other honours), assisted by Chris Freeston ('95) and a squad of young ONs in training. The skills on display from the youngsters were awesome, and the School clearly has a pipeline of talent which will only grow. We managed to grab two quick goals before one of the youngsters ran into our D, casually bouncing the ball on his stick, then cracking it against the backboard. The tide was definitely turning, but mercifully the final whistle blew: a 2-1 win.

Hockey Pitches Officially Opened

Game five: Team Millie, the first of two all-girl student teams, who we could soon see were not to be underestimated. They used all the space on the pitch well and got plenty of quick tackles in, leaving us little time on the ball. By this time, though, David Axtell and the Ellis brothers had worked out a few attacking routines. We were back to winning ways with a 4-0 win.

New School Hockey Pitches promo
Dave Nettleton (left). Photo: Jonathan Hammond

We're starting to get very tired now, but there's still no time to rest and it's straight into game six against Team Harriet. The pace is non-stop and the ball is moving all over the pitch, and from end to end. We stave off a couple of goal line scrambles and once again the Axtell/Ellis combination wins the day with another 4-0 win. Bear in mind hockey scores can sometimes flatter the victor and both of these games were much closer than the scores suggest. The student teams not only played with skill and determination, but also displayed good passing skills and vision. With the current coaching setup and hard work, the High School hockey teams will be a force to be reckoned with.

At last, a 30 minute rest and a chance for some food kindly provided by MyNava, run by Dominic Hayer ('93) and a drink (water, of course). Before you know it, we're off again with our last group game. Team Sports included all the School's hockey coaches (who are all, let's say, quite good) and the triathletic Mr Spedding. It's fair to say that this was our toughest match and both teams threw themselves into the fray.

Hockey Pitches Officially Opened

We were going one down until Deep literally threw himself in a last ditch diving save that drew blood, to keep Team Sports out. Nevertheless, with no goalies on the pitch goals came for both sides and with only seconds to go Team NettletON led 2-1. Then, in the dying seconds, the Team Sports' right winger made a brilliant solo run into the D and then along the goal line before flicking the ball, from an impossible angle, into the net for 2-2, as the final whistle blew.

And that was it. With our combined 250 ON years we had given a good account of ourselves throughout the afternoon. Finishing 2-2 against Team Sports was better than we could have imagined. Oh, but hang on, not so fast chaps, Mr Whitehead is heading our way, clutching some paperwork... We're in the semi-finals!

So, game eight, and against Team Marcus once more. Another 10-minute battle ensues, with both sides having chances, but just failing to convert. Before we know it, the final whistle goes and the umpire declares that it's penalties, whilst looking wistfully at his watch and seeing his Sunday dinner going cold. Five brave volunteers step forward (actually, two of us stepped back) and we borrow the Boots goalie to make a game of it. After the first round we're level at 3-3, so it's sudden death and the 5 penalty takers step forward once more. The goals continue until our co-opted goalie guesses right, makes a great save and somehow we're through to the final, 7-6. Who would have thought it?

Hockey Pitches Officially Opened

By now our knees, hips, backs, feet and all our muscles are really starting to feel it. Bear in mind a regular hockey match is 70 minutes, which at my level includes a reasonable amount of standing around time. We've now completed 80 minutes of flat-out charging around. Once again we face Team Boots, for our ninth game. The match starts and it's clear they're still strong and able to take advantage of our flagging legs. They still have to work hard, but the gaps open up and they finish up as worthy 4-0 winners, taking the Opening Trophy.

And that was the final game. Team NettletON took second place, far beyond our expectations. A great day was had by all and, through hockey, new friendships were made and old friendships were renewed. I think it will have been a fantastic experience for the students. We certainly all enjoyed it and, even as we were leaving, we were talking about meeting on these hockey pitches next year. If you want to get involved, play, watch, umpire... then cross your fingers and watch this space...

Dave Nettleton (ON 1974-84)