Hockey’s history game-changers

Hockey’s history game-changers

By David Beddows | 10/11/2020

Hockey’s history game-changers


WAY back in 1884 in a quiet corner of Rotherham, five teenage boys were seen knocking a ball up and down the road with a large stick.

They were chucking up dirt, stones and muck at nearby windows in Bradgate. A woman was accidentally hit and complaints were made to the local bobby, PC Pinder.

Although the lads got away with a caution, they were summoned and the Mayor told them they'd be hit with a fine if it happened again.

The actual game they were playing was called “shinty stick” and those lads were some of the earliest participants in an activity that me and you now call hockey.

Of course, that down-to-earth scene more than 130 years ago belies hockey’s reputation as a middle class sport.

It wasn’t played outside the Public School system until the 1880s and involved well-heeled individuals such as the two sons of Alderman Gummer, the brass founder, and the offspring of wealthy professionals.

True as that may be, hockey was played in all four corners of the borough for decades until a string of amalgamations and a decline in playing numbers today leaves Rotherham Hockey Club as the town's only survivor.

New light has been shed on the history of hockey in Rotherham by Peter Feek, the club's vice president and a former player.

Delving into old documents and newspaper cuttings, many from the Advertiser, he's produced an invaluable account that shows that Rotherham Hockey Club's origins go back much further than originally thought, with the previous amalgamation of Rotherham and Wickersley showing a seamless connection back to 1911.

Back then the town was dotted with one-team clubs at Parkgate, Greasbrough, Kimberworth, Kiveton, Mexborough, Dinnington and Conisbrough.

Played on grass back then, encounters could be lively, with one newspaper report unearthed by Peter of a match between Kiveton and Dinnington noting that good hockey was impossible”due to the very “unhockey like” tactics of the Dinnington players.

There were colourful characters too.

The first identifiable town team, Rotherham YMCA, appeared in the 1910/11 season and included a “formidable” goal scorer with the wonderful name of Gostwyke Cheesewright.

Another, known as “Major Taylor,” didn't like his bald head and insisted on wearing a cap during matches.

The following season, Rotherham Hockey Club appeared in print for the first time, followed not long afterwards by Wickersley and then Rotherham Teachers.

However the First World War was to hinder progress.

“With its deaths and trauma, playing personnel appear to have declined and a number of local clubs passed out of existence,” notes Peter.

“So many places had single teams, which is why there were a lot of amalgamations.”

By 1927, a report in the Advertiser noted a lack of interest in hockey among the town’s male population despite there being several ladies teams.

That same year, members of Rotherham's main tennis club were looking for some sporting activity to keep them occupied during the winter months and decided to form a hockey club.

They had a meeting about it and from that meeting, attended by “an enthusiastic young man” called Syd Simmonite, Rotherham's main hockey club was born.

“It was this Rotherham club that amalgamated with Wickersley to form Rotherwick Hockey Club before renaming itself Rotherham Hockey Club,” said Peter.

Simmonite, the newly elected chairman, negotiated ground rent of £5 a year for a ground at Bawtry Road at Canklow and the club was truly up and running.

The club's activities haven't always been confined to the outdoors.

When indoor hockey was introduced to England in the 1970s, Rotherham became very good at it, becoming North champions and producing a couple of internationals as well.

Hockey in general has faced many challenges in the decades since, with competition from other sports and pastimes and the many demands on people's social time just some of the issues.

“A lot of things have squeezed the sport over the years,” explained Peter.

“For instance, in 1928 Rotherham Grammar School changed from rugby to hockey and provided a steady stream of players, including myself, right up to 1970 for the clubs.

“At one time we got quite a few Asian kids from Tinsley but most of those didn’t continue playing.

“The other problem has been pitches.

“While the steel industry was doing well, steel firms had their own sports facilities and they were the best because they had full-time groundsmen. For instance, Robert Jenkins, the boiler firm, had their own pitch just off Wortley Road and English Steel had one at Shiregreen.

“Most of those now have gone.

“Also, after Margaret Thatcher’s educational reforms in 1988 the flow of young people lessened as teachers reduced their involvement in extra curricular activities. Hockey is still played in schools, but not in many of them.

“More recently, the FA's support for 3G pitches meant places like Thomas Rotherham College were able to take up their astroturf pitch and replace it with 3G, which is unsuitable for hockey.

“That's happened in a whole host of places across the country.”

More than a century on from its formation, Rotherham Hockey Club battles on as the town's sole exponents of the sport.

After an enforced exile at Eckington a few years ago, it is back at its former base at the revamped Hallam University site on Bawtry Road and runs men's, women's and junior teams.

The new league season has finally swung back into action after a close season like no other involving hand sanitising, social distancing and training bubbles.

Wonder what those lads who were knocking a ball around with that large stick all those years ago in Bradgate would have made of that?