Hockey – then and now!
These days Hurst offers three sand-dressed, floodlit AstroTurf pitches which are all in superb condition and provide an excellent playing surface for all training and matches. But we have not always had the benefit of these surfaces. HF spoke to Vince Thomas (Maths teacher and Hockey Coach) about the days before Astroturf
“I feel privileged to be asked to write this story and will write as accurately as my memory will allows.
During the 80's and 90's, all the major hockey playing schools on the Hurst hockey fixture list built at least one Astroturf until eventually we became the only school on our circuit to be without one. Instead of an all-weather Astroturf, the College had Red-gra pitches for Hockey. Red-gra has a reputation for causing abrasions when sliding on it compared to grass and its hardness can contribute to injuries when players fall. When dry, the surface generated considerable amounts of red dust, whilst in frosty conditions it became alternately sticky and slippery and in the wet it could become muddy. It was not therefore the most ideal of surfaces. As a result, some of the schools against whom we had played since the end of WW2, dropped us from their fixture list. When I became Master i/c Hockey for the second time in 1995, as well as those schools that would not play us, there were also others that were reluctant to do so.
The College, therefore, had to hire Astroturfs for the next 6 years not only to play matches but also to practise. Some of the pitches on which we were able to practise in the week were not available on Saturdays, and vice- versa. We travelled to East Grinstead and Lewes Hockey Cubs, Sussex University's pitch at Falmer, Leisure Centres at Broadbridge Heath, Portslade end the Triangle (Burgess Hill), Farlington and Millais Schools. We did not use all these pitches during the same season. During the first month of the hockey term, if they played away at King's Rochester, the 1st XI would travel over 1000 miles altogether. The boys (we were not a co-ed school at this time) never complained and saw to it that their results justified the effort. During these difficult years, many boys represented their county hockey teams and, on one particular Sunday, Alex Fray played for Sussex, Robert Playford for Kent, and James Smith far Surrey, all at U16 level.
Despite the drawback of not having an Astroturf, Hurst did reasonably well - though I think we can assume the outcomes would have been different had we owned one! In the 6 years from 1995, Hurst entered teams in the County Hockey Cup Competitions in the U16 and U18 age groups with the U14 team joining in 1996. Of the 17 teams entering in these 6 years, 11 reached their Final, although unfortunately none was victorious. The 1st XI reached their final on 4 occasions, losing 3 times by the odd goal and once on penalty-flicks.
The condition of the Red-gra pitch, which the AstroTurf would replace, was an embarrassment. Red-gra pitches do not require that much maintenance (relatively), but the drains were broken and the fence on the south side, rusty, holed and the fencing in a poor state. It was a particularly positive advert for the school. After heavy rain, Robin Agate and Neil Sayers, our two excellent groundsmen, would spend hours forking and spiking the pitch to make it just about playable
Therefore, many people lobbied the governors to provide our Astroturf. We are indebted to Governors Robert Ebdon, Miss Mason and Brian Renn, who were all supporters of the project. In January 2020, Robert Ebdon (with his background as a Chartered Surveyer) formed and chaired a committee, made up of Governor, Miss Mason, the Bursar (at that time Robert Smith) another Chartered Surveyor, and two representatives from a floodlight company. The committee met on the first Wednesday of each month, until the final meeting in the August. I remember vividly that during this last meeting, which was in Cricket Week, it was at last decided that Hurst would build its own astroturf. The two floodlight representatives had advised on the need for lights, but this would have meant waiting for the necessary permissions to be granted for floodlights to be installed, before the pitch was built. Happily, the decision was made not to wait any longer, and Robert Ebdon concluded that the pitch would be constructed as soon as possible. I went straight to the Cricket Pavilion to tell our supporters there that the new Astroturf was about to be built!
A Dinner was organised to raise money for the new pitch. The highlight was the guest speaker, Cliff Morgan, the legendary former Wales and British Lions Outside-half, who at that point was a distinguished sporting pundit.
The first astro was opened in March 2001 by Juan-Angel Calzado who was President of the Federation of International Hockey. Calzado first came into contact with players from Hurst when the College's under-16 team (picture below with thanks to OJ Mike Bailey who has this hanging on the wall of The Royal Oak, Wineham!) won the Immaculada Tournament in Barcelona in 1990. The new pitch was first used, in a block fixture against Brighton College, on a lovely sunny January morning in 2001. Hurst U14 beat Brighton 1-0, the only goal scored by their excellent Captain, Jamie Ardagh.
I must thank everyone who supported our crusade and please forgive me for the omission of any names I have forgotten. In particular, in addition to the Committee members, I would like to mention Sue Short (our outstanding receptionist, without whom the mission would never have succeeded), Hugh Thomas (although retired, he umpired virtually every week), Trevor Baxter, Michael Grime, Peter Mckerchar, and Martin Pulsford. The Sussex hockey community were also very helpful, particularly Ian Buckridge, Roy Gurney, Jim Jourdain, Dusty Miller (at Eastbourne College) and countless Sussex County Umpires. The students also deserve a massive thank you, because I never once heard anyone complain about the travelling (and the students, included a small member of girls who played in the boys' teams, including the very talented Lena Einecke from Germany). And last, but not least, thank you to all the parents who went on so many magical mystery tours around Southern England to watch their sons play.”
And now … An interview with Rob Sorrell the current head of hockey:
Q When did you join Hurst and what was your coaching experience before?
A I joined Hurst year from Norwich school where I had a similar role. In terms of coaching experience I’ve coached in the Netherlands, Wales junior international sides as well as the English national league.
Q: How would you describe hockey in the College at the moment?
A Hockey is doing well but I am obviously keen to develop it further. In terms of numbers, it is the biggest sport in the College at it is played by boys and girls all the way from yr3 to the UVI and we put out a huge number of sides. We have increased the amount of indoor hockey being played and even play some mixed hockey in the summer. I am obviously keen that both the boys’ and girls’ hockey continue to grow in terms of quantity and quality. I would like us to consistently do well at national level for both Boys and Girls. The Girls’ 1XI are in the national plate semi-final and the boys are in the early stages of their cup competition. The younger teams are also doing well. Our Girls 2nds also got through to the regional round of the Tier 3 competition against other schools’ 1st XIs.
Q What are the plans for the future?
A In order the consistently good at the top end it’s key that players are playing and training regularly throughout the year. The days of being able to get to a high level playing just between September and December or January to match have long gone. To do that for both the boys and girls it means having a really good coaching team that work together and I am keen to add a top female coach who will not only add expertise but also be a good role model for the girls. The other thing is to maximise the benefit of having the children from such a young age. I am keen that the youngsters get plenty of time with a stick and a ball to develop their ball skills and hand speed which is so important as they get older.
Q Many of the OJs will remember with affection sporting tours that they went on as a pupil. Are their Hockey tours planned?
A Very much so. There will be boys’ and girls’ tours to the Netherlands in the next 12 months and annual trips to Europe will be a regular feature moving forward. It would be nice to do mixed tours but the demand has been so high that we are running two in order to enable as many pupils as possible to go. Tours are such a great experience both developmentally but also socially that I am keen that as many people can go as possible. Shorter regular trips are the best way to achieve that and the hockey is superb in Europe.