England master Lee Valley
It was a lesson in longevity for the players that took to the field for the Masters Tournament at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. In all three matches, England were the dominant force. The Mens Over 60’s beat Belgium 4-0, the England Mens Over 55’s beat Wales 8-2 and the Women’s Over 40’s, match saw England put six past a defiant but outplayed Wales.
“This is a great opportunity for people, like me, who have played hockey all our lives to a decent level, to keep playing competitively,” said Howard Atkinson, a member of the Wales Over 55 team. Atkinson, who plays his hockey at Wisbech in East England, said that the Masters scene was growing across the country. “In Wisbech we have entered a team into the Men’s Over 40s for the first time and on a national scale, more and more players are discovering their Welsh roots.
Lorraine Wallis, who first entered the England Masters set-up four years ago, said: “I am excited to be playing for my country again but extremely nervous at the same time. It’s great to have such good competition and to play at the best standard that I have ever played at even though I am no youngster.”
These thoughts were echoed by Alex Hooker speaking after her team’s defeat of Wales in the Women’s O40s: “I’m so excited to be playing for England Masters, it’s a fantastic competition with amazing organisation and a real buzzing atmosphere. The commitment from all the individuals – from the players to the coaching team to the organisers – is incredible given that it is all self-funding. I’m grateful and proud to be part of such a brilliant hockey family. I think anyone who comes to watch or is involved will realise how important Masters hockey is, not just now but for the future as more and more people are extending their hockey playing career because of opportunities like this.”
Tournament organiser Deb Wilkes has put her own job on hold in the run-up to the event. The logistics in putting on such a show are enormous – 92 teams over three venues and 1,625 players. Talking about the event, she said: “We introduced women’s Masters in 2005 in response to a huge demand from players around the country, and it has just grown and grown. In truth, while it is important for health and fitness, and there is obviously the competitive element, for me it is about giving women some time to themselves.”
Sally Munday, CEO of England Hockey agreed. “International Masters is all about showcasing that you can still play competitively whatever age you are. It is about keeping fit, it is social, it is time for themselves. And I have to praise Debs, she has chaired the EuroMasters organising committee, as well as running this event. She has really been a driving force on the international Masters scene.”
The opportunity to play at the Olympic Park was praised roundly by all the players. Captain of Wales O40s Tracy Bow, said “For players who are playing international hockey for the first time, this is such an amazing experience. When the national anthem played we had a lump in our throats. Today has blown us all away.”
Nat Allen was part of the winning England O40s team. She is exactly the sort of player that Wilkes and Bow are talking about. Her fitness training involves running sessions pushing her daughter Nina in a buggy; she rises at 5am to feed the horses that are part of the family equestrian business and husband Jeremy provides the childcare for both young children when Nat is playing or training with the team.”
The last word goes to Wilkes; “I think the important message is that age is no barrier to hockey and that pride certainly doesn’t diminish with age.”