Written by John Cobbold
The Old Southendian Hockey Club was founded in 1921 as a member club affiliated to the Old Southendian Association, the sporting Alumni of Southend High School for Boys. In its early years and until 1978 / 79 the Club played its matches in local council run parks, on grass, with all matches starting at 2.45 pm and 2.15 pm as the daylight shortened. Chalkwell Park was the 1st XI & 2nd XI home ground with the 3rd XI & 4th XI playing at Blenheim Park and post war Southchurch Park with the Sunday XI at Belfairs. In the years immediately after the war and in the early 50’s games at Belfairs required changing in an old tramcar and the only washing facility was cold water from a single stand pipe.
In the 70’s at bully off (as the push back then was) the neighbour, whose garden was behind the goal at Belfairs, religiously lit his bonfire of damp leaves causing the smoke to drift along the pitch for the duration of the match (arrh! the good old days).
With the addition of a 5th XI in 1975 and in 1978 a 6th XI Priory Park and Belfairs Park were the grounds of choice. Training was held at Shoebury Park and Warners Bridge on redgra clay, a mix of shale, stone and brick, where you and all your kit was coated in red dust by the end of the session.
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 the Club moved to Blenheim Park in 1962 only to find that in wet weather it was no better than the one in Southchurch.
After match tea, with the traditional jug of beer, along with social events were held in the Old Southendian Tennis Club in Crowstone Road, Westcliff. This was the meeting place for away games with teams 1, 3 & 5 and 2, 4 & 6 predominantly all playing the same opposition clubs home and away until the advent of the 1st eleven then subsequently the 2nd eleven followed years later by the rest of the teams into leagues. Club members tended to know each other and their opposition with all players socialising at the same time. This built up long standing friendships and was a significant factor when in 1997 the Club and its old adversary Westcliff Hockey Club came together.
Crowstone Road was the Clubs home for many years, the club socials as today a significant part of club life. The hockey club through the 70’s and 80’s ran a successful men’s and ladies’ darts team in the Southend Social League, forming successful relationships with the opposition from the Police, Ambulance, Civil Service, Fire Stations (Leigh and Southend), Bullwood Hall Prison and Sergeants Mess in the then Garrison.
Before the invention of computers and the subsequently Social Media, Mobile Phones and the Internet and 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 the 'sub' was about £2 (pre decimal).
Crowstone 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. Envelopes addressed, stamps licked, lists checked then off to the post office around midnight for the postman to deliver by about Thursday. Cancellations and player movements between teams then conducted by landline usually Friday evening. So like today except you had to be in to get the call or have a very understanding message taking wife / mother who were generally at home in those days. It cannot be praised highly enough the role that Phil Hopkins took in this process for many, many years. Similarly, the role and task undertaken by Dave Colman who took over the role with the advent of the digital age.
In the 1978/79 season the Club 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. The Club had erected a permanent changing room and 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.
Around this time the Club by AGM Rule change dropped Old from Old Southendian and became Southendians, this was to allow for the constitution to let the Club allow membership from players who had not attended Southend High School. At that time a number of the youth attended St Thomas More and Fairfax High Schools and the enthusiastic sports masters, namely Paul May at Fairfax and Steve Harrison at STM. At a subsequent AGM the name reverted to Old Southendian and the Club membership was open, as it remains today.
The visionaries and instigators that made the move from Crowstone Road to Warners Bridge happen, the negotiations with the Southend Rugby Club, Southend and Rochford Councils, Various Government Agencies, Banks, Breweries, Building Professionals and many others, are the reason we are where we are today. The initial proposal put to the EGM setting out the vision and reality of move or stay was agreed by the members and the rest is history. Very special mention for their efforts in bringing this historic event to fruition and for their continued support should be recognised to Tony Barrett, Richard Campbell Carr, Grant Littler and Barry Hodson (RIP). The significant input of many others (who know who they are) cannot go unrecognised but for fear of missing someone out remain nameless. Members of the Old Southendian Hockey Club who play at Warners now should be indebted to the instigators and prime-movers in the building of the magnificent Clubhouse and Astro pitch that we have today. There are few clubs where spectators can watch games from the comfort of their clubhouse.
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.
Social has always been a significant factor in the Clubs DNA. Fixture Cards from the 1950’s though the 1970’s set out annual events for the diary. Various additional events are added depending on individual member interests and events organised accordingly, but steadfast in the calendar are the Club Supper and Dinner Dance. These have evolved over the years but the Club has moved with the times and adapted accordingly to allow members to continually participate.
In 1970/71 the Dinner Dance featured Tim Gentle & His Gentlemen and the Mel Lewis band, nowadays it’s 508. In the 1980’s and 1990’s ‘The Hockey Ball’, the venue moved from local corporate venues as situations evolved, number of attendees, venue closure, the meal, band or price but the content remains the same – meal, wine, music, dancing, raffle. The hair and cloths have changed, the music middle of the road and guests return year after year in support of the Club. In previous times The ‘Dance’ was held in The De Havilland Hotel, New Arlington Rooms, Pembury Suite and now the Park Palace Hotel.
Similarly, the Club Supper for decades was held in Crowstone Road, including the memorable night in the 1980’s when there was a power cut in the full clubhouse. Cooking a four course meal in the tiny kitchen and silver service was the order of the day until the lights went out in the neighbourhood so the Club marched down to the Plough Public House and drank until around 10pm when summonsed to dinner and speeches by candle light which went on well into the morning. The Sunday XI had a slow start.
Other venues were tried and tested, including our neighbours in the Rugby Club. With the advent of rising costs for silver service and ‘elf and safety’ it was decided to move the Supper to first a local Indian and then Chinese restaurant on the grounds of cost so that as many members as possible could attend. This worked very well until it was possible to offer a significant buffet at affordable price to a packed Warners clubhouse, the Club Supper came home.
The Club Supper follows a tried and tested format. Members and their guests sit with their team, Vice Presidents and former players reminisce, food and wine a plenty, then speeches team by team and from the various Club Officials as relevant. And, until his sad passing, no dinner was complete without steak and kidney pie and Albert Shaer and his eloquent rendition of ‘brown boots’.
In later years Players of the Season are awarded. Additional awards include the Vaughan Copeland Trophy awarded to a member of the Club who has gone over and beyond during the recent season. Vaughan Copeland aka ‘Dad’ was a goalkeeper in the days when pads were canes, gloves were gardening and it was compulsory to smoke during the match. When he sadly passed away the Club received a generous legacy and from that the Club purchased a Trophy in his name, it was decided that each recipient could only be awarded this honour once. There is now an impressive who’s who inscribed on the base.
Prior to the Vaughan Copeland Trophy, the Club awarded a similar Trophy for fair play The Les Harvey Trophy, Les played for the Club in its earlier years and umpired well into his senior years until the late 1970’s.
Other Club recognitions include the ‘Good Egg Cup’ donated by Steve Brook during his time as goalkeeper with the Club during the 1980’s. This is for someone who made a difference as he wanted to thank the Club for making him feel welcome as the ‘northerner come south’.
Another Trophy which is played for between Old Southendians and players from the former Westcliff Hockey Club is the Mike Scott Ayub Trophy. In memory of Mike who played for both clubs during his playing career. The challenge for this silverware is between players who, through the decades, competed for local rivalry success on grass and the competitive spirit lives on today with players many retired from playing long since turning out for a cameo appearance to say “I was there”.
At the advent of all teams’ league hockey and compulsory astro pitch, floodlights etc saw the sad closure of Westcliff Hockey Club, after all that history and significant success the lights went out at Southchurch Park. Due to the closeness of many of the members of both Clubs the migration of many Westcliff players into the Old Southendian Hockey Club went better than could ever have been imagined. Immediately the friendships and team companionship gelled and unless you are in the know it is not obvious who used to play for which club back in the days of fierce competitiveness. If ever this is a happy ending!
Records show that for over 50 years, during the closed season, the Club team has ‘gone on tour’.
In 1961 a party where entertained by Calais Hockey Club. The team took off from Southend airport in a specially chartered Bristol Freighter at the third attempt following two aborted attempts when flames were seen coming from the starboard engine. Organised by Ivan Haxell, a former president of the Club, the team stayed at the Sauvage Hotel in the town centre and were introduced to the mayor of Calais and quaffed champagne.
Deemed a success the Club entertained Calais HC in 62, opposition players stayed with Club members and in local B&B’s, matches were played and a dinner at Crowstone with an 8mm Cine film showing exploits from the previous tour. A pre-curser to face book! - Who says what happened on tour etc…?
After the match on Boxing Day 1962 it started snowing and froze, so no hockey until mid-march.
The Club returned to Calais in 1963 and the presentation blue urns can be seen in the Clubhouse today.
During the 1980’s it was popular for the Club to have a weekend tour hosted by former players who had moved away for work and established themselves at other hockey clubs, Wokingham HC being one thanks to brothers Mike and Bernie Coke. The usual format, drink, play, drink, play repeat process prevailed.
Similarly drink, play repeat seems to be a popular format. It certainly worked for Sheffield I & II tours.
In 1977 the Club was invited, c/o Club member Ross McGaw whose parents were Manx residents, to the Annual Isle of Man Whitsun Hockey Festival. The Club travelled by coach from Crowstone Road to Liverpool and caught the midnight ferry, arriving in Douglas via the ships bar, in time for breakfast and bully off at 9am. A Bank Holiday tour which the Club has attended every year until 2014. John Cobbold, Paul Moxon and Steve Dove each touring over 30 years.
There is a history in photos above and with several Club members having toured the IOM, many for over ten and fifteen tours, there is much banter in the Clubhouse today.
Each team is encouraged / expected to adopt a Tour name rather than the Clubs usual identity. In 1977 the Jimmy Riddlers were born. The original creation was based on Southend Pier’s after our famous landmark. But being hockey players this was played upon and Southend Pee’ers (Jimmy Riddlers as per the rhyming slang) was adopted. Thereafter Jimmy Riddlers aka the Riddlers have become part of Manx folk law.
Over the decades the Team has changed with several players from other clubs around the UK becoming regular Riddlers, some for over 15 years. As with any Tour that has lasted for so long this deserves its own time line and events synopsis which is added above. War stories and all.
Riddlers also toured for many years to Wimborne in Dorset, seven a side mixed, 48 teams camping in a field off of the bypass in a clearing in the woods around three cricket pitches with mini pitches on the outfield. An electricity pylon running across the pitches which hummed in the rain. Round robin matches Saturday and Sunday and a 24-hour clubhouse with a marquee infamous for naked pole climbing during the festival disco. Each team turned up early on Friday and claimed and created its enclave of tents. Thus the phrase ‘in a field near a pylon Tour’ was born. Again several members have toured for twenty of so years. More photos above.
The former Westcliff players have toured for many years at the Thanet Festival, played at the infamous Jackey Bakers sports ground. Staying in local B&B’s and socialising with the opposition mean many stories from tour memories live on and are still shared in the Clubhouse today. Folk law and all.
In the days before League hockey all games were friendlies, no tables or promotion / relegation. And played on grass. Umpires didn’t have to be qualified, goalkeepers not required to wear protective equipment, quite often the team would play with a kicking back. Lower team hockey was always played on the less maintained pitches.
Because of the lack of league structure clubs played each other on a block basis and acquaintances between opposing players were established over the years. Most clubs had clubhouses and a history going back many decades. Fewer of these clubs remain today but there are some that have maintained a similar approach to ‘Club’ as ourselves.
Some of the clubs visited required a parky to shut the gates at dusk, Valentines Park for example and Ilford Hockey Club. That required you to climb spiky iron railings in the dark and sometimes wet, after a few beers and with kit. The reader can use imagination.
Other experiences that are no longer include a team valuables bag. This was usually a bank money bag within which each member would place their wallet, watch, keys etc and was placed by the goal during the match for safety. This worked fine but there was one incident when the second and fourth eleven played away at Tonbridge Wells, all was well except a combined valuables bag was used for both teams. With the second team finishing before the fours a player had to rush back straight away and inadvertently took the valuable bag with them. Including everyone else’s car keys. Not a problem you may thing send them a text or call to turn around before too far away. This was the 1980’s, mobile phones had not been invented. So find a pay phone, ring someone’s home, find someone in on a Saturday night, get them to find the drivers home number, and ensure they were in as answer phones were not invented either, then find someone to collect the keys and drive back to Tonbridge Wells so the rest of the players could get home. All that is remembered is that it was dark, late and any plans of a Saturday evening were cancelled before Southend loomed. Ah! The good old days!
Another feature of play before the league structure and astro pitches was the extended season. The fixture list fulfilled a couple of extra games were arranged to keep the club spirit alive a bit longer and so two additional matches were played. Severalls Hospital in Colchester (now a Business Park) but one of the nicest settings where the Club played the doctors. The matches often stopped to escort patients off who had wandered onto the pitch, and most famously what was affectionately known as R&G Away.
R&G Away entailed five teams in a 50 seater coach and a convey of cars for those who couldn’t stay all evening afterwards heading to Rochester & Gillingham HC for matches against the local club. Always sunny the day is remembered more about the coach trips as the matches. R& G are a very hospitable club and entertained us until we left, usually very late. The journey there involved various regular activities, including opening a bottle of scotch at the clubhouse, passing it around and making sure it was empty by Southend Fire station in Sutton Road, the buttering of bread rolls on the back seat with a credit card in the absence of a knife, roll mops etc. But most remember able was the comfort stop at the Dartford Tunnel around midnight, clambering back on the coach, the head count and leaving for home. All seemed fine until some days later when it was established that one player was left behind, at Dartford, no money, no coat, no means of communication who hitched back home. The person sitting next to them hadn’t noticed they were missing.
Ladies have for many years played alongside the men but with a separate club entity. In 2006/07 the Ladies Hockey Teams were firmly established at Warners Bridge in a format that closely resembled that of today. It was in season 2008/09 that the Ladies formally became part of the Old Southendian Hockey Club under the banner of one Club and in doing so add to a more inclusive environment within which to enjoy and participate both on and off the pitch.
The Youth section has always been the lifeline of new membership. So much so that many of todays’ veterans have played together since their teens. At all age groups playing success has been achieved over the decades with personal recognition at County, East, GB and Olympic and World Cup level. Individual honours can be seen above.
With the success of the Youth the Minis’ were born. The younger siblings being nurtured and coached in the very basics until able to compete and ultimately succeed as both teams and individual levels. This thanks to the parents, grandparents and other club member’s dedication year after year and demonstrates what Club is really about. Too many members to recognise individually but mention is made of Vivian Oats, Kim Clarke and Trevor Guy.
Without Umpires there is no game. With the advent of League hockey clubs are all required to provide qualified umpires. Pre-League hockey it was sufficient to have a ‘whistle-blower’ but since it is down to the members to become qualified and for many forgo their match or umpire before or after playing. This is as a result of many more players playing longer into their playing careers whereas previously ‘retired’ players would happily pick up the mantle and umpire.
2012 saw a momentous effort to refurbish the Clubhouse and lay a replacement astro-pitch. This saw the Club come together yet again. Many of those who established the original move to Warners Bridge, the building of changing rooms, the temporary and permanent clubhouses and original pitch again coming to the front under the direction of Steve Dove. Aided by many club members and with the support of a Sport England grant and additional generous donations in time and funding you have the facilities seen today. Rivalled not only locally but nationwide.
The Club succeeds because of its members, those that can be seen recognised in the honours boards in the club room and many more who quietly get on and do. History is not a thing of the past but a living breathing series of events that you look back on tomorrow. The Club will continue to thrive as it has since 1921 with the culture that has brought it so far.