Jake Bullock gives his annual player report of his time in the Hockey Varsity Match
UCL v KCL Hockey Varsity, 4th March 2016
Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre
Squad: Pavel Degtiarev, Sam Letcher, Dan Johnston, Matt Wilde, Danny Wheller, Lucian Smith, Jake Bullock, Ali Grant, Robin, Steve Lowe, James Brooke, Marck Lauxtermann, Sebi Bacon, Joe Parry, Seb Daly, Chris Barker, Toby Hughes, Fahim Khan, Matt Nawrat
In the summer of 2012, hockey greats from across the globe gathered to grace London’s AstroTurf pitches. It was in this summer four years ago that the likes of Dan Johnston, Chris Barker, and Nat Richmond-Sailli, celebrated in style the end of their GCSEs. As part of these celebrations, their immensely proud and somewhat relieved parents treated the fledglings to a day out at the Olympic Park in Stratford to watch these hockey greats perform in the greatest sporting spectacle on Earth. At this point, only in their wildest dreams would they be stepping out on to the same well-graced turf in order to play in the finest London university’s most momentous event of the year. It seemed as if the stars had aligned, then, on learning that they would, in a symbolic tribute before the show heads off to Rio, close this Olympic cycle on that very same turf. As the sun faded over east London on Friday night, with glints of promising purple piercing through the still sky that lay majestic over the frenetic city hubbub, dreams were becoming wildly true.
Yes, Lee Valley Hockey Centre was preparing to host the culmination of the hockey season, the London hockey Varsity match.
Moments before the whistle to commence the girls’ match, the anticipation could be felt in the crowd. Rumours of a return by Jack Windsor spread like wildfire, electrifying the stands. Jack Harrison, using his military motivational-speech training, whipped up a frenzy among the UCL fans, who continually flooded through the gates. Matt Nawrat, oblivious of what was to soon come, drained drink after drink with his colleagues in the east stand. All was set, and the girls failed to disappoint. The previous year’s upset seemingly a demon erased from the past, UCL consistently threatened the King’s goal, enjoying multiple goal-scoring opportunities. The skill and talent within the King’s side, however, was undeniable. The flaming beast within the UCL girl’s eventually worn down and tamed, King’s came out on top as 2-1 winners to the well-matched contest.
News of the result soon seeped through the stands to the boys changing room, serving only to further invigorate the stirring words of UCL’s out-of-action captain, Fahim Khan. Not that any of the team needed much motivating. Anxious to rectify the wrongs done to them in previous Varsity matches, the side raced out of the blocks, to quote Shakespeare, as quick as the greyhound’s mouth. This start, however, much like Weimar Germany inflation rates, was considerably too hasty, and to the detriment of goalkeeper Pavel Degtiarev. In a final attempt to ensure readiness, the team partook in a pre-start sprint…something which didn’t sit well with Pav’s pad-covered hamstrings. Though the start-time suffered a slight delay, Pav bravely determined to continue through the pain. As the crowd experienced an onset of delayed gratification when the whistle eventually blew, King’s experienced the shock of their lives. UCL’s impressive start was soon rewarded with a short corner. No outcome. We went again, and again – each time inducing no change to the score line. The King’s side, having managed to quash this early pressure, soon began creating threats of their own to the goal fiercely protected by Pav. UCL, unlike the King’s boys, were unable to withstand this pressure for long, being undone by a moment of magic from the King’s captain as he jinked his way into the UCL circle before firing a shot from the reverse into the goal. 1-0 to King’s.
Half-time came at a great time for the UCL team who needed to re-gather and rethink. This they sure did. Toby Hughes, who deserves an honourable mention for his work throughout the season in support of the team, persevered to rile each member of the squad as they departed the pitch for the changing rooms; Hugh Harvey-Kelly, the squad’s coach and accomplished tactician, challenged each and every one of our desire’s to achieve greatness, before Fahim again spoke with a Midas tongue, inspiring like not even Zig Ziglar is able to.
The second-half started much as the first had done, with UCL waiting for a keeper to arrive. After a momentary panic, out rushed Matt Nawrat, who, unbeknown to the rest of the team, had used the break to change into Pav’s kit, the pain proving too much for the unfortunately hindered rock at the back. In an inebriated state would Matt prove more useful? Nobody knew, and this only added to the excitement of the night. And so the intensity of the second-half remained fierce, and this wasn’t only on the pitch. The already raucous nature of the crowd intensified, bubbling over into a kerfuffle deemed worthy enough for a call to law enforcement, purple flares refilled the sky with colour, and both sets of fans continued to sing and chant in fine voice. Deservingly, though, it was the UCL fans who were treated to fast-flowing hockey unseen since the days of Barny Chapman, and eventually, this fine play was converted into a penalty corner which was scrappily, though happily, forced across the goal-line by a combination of James Brooke, and Dutch import Marck Lauxtermann. 1-1, all to play for.
By now the momentum was very much in UCL’s favour, the banks of red being forced to breaking point by the constant flood of streaming purple. And break they sure did with about 10 minutes to play, thanks to Chris Barker, who although again not regally, forced the ball over the goal-line to make the score 2-1 to UCL. All that was left to do now was to run the clock down, ensuring no threat be made to Matt’s goal. A task which proved only to be a formality, the sharp-pitched whistle pierced the crisp, biting winter air, crowning UCL 2016 Varsity champions. The champagne soon gushed, the tears soon streamed, and the sweat proudly dried; arriving as underdogs, UCL had achieved what many had thought of as impossible, and so may they be allowed to celebrate. The celebrations, starting on the pitch, continued into the changing rooms, and then way in to the night as the boys and girls together danced and sung their way back into central London. Only as the sun rose, with the city beginning to wake, did the celebrations eventually fade. Dreams had come true.
Though a fairly light-hearted tone has been used to describe the events of the night, I’d personally like to state how much of a pleasure it has been to play with every single one of the squad this year. Special mentions go to Danny Wheller, Matt Wilde, Steven Lowe, Ali Grant, Joe Parry, Sebi Bacon, and of course Fahim Khan – all whom on Friday night played in their final Varsity match for the university.
Image credit: The Tab