Jean Arnold is something of an icon in Liverpool. The 79-year-old has been a revered PE teacher in the region for decades and her tireless work has seen her nominated for unsung hero and lifetime achievement awards in recent years. Yet it is her vision for City of Liverpool Juniors HC which could herald her greatest achievement with the barriers she currently faces.
Hockey in Liverpool, she says, is not on equal footing with Greater Manchester or Cheshire and Jean stresses that this is because of a dearth of independent schools in the area and of on-site facilities.
And so it was that CoL Juniors – an extension of the oldest club in the city, Liverpool Ladies, where she was captain for nearly a decade – was set up three years ago by Jean after she came into difficulties at a previous club, which said she couldn’t run a team or coach on Saturdays.
She couldn’t be fussed with the politics and Jean soon set up a Friday coaching programme for juniors. The small club has since made its way rapidly into the Lancashire leagues. They may be junior players, but they are playing adults on a weekly basis. And thriving.
She recalls one of set games in particular which struck a coaching chord when CoL Juniors played Merseyside Police in Lancashire Women’s League Division 2. They lost 9-0 in their first season, losing all their games in the process. In the second season they played the Police, the team told Jean they “wouldn’t get five goals against us”. She adds: “We lost 6-3 but they were determined to say they hadn’t lost thanks to not losing by five. On the third occasion, they came up to me and said, ‘We’ve beaten them!’
“People come up to me and say that we shouldn’t put young ones against older ones as it will get them disappointed and leave the game. But if they have got the guts they will work out various strategies, determinations and methods to play them in a way they can only learn from it.”
Social obstacles are also being negotiated. “When they began county trials they wouldn’t get the ball and they were called lazy. But it’s not because of that; take Liverpool children outside of the city and they have no confidence. They just didn’t have the confidence to pick the ball up, put it on the line and hit it. It was moments of panic. They would think ‘I’ve got possession of the ball and I don’t know what to do with it’. But with Friday nights and Saturday morning training, they are now a lot more confident.”
What Jean also craves in Liverpool is a club with a facility. She thinks that a link with cricket and netball will increase members at Liverpool CC, where the CoL Juniors holds its socials. Pay for the use of the pitch and regenerating the funds to pay for much of the outlay is her hope of raising enough funds to pay for a replacement in 20 years’ time.
It’s a Friday night when I speak to Jean on the telephone. She is preparing for another voluntary weekend taking juniors to JAC hockey. Into her 80th year, Jean is also still working. She has a job at Liverpool College as a PE adviser and admits that she is selflessly putting all those earnings back into the hockey club.
Asked on the back of this if England Hockey are offering assistance and Jean pauses. “They are putting so much money into elite that there’s nothing left for grass roots. I always feel I am fighting uphill. But because the children love it, you get on with it regardless. You just carry on. I’m not a spender and I subsidise the club quite a bit. But if you’re prepared to do something, well you just do it.” For 60 years she has done just this. It’s this final piece of support she needs and so deserves.