One year on from their Jaffa Super 6s success, The Hockey Paper goes behind the scenes at Buckingham Hockey Club to chart the small town club’s rise
Gordon Wiseman remembers the first time he came across hockey. It was around 1978 when he went to watch the ladies play on the grass at Buckingham CC, their ancestral home which still encompasses their current clubhouse. Short of an umpire, he was asked to officiate despite never having watched a match, let alone one on a pitch which had a gradual one metre slope. Over 40 years on, he still umpires to this day.
The 66-year-old biochemist is also approaching 40 years as president and chairman of the club. Buckingham’s Jaffa Super 6s indoor success last year, he says, was his greatest moment of a four-decade reign. “They keep pushing the boundaries on my expectations,” says Wiseman of the women’s 1s. “I think it’s the first time any team in Buckingham town has become a national champion.”
Born in the 1950s, Buckingham HC started life in a league which involved local sides such as Leighton Buzzard, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury. They soon reached the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Division 1 and their promotion gallop ensued.
Eleven promotions in 15 years to the national leagues and from there to the Investec Premier Division, via an EH Trophy win over Teddington and, in the same year, an unbeaten season in the South 2 with the likes of Zoe Shipperley and Jo Hunter facing up to a rising Surbiton side.
“That signalled where we might be going,” says Wiseman. “It was an exciting time and we learnt a lot back then.”
The club, says Wiseman, were “treading water” and then won the West League for the next three years before eventual promotion to the Premier Division in 2013/14. “We didn’t want to be a yo-yo team and we are now an established team in the Prem. We’ve always seen ourselves as the fourth or fifth in the division with the talent we have at the club.”
Part of the club’s future is now to see its own clubhouse next to the pitches where they play at Stowe School. This is firmly on Wiseman’s wish list. “We are in a phase of rebuilding the club, we are dependent on juniors and availability is always an issue,” he admits. “But there aren’t many clubs where you can go from grass roots to the Premier Division if you have the aspirations and talent to do it.”
The club has been at Stowe for around 20 years, the school having been the perfect bedfellow in the intervening years. The only obstacle they have overcome was when floodlights were installed and couldn’t use them due to a stringent local council which suggested it “might harm the badgers”. Wiseman was full of kindness in his response, highlighting that there was an elite women’s side trying to make its way. The green light was given shortly afterwards.
Finishing as runners-up the previous year proved the catalyst. “I said to our captain [Alex Naughalty], ‘don’t forget, you’ve got to lose a final to win a final’.
“They realised the anguish. So we were quite determined this time. The margins were all very tight. We had a great travelling support which is typical of the club. And of course we had Zak as well. He is a superb coach and is Buckingham through and through.”
As a new century dawned, Welshman Zak Jones received a call which ultimately paved the way for the club’s long road to the top echelons of the domestic outdoor campaign and indoor glory. Asked by a club official if he would consider taking over the women’s 1s as coach, Jones took up the offer and turned up for his first training session at the town’s leisure centre.
Ten players were in attendance and his first call was to ask them to do a ladders’ session. His goalkeeper “weighed about 20 stone”, was smoking a cigarette and didn’t last the pace. By hook or by crook, Jones began to assemble a team.
There’s no doubting that Jones, who is also the Wales men’s coach, has been the nerve centre of Buckingham’s rise. But perhaps it’s thanks to his now wife Tracy, who first went to work at Stowe School, for Jones sticking with the club.
He has had offers to move over the years, for “three or four times” the money with more established clubs, but has remained loyally rooted. “Being promoted with that group and investing so much, it means more than going to a bigger club and having all the resources,” he says.
“Sometimes it seems you are fighting against funds and resources but coaching is about people and why you are continually invested and connected. The girls are self-policing, they train and work hard and have incredible resilience. I have a massive infinity with them all.”
Yet, in the early years, he remembers one period when the club was struggling for outdoors numbers and he decided upon his future. He duly credits Tracy [then Hooker, a central midfielder] for overseeing the junior programme and returning to the field after originally halting her career following a cruciate ligament injury.
Jones looked back at some of his cuttings and diaries and came upon an entry from around 2006 where he gave a speech joking references to one day playing in the Premier Division.
No one at the club thought the day would ever arrive. But nearly 15 years on they are, as Wiseman says, an established side. With a rare trophy too. Yet Jones admits victory has still to really sink in. Juggling several jobs, he went straight back to Stowe on the Sunday with his children – where is also a school house parent with his wife – and was back at work early the next morning.
“But the win is right up there,” he says. “When you do things with the people you’ve known for so long, it means so much more.”
Jones also rates victory on a par with indoor trophy success he garnered as player/coach with Canterbury men in 2007. “It was an amazing day for the club. As a coach, sitting on a comfortable 4-0 lead is great but it was always on a knife edge and it was a bit more emotional [at the Copper Box].”
WHAT THEY SAY
“Zoe understands the club and has had the opportunity to leave to a bigger club when she was on the GB programme. But showing that loyalty while sitting at the top, the girls only need to look at players like Zoe for the commitment needed.”
Zak Jones on long-serving player Zoe Shipperley
“From where Buckingham started I don’t think anyone could have believed Buckingham could play in Europe. It’s amazing, Zak has masterminded the whole thing and we wouldn’t be here without him. He has an answer for everything, the tactics to play and when and there is nothing he doesn’t know. He makes us all believe we can do it as well.”
Lottie Porter on the indoor title
ROAD TO EUROPE
Starting out indoor life in Division 2 North, Buckingham played purely for enjoyment – and without a goalkeeper. Using Marmite pots as players in their tactical sessions, the club battled on and this season marked their third in the top flight. Beating previous winners East Grinstead and Bowdon to taste glory, the club will now set out on the well-trodden hockey path of fundraising, race nights and raffles to pay their way.
“Little Buckingham’s’ success is also a fantastic women in sport story. We have got great aspirations,” says Wiseman. “We want to go to Europe and represent the country. We have relatively small finances and are looking for good sponsors where we also want to give back to them.”
They will naturally enjoy the ride. A team with a penchant for dance routines around tournaments, Porter admitted that they would have given the dance troupe which performed at the Super 6s a run for their money. “It’s an amazing club, we do dance routines off the pitch and we just want to have fun with it,” she says. “We can dance into Europe now and we have two amazing routines to go with it. We can’t wait.”
HOW IT ONCE WAS
The ladies 1st XI at the Southend Festival in the mid 1980s.
The club was then called Buckingham Ladies Hockey Club which was only changed a few years ago to BHC when it started accepting junior boys and the new men’s 1st XI.
This is my second year in the junior section, it is such an amazing club and it was so exciting to see lots of our coaches playing hockey at the indoor finals.
When Buckingham made it to the Super 6 finals, I knew that I wanted to go and watch them. Both matches were so nail biting. On the penalty corner in the last few seconds of the final, I couldn’t even watch. Luckily Buckingham’s defence held on and they won! We all jumped out of our seats cheering.
The atmosphere was so amazing as we went as a big group. It was really good fun talking to some of the team when they joined us during their breaks. I want to be a hockey player when I am older, so it was really inspiring and exciting seeing them win. Abbie Brant used to be a teacher at my school and used to teach me hockey, so it was so much fun to see her play and all of our coaches.
Bella Hinde-Smith, 10
This feature was written before the pandemic in 2020. Buckingham are awaiting confirmation of participation in the 2022 Euro indoors as national winners following cancellation of the 2021 tournament