CLUB FILE SERIES: Mike Bettridge is playing his 50th year for his club Old Silhillians HC and has been missing the post-match analysis
What, no hockey? When the first lockdown started there were still two weeks remaining of the league season. At that stage nobody knew how long it was going to last, but what was certain was that those two matches would not be played and, what was almost worse, that as a team we would not be meeting up in the bar on either of those Saturdays.
I should explain that as a club, Old Silhillians is very lucky in having our astroturf pitch five yards from and just outside the windows of our bar.
This not only provides social views of matches being played but also convivial surroundings for “post-match analysis”. I am a player of some 50 seasons and, along with many members of our squad, I was schooled in the art of the post-match beer.
This is a habit that I have instilled in the minds of many up-and-coming players over the years and, I am proud to say, not without considerable success. All amateur sport should include both the game itself and a social element and I am old fashioned enough to include the opposition in that.
It will come as no surprise to learn that an alternative to our usual Saturday afternoon was quickly sought. WhatsApp was an immediate solution and within a few days a group was set up under the name of Virtual Saturday. The whole squad was involved and a match report duly filed on those remaining league fixtures. Needless to say, we won both convincingly!
This WhatsApp group has continued throughout all intervening lockdowns and tiered approaches to Covid-19 and is still going strong. The conversations have ranged through cricket, football and rugby as well as hockey. The additional banter has been no more or less than you would expect from the group of players that had been together for several seasons and quite a few of them for decades.
Meanwhile, for further hockey entertainment, my fellow team member (of only 45 seasons!), John Harrison, and I dug out some old Weymouth Easter Festival photographs of the 70’s and 80’s, put names to them and included them on the club website. As well as drawing out the “Did he have hair then” comments, this resulted in past players getting in touch with the club again. I do not think any of them asked for the photographs to be taken down.
Happily, during the summer we were able to get on the field of play for training and a few inter-team matches. During this time an old friend and fellow club player brought along his son to teach us a few skills and tricks. Brendan Creed proved a real eye-opener and raised everyone’s skills levels – even us old lags.
Whilst demonstrating a reverse stick pass, he told us to get down on one knee. He was slightly phased by the comment from one of my aged friends, “Hang on a minute. Can you help? I need to get up again!”
We played some hockey in the autumn with real opposition. Then we had the usual Christmas break during which we were locked down again. The WhatsApp group continues and we have now included Zoom meetings accompanied by the odd ale or two early on Saturday evenings, timed to be when we would have retreated to the bar after our usual 4 pm pushback.
That is how we are surviving, but it is without actually playing which is a considerable blow. At my age, I know that there are too few seasons left before my knees give up completely and simply not playing is no solution to prolonging my ability to appear on the pitch. It is not just physical. Hand-eye coordination slows down too.
Even if I took a stick and ball on the recommended daily exercise, it would look a bit odd dribbling down the local country lanes, trying to avoid oncoming cars, cattle, tractors…
So surviving is not really the word to use. Perhaps it should be stoic toleration whilst we await the vaccination process that will allow us all to get back to where we have been for the last 50 years.
Silhillians keep marching
Mike Bettridge is the third player in the last five years to have reached the 50th season landmark at the club.
Alan Cave and Neil Jennens both played their 50th seasons before retiring in recent years, and Mike has just completed his – and is threatening to step more into umpiring than playing. His foray as captain of our over-60s team (that made the national quarter-finals in recent Championships) may change his mind.
Alongside Mike, are regular players Keith Willetts and Craig Ffitch, who have both turned 70 this year, and play every week – with Keith having scored double figures of goals this season.
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