Monday, April 15, 2024

‘Blackheath has been accepted as oldest hockey club for 160 years – it’s a bit late to change now’

In November, The Hockey Paper published a story on the oldest hockey club in the world after research revealed that Teddington have a rightful claim to the status. 

Here, Matt Wilde, Blackheath’s co-chair, writing ‘on behalf of the good members of The Oldest Hockey Club in The World’, was asked for a response to our research. The response was a lengthy one, as the club outlined why it ‘rightfully’ exists as the oldest in the sport.

“Each club has its role and place in history. We don’t deny Teddington their role so why are they or others trying to deny our existence by counter claiming? Who other than Teddington HC and yourself cares about this? Why does it matter?  

Hockey is for all clubs, no one club owns it – and Blackheath certainly don’t claim to. It all seems very unseemly to be trying to stir all this up 160 years after the fact. Why the need to go to such lengths to insert Teddington into history they’re already part of when no one is arguing that without them and other early clubs, the game would not look like it currently does. Such evolution through sport is the same for many, many sports, it’s a constant process.

It is true that Teddington HC, as well as other significant clubs have developed rules that have commonality with formats that have fed into the modern game. But if Teddington felt they had a hugely different game to Blackheath then why did they call it hockey? 

They could have called it something else if they thought it was a different game? They chose to also call it hockey. Fine, that’s their choice. Football now looks nothing like it did at its origins. Lots of sports have variations on rules and formats, and these are always constantly changing.

The rules of hockey have changed continually since the beginning of time. How is the ‘modern’ hockey game on a plastic pitch with a plastic ball the same as any formats that came before? Regarding specific rules for example; you are now allowed 16 players although not all on the field at the same time! 

The balls played with are completely different to the ones played with in 1961 let alone 1861. We now play on astroturf, not grass. It is an ever changing game. If you follow the rules argument then hockey as we know it started in 2021 with the latest reiteration including changing rules about players with Goalkeeper privileges for example. 

Whilst the rules played in 1861 are different from those of today that would also apply to the rules of 1875. Hockey, like all sports, evolves. We’re pretty certain that cricket as played at Mitcham (supposedly the oldest) is very different from that played today.

Parliament played Blackheath in a game played under the 1861 rules to mark the 150th anniversary in 2012

It is worth noting that Blackheath HC definitely always played with a ‘ball’, ahough they settled on one made from a solid rubber cube which was rounded with edges taken off into a ball. We did not play with a perfect cube as they presented in the film they showed before international matches a few years ago at Lee Valley stadium. The reason it was a rubber ball was because other balls and ball substitutes were not robust enough and kept falling apart.

So, it’s a fact that Gentlemen of Blackheath were hitting a spherical object with bent sticks in 1861 and it was called a Hockey Club. In addition:

In 1961 this fact was accepted by the Hockey Associations of England, Scotland, Ireland and many other nations who attended our Centenary Dinner along with the representatives of many clubs including Teddington.

The various Presidents and Officers of the Hockey Association/England Hockey have attended and spoken at our centenary, our 125th and our 150th Anniversary celebrations, held respectively in the 1961, 1986 and 2011 seasons.

In the official event programme for the London 2012 Olympics it was noted that Blackheath were the oldest club.

In 2012 the president of England Hockey attended the 150th anniversary of Blackheath HC and gave a speech with kind words regarding the history and future of the club.

So Officialdom has clearly accepted our foundation as a hockey club in 1861. There is a continuous 160-year history of records and membership although our members did stop playing while they were fighting the First World War and were slow to restart after it.

So we feel no need to strive to prove Blackheath are the oldest hockey club. We just are. Constituted in 1861. It was the first established hockey club. We played hockey as it was known then and as it had been known for decades before. We continued to play against various other clubs in the 10 years prior to 1871 when Teddington HC was formed. We have played hockey ever since. We have been accepted and ‘rightfully’ exist as the oldest club for 160 years, it’s a bit late to change that now.”

‘It’s undoubtedly Blackheath’

According to the book “Hockey” written in 1899 by P.A. Robson and J. Nicholson-Smith, the publication states: “This club was formed not later than the year 1840. Members are still living who were playing at that date”.

This fact was endorsed by Neville Miroy in “The History of Hockey” published by Lifeline Ltd for the Hockey Association Centenary in 1986. Miroy states:  “The first Hockey Club was undoubtedly Blackheath”.

The oldest record in the club’s possession is the minute book of 1861 which refers to the subscription being 7/6 and the retiring secretary Mr.R.O’Neill. 

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