Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Mike Ward: a truly remarkable hockey icon 

Hockey goalkeeper, umpire, umpire developer, administrator extraordinaire, strong amateur tennis player, renowned public speaker, battlefield historian and quiz star. Richard Macer, Hon. Secretary Southern Counties H.A, pays tribute to the late Mike Ward

Mike Ward was a war baby born in December 1942. He was a lifelong lover of the county of Dorset, first attending the local prep school ‘The Birches’ in Blandford and then onto the newly opened Castle Court School in Wimborne where he became head boy. 

He progressed to senior school away at Monkton Combe near Bath where, yet again, he became head boy. That role theme clearly defined his next 60 years, as in virtually every activity he was ever involved, particularly administratively, he soon became the lead or the chairman!

Amongst his school alumni are his two younger brothers: Peter (Colonel in the Royal Marines) and the late Timothy (a notable actuary), and amongst many others in his actual school year: Sir Richard Stilgoe and Tony Blackburn – both from the world of entertainment. 

It was at Monkton that he probably first encountered field hockey and from day one played in goal. It is likely he was seen as an able sportsman with no previous hockey skills from his prep school days and thus put into goal.

Hockey certainly was not his main sport at the time, as he was a very accomplished young tennis player and that skill was reflected in his choice of university: Oxford or Cambridge? He chose Cambridge after he reviewed where he felt it would best suit his tennis skills! 

He went to Downing College and teamed up with Mark Cox who was in the same academic year and College. Together they both won blues for tennis, although strictly speaking it was only classed as a half blue, being a mere minor sport! Having gained their respective degrees Mike went on to practise law by profession, while Mark went on to be a professional tennis player! 

Mike played his adult sport in Bournemouth, performing in goal for Bournemouth hockey 1st XI at the delightful Kinson Park ground in winter and playing tennis at the East Dorset tennis Club in the summer. He played hockey for Hampshire in goal and for Dorset in both sports, in the era when playing for one’s county was an outstanding honour for any sportsperson.

He also dabbled in playing some real tennis and squash, but the latter was limited as a childhood heart condition could not match his racquet skills enough to play too much.  He was spotted in goal once (in a non league match) sitting on the back board, smoking his pipe and reading a newspaper. Clearly, his goalkeeping skills were not needed too much that day! When he did progress later to wearing a flimsy face mask, a pipe could often be seen poking through. 

Even in his early active adult playing days, Mike was soon involved in hockey administration. He was a founder member of the then rebel, South Men’s Hockey League which started in season 1972/73 with several county divisions of up to 10 teams across the 8 South Region Counties – all playing each other once. Havant HC just piped Bournemouth HC in the Hampshire Division 1 title that season, but only on goal difference!

To have so many teams involved in the inaugural season was in itself no mean feat and tribute to Mike and his fellow committee members. The South League went from strength to strength, quickly attaining the largest number of league teams in the country with eventually over 650 men’s teams involved. The league committee still stands with Mike (as chair!) through to its 50th year this season 21/22 and is working towards agreeing a fitting finale and then a likely dissolvement later in 2022.  

In the mid 1970s he began his umpiring career whilst still playing some matches in goal and he soon progressed to umpire top matches which at the time was in the London League and top of the South League – equivalent of the current national premier division. That entailed substantial travel between London and Poole each time, to cover those games. He did umpire more locally as well, often making the trip to Weymouth and at the time of his 40th birthday, after the game there, he then possibly over indulged whilst visiting several pubs along Weymouth harbour.  

His administrative portfolio increased along with his umpiring progression as his playing career slowly wound down.  He continued to umpire at a good standard into his early 70s and then stepped down a little to start assessing and coaching umpires. By then he had had a pacemaker fitted and somehow he had the ability to adjust the device up, in order to follow the umpires and keep up with play! 

He served both Hampshire and Dorset HAs in several capacities for both adults and juniors, from those early days right up to point of his passing. He initially joined the Southern Counties Hockey Association (SCHA) as the Hampshire representative.

His attention to detail, decision making and listening skills also meant he was soon involved in helping out the lead body of hockey at the time, the England Hockey Association, where he soon became well known to fellow administrators across the country.  For so many clubs he became the person to know and was available to resolve all sorts of issues with his knowledge of the game and particularly how best to manage disciplinary matters.

He had a great rapport with every Hampshire based club and they all held him in great esteem. His annual top-up of such communication with those clubs was at the Hampshire Cup Finals day event “Hampshire Day”, where it is hard to recall whether he ever missed one.

This also meant he was fully booked every year, attending various club dinners and was usually asked to speak. His oratory skills were phenomenal as he appeared to have an endless supply of anecdotes, well supported by sporting and political jokes to fit any occasion. He was so good, it usually meant he was then asked to go again the following year. 

In 1983 he travelled to New Zealand to the first ever hockey Golden Oldies international tournament, no doubt as an umpire. He was so enthralled with the concept he managed to convince the organisers to agree to Bournemouth acting as hosts which duly happened in 1989! A huge administrative task.  

With national success in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and the emergence of astroturf pitches the game saw immerse change over the next 5-10 years. The game also grew in popularity, clubs expanded and skill levels and the speed of the game changed dramatically becoming watchable to a much wider audience. Thus administration support was needed to match it.

In the end the England Hockey Association struggled to cope financially and a new limited company, England Hockey (EH), emerged in 2003. The administrative changes were immense and Mike, in his SCHA chairman’s role, worked hard linking the new body to the grass roots he knew so well, as he skilfully struck a balance between EH and South clubs regarding the pace of change.

He was to be responsible for appointing the current UK Sport CEO Sally Munday, EH Development Director Rich Beer (and many others) all as young fledgling administrators on their career paths as the EH link person to the South Region.  Such change was needed to introduce the English National League elite level of competition and to restructure the regional youth programmes into a more consistent national unit, which has taken a number of iterations, in order to raise the all round level of skill in the game and support the National teams at all levels. 

The more recent far reaching changes of the EH Governance review have taken things to another level, removing a lot of old historical anomalies across the country. Mike, like many, felt the pace of change for that during the recent Covid periods had been too quick and was happy to say so!  Time will no doubt see many of the review’s overall aims to indeed be the right ones. 

His passing came a bit earlier that he had planned as he wanted to ensure these new hockey structures were all working well and then give time to dissolve his long standing Committees (probably later this year) and ensure he celebrated his 80th birthday in style. He did not quite make that but, there are plenty of his close friends who will no doubt ensure that he will be remembered on that day. 

Finally, domestically outside the hockey world, Mike had a passion for quizzes and battlefield history. He was a major authority on both. In recent years he loved to attend his local pub quiz, usually weekly, with his close lifelong friends referred to amongst themselves, as “The Secret 7”.  Its importance to him was such that committee meetings were always fitted around quiz nights, all scribbled into a minute paper diary that he carried around with him.

In the mid 1990s, he even entered the TV quiz programme 15 to 1 winning several programmes in a row to be forwarded to the champions of champions to prove he was indeed no slouch when it came to general knowledge.  He also had a passion for historical warfare facts. He was well read, with bookcases of related books to support him. He could actually quickly recall much of the detail from his head, frequently contacting newspapers and magazines when he spotted they had printed the wrong facts! He would top up his reading by going on European battlefield tours and again was happy to correct his guides where he felt their information was wrong or lacking. 

Norman Hughes, former England hockey captain, summed him up as “a wise leader.” Those two words go very well together in connection with Mike.  It was thus no surprise in 2018 that he received England Hockey’s coveted Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his phenomenal contribution to the sport for close on 50 years.  

From now on the date February 14, will for many of us, not only relate to St. Valentine’s day but also the day on which we lost a truly remarkable hockey icon. 

Edward Michael Ward (9.12.1942 – 14.2.2022) 

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