Saturday, February 24, 2024

Hockey Social: How I was bitten by the Wales women’s Masters bug

In our regular anything goes Q&A, we speak to players and coaches on topics ranging from temptations, influences, fashion sense and match teas. This week: Welsh over-40 Masters player Abby MacArthur

 When and where did you start playing hockey?

I was lucky enough to go to a pretty sporty school in Taunton that had an astro, so I started playing hockey at eight in the late 1980s. Inners were still a thing, sticks were clunky and wooden and we had those horrific gym skirts with the pleats and the weird little train track waistband fastening. 

Why? School dictated it but when I had to move to a completely new area because of my Dad’s job, I soon realised that team sports were a great way of making a whole bunch of new friends. Hugely important to a geeky 11 yr. old with a posh accent trying to fit in! 

When and where did you first play Masters?

I think my first year for club masters was also the inaugural year for the Cardiff women’s Masters squad – 2015. We had a couple of Masters legends in the club who took the initiative, pulled an epic squad together and introduced a young squad to the fun that can be had at the Wales club masters tournament. We’ve been a firm fixture at the tournament ever since – a true hockey family welcoming in other club members of a certain age to make up our numbers. Internationally, 2019/20 popped my cherry for Wales Masters trials and I was lucky enough to be named for the squad that was, unfortunately, never to compete as Covid hit hard. Thankfully, the majority of us reconvened in 2021 and I had my first taste of playing with the Wales Over 40s squad – the Fablas 40s. What a team! 

What attracted you to Masters hockey? My very first taste of Masters hockey was actually a lot earlier as I lined up to umpire a Wales vs England Masters’ test back when I was probably early 30s. I looked to my left to find the England captain was my old PE teacher from high school!! It was a really competitive match with an excellent display of skill and experience – and everyone seemed to be having so much fun.

There was so much respect and admiration for each other and it was clear that there were strong friendships across the two teams. As I got closer and closer to ‘coming of age’, club mates who were already involved in Wales Masters began the drip drip of reeling me in. Seeing them returning to club pre-season, bodies broken from the international summer season, but smiling from ear to ear and full of stories, I couldn’t help but get bitten by the Masters bug.

Best memories: As a relative newbie to the International scene – and with a disrupted Covid season putting the kibosh on competition, everything clicked for me at the Nottingham Invitational 2021. The tournament brought so many age groups together across Wales, England and Scotland and I got to see a snippet of what it’s all about. Our squad already had an incredible bond and this only grew through the weekend – culminating in the standard rivalry of the Wales vs England match on the last day.

We played out of our skins – there was so much trust amongst the team, coaches and management. We all played for each other and had England running scared – another five minutes and we would’ve slotted away at least one more goal. Alas, the whistle caught up with us but I’m told it was our most impressive performance against England – the score line was so close, but England took the 2-1 win. We were all buzzing – it was clear which team had come out on top despite the final score. England were deflated and quiet in their cool down – we unleashed our legendary Welsh voices and were grinning and singing all the way to the bar! 

Worst moment: I know it’s often an unfortunate part of the game and is never intentional, but being the player that injured three team mates on three separate occasions in the lead up to a tournament was horrible. I’ve been forgiven 10 times over and, thankfully, no life changing injuries or anything that took them out of competition.

But I still relive a couple of those moments and have to have words with myself to box it up and not let it affect my confidence. Luckily I have wonderful team-mates and coaches who take most opportunities to remind the squad of my reputation and the ensuing banter tends to release the tension. Another great thing about hockey – the banter, support and good-natured p***takes keep you grounded and sane in a competitive environment which could send your mental health spiralling. 

Your best clubhouse story? The Love Train (see above). One pitch side hug + the legendary Welsh cwtch + some classic 70s Motown = our safe and happy place. True Welsh friendships, respect, love and the hockey family.  

Any absences from the game due to injuries or ‘life’? Shredded my ACL trying (and failing) to show off some fancy footwork on the pitch – played a full indoor season waiting for the results of the MRI before I decided I should really be up on blocks! Surgery waiting lists took me out of the game for a full season and a half and then I rushed the rehab so still suffering from niggles which need attention a couple of times a season. Returning to the game was tough – not physically, but mentally as I had to re-establish myself all over again. New team-mates to bond with, missed experiences where I’d missed the joke and I think there might have even been a cheeky FIH rule change to deal with. 

Best thing about Masters hockey? I’ve played club hockey against a lot of my Masters team for years – loving and hating them equally, without really even knowing them outside of the 70min match. I’ve learned so much about people I’ve known for a lifetime and, if I’ve hated playing against them, I’ve loved playing with them. I’m learning new skills and tactics and the exposure to high level international competition is only improving my overall game, as well as my love for the sport.  

Why do you keep playing? I can’t imagine being without the laughter and tears that come with being part of a team. I’ve made the best friends that have seen me at my best and worst, and are still there picking me up and putting me down when I need it. Playing club and Masters hockey, and being an umpire, makes for a busy life but I wouldn’t change it – even though my family often ask me to!  

Toughest thing about the impact of Covid? I’m still trying to get the balance right but so is everyone else and there are positives to come out of the pandemic. Recognition and focus on mental health encourages us all to talk and be frank about what might be making us uncomfortable. I can’t thank my friends and team-mates enough for the support we’ve all shared in getting back into hockey post-lockdown. 

Current playing activity: I think I’m quickly approaching my 25th year with Cardiff & Met Hockey club – playing in the Wales Premier 1 division for our women’s 2s. The whole club is a great environment nurturing so many age groups from tots to pensioners with an impressive line-up of past, present and future senior Wales and GB players. 

The NET Over 35 and Over 40 Masters World Cups is taking place at Nottingham Hockey Centre between Aug 12-21

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