Saturday, May 18, 2024

Masters hockey return after life-time illness and family tragedy

Considering its location in the east end of Glasgow, Eastbank Academy was a paradox of production when it came to hockey in the late seventies and early eighties.

No one would have expected a school in that part of the city to play hockey, never mind produce so many junior internationalists. Those internationalists owe much of their success to the teachings of the late Ian Riddell; the charismatic PE teacher and former professional footballer. 

The statistics don’t lie: three Scottish Cups in four years; 10 junior internationalists in a seven-year spell; a veritable conveyor belt of talent and a great feeder system for Scottish Hockey.  

Some 40 years on there are three that continue to defy the damaging rigours of the sport and play Masters at the O55 level: Russell Bradley; Eric Briton and Derek Linden. 

Bradley and Briton have played almost continuously from those early days, but Linden has had some challenges along the way. 

At 22, Derek secured a job in retail which meant working alternate weekends. He kept up his hockey until promotions began to come along in his job, resulting in the demands on his time growing.  

A move to England meant that he would no longer be able to play for his first club, Eastbank FP. He did however play for his local club in Stokesley, North Yorkshire.  

Within a couple of years and now 29 years of age, he returned to Scotland and played for Stepps in the north of Glasgow. In 1994, playing in the first division of the then National League, he won player of the year for the Milerston club. 

At this time he met his future wife and as their first child came along, he knew that his hockey would need to be moved to a back-burner. Within 18 months their second child was born and he realised that his hockey would need to stop altogether. 

This is where his story takes a sinister turn – or two. In 2005 and in the second year of running his own business, Elaine, his wife, fell pregnant with their third child.

Complications in the pregnancy meant that the baby was born 10 weeks premature. Elaine survived for 15 more weeks before passing away. It left Derek with his eight year-old, six year-old and fifteen week-old sons; hockey was the furthest thing from his mind. 

He soldiered on with single-parenting and running his business, which took him away on international travel. And it was on one of those trips, five years later, that he contracted a very rare disease; Chronic Inflammatory Demylenating Poly-neuropathy. The condition left him in a wheelchair for nine months and the message was stark: you will walk but running will always be a struggle from this day forward. At the time he was 47 and running 20 minutes 32 seconds for 5k.  

Two days in hospital every five weeks to receive a new immune system through intravenous drips meant that he was curtailed in many of the things that he wanted to do; especially his hockey, but he was determined to work through his condition and come out the other side. 

Somehow, miraculously, seven years later he managed to overcome this life-time illness and be discharged from care.  

Coinciding with this recovery, his old school friend Eric Briton had been asked if he knew of any ex-players who may want to come back to the sport and play in the Masters. He immediately thought of Derek and Russell. The trio played in the Home Nations O55s earlier this summer, while Derek will go on to play in the World Cup in Cape Town this October. 

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