Our First Team!
Our First Team!
Blueharts can trace their origins to 1922 when hockey was introduced to Hitchin Boys Grammar School. In spite of the absence of local opposition hockey rivalled soccer in popularity by the 1930s. The toughest fixture was the annual Old Boys game for it was old boys who kept the game alive in the area by arranging scratch fixtures as the Grammarians. The club was not formally constituted and games had ceased by 1939.
The war coincided with exceptionally strong and enthusiastic school teams. Recent leavers such as Dick Carnill and Peter Russell were able to organise games against many local forces and works teams under the name of North Herts. At the Old Boys game in March 1945 the OBs Association suggested reviving an OBs team. So with their and various school masters support Dick and Peter were joined by among others Pat Russell, Peter Thomas, Geoff Grant and Keith Guyton. Progress was necessarily slow because many were in the forces but North Herts won the 1945 Vauxhall 6s, then the premier tournament in the region.
"Blueharts" is born
By May 1946 they proposed to constitute a club to be called Blueharts; simply a hockey blue and Hertfordshire. All OBs were invited to attend the inaugural General Meeting on 28 September 1946. Blueharts played their first game that day, losing to Bedford Town 3-4 (Peter Thomas the present President scored twice). In that first season there were several crushing wins and only two defeats, Denys Carnill became the first of a stream of county representatives and a second eleven was raised. All this when over half the membership were not regularly in the district.
Looking back after 50 years the enthusiasm and commitment of the founding members was incredible. Capital was provided by a £20 loan (later gifted) from the OBs Association, clothing coupons were scrounged for kit and petrol coupons for away games and a fixture list for Saturdays and Sundays was compiled. All this at a time when we had no facilities of any kind. Home in 1946-47 and 1947-48 was King Georges Playing Fields Hitchin and in 1950-51 and 1951-52 the Froebel Institute Offley. Other pitches were hired, virtually on an adhoc basis, at the school, Letchworth Ladies HC, Stevenage CC and Playing Fields, Knebworth and Hexton CC as well as on Hitchin Cricket Ground. Fragile finances were supported by very profitable dances arranged at the Cherry Tree Welwyn GC.
In spite of the poor early pitches the teams strength under the guidance of the chairman Freddie Bowker and captain Pat Russell rapidly established the club within the county. An invitation to the 1948 Folkestone International Easter Hockey Festival was secured and the fixture patterns of the established clubs broken into. Denys Carnill later captained Great Britain, Geoff Powell played for Wales and Ray Denne attended Olympic training after scoring 41 goals in a season.
Lucas Lane pitches
We became joint tenants at Lucas Lane in 1953, the first two pitches were built on scrubland by club members and friends between 1952 and 54 under the direction of Geoff Grant, Peter Thomas and Derek Deans. The cost was thus kept down to £200 while the clubs reserves reduced to £4!
Through the 50s and 60s the club grew to 4 Saturday and 2 Sunday sides plus a colts team from 1958. The Grammar School, where Bob McLeish a Scottish International became games master, maintained a stream of fresh talent notably Tony Hull (later Canada), Brian Griffiths (Wales) and David Whitaker (GB) who returned later as games master at the school. The 1961-62 Colts squad of 25 boys drew the hockey worlds attention by winning 18 and drawing 1 of their 19 games. The captain John Cotton (Scotland U-23) gave the occasional game to his brother Bernie (GB).
In 1966 a joint development with the Cricket Club lead to an improved pavilion and a new first team pitch. As a by-product these extended facilities allowed Blueharts to gradually develop a club social into todays public fireworks spectacular.
Blueharts goes 'Open'
Through the 60s and 70s the first team were well served by regular county players such as Doug Hankin, David Walmsley, Mick Whitmore (Wales U-23), Malcolm Hunt (England trialist) and latterly Pat Brooker and Stuart Guyton. The club grew to 5 Saturday sides in 1970 but the lure of the London League, competition from other local sports clubs together with the change to comprehensive education and the increasing trend for old boys to leave the area reduced the catchment of members. The debate about whether to drop the Old Boy requirement was given impetus by the evolving league system; the club finally voted to go open in January 1977. The links with the school remain close, their strong hockey tradition has been maintained by an artificial pitch built with the help of Blueharts members and now used by the club.
Blueharts were East League runners-up in 1976-77 and champions in 1977-78. The following year we drew national attention by reaching the semi-finals of the National Cup. Various regional indoor hockey tournaments were also won. In this period the First Team were virtually still all OBs but a steady influx of new members allowed up to 7 Saturday teams to be fielded.
In 1980s the first team continued to perform consistently in the East League and a further extension of the ground -named after Geoff Grant to mark his lifetime involvement with both cricket and hockey club facilities- coincided with the formation of a ladies section in 1986. The main driving force and captain for the next 8 years was Judy Devereaux daughter of Peter Russell. Her brother Paul was then in the mens first team, further exemplifying the clubs strong family traditions.
The introduction of Leagues at most levels and of artificial surfaces has changed the game both tactically and socially. Block fixtures with all teams playing the same opposition are no longer possible. Both mens and ladies teams have adapted to the changes. The ladies qualified for the National League in 1992 and the men in 1995 under the captaincy of Dominic Camelleri (England) and management and coaching of Stuart Guyton and Pat Brooker. The club now runs 6 mens and 4 ladies teams with the occasional mixed side.
The club has been well served on the pitch and also off it by members, spouses and friends. Our growth to national standing required substantial administrative support; John Sampson, Treasurer from 1953-78 and many others have set examples for the future.
The future ...
As the playing membership enters its third generation we hope that the example set by the clubs founders will help it to continue to develop, both on and off the pitch, through the next 50 years.
- Alan "Frank" Middleditch
© Hitchin Blueharts Hockey Club 2002-2016
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