It is fair to say The Top of the D is quite keen on hockey. If I could, I’d watch or play the game every day. I’m also pretty keen on people doing things for a good cause and helping others. Imagine if both could be combined somehow. That’d be fantastic, wouldn’t it? Well, as it happens, the Hockey for Heroes Tour fits just that bill.
The tour is the brainchild of two players, Carl Woods and Gary Ryder, both of whom have links to the armed forces. It features a 20 man squad of players from an assortment of clubs across England. Their plan is to tour the length and breadth of the country between 14 and 22 June playing club sides and the armed forces in an attempt to raise £20,000 for the Help the Heroes charity as well as building a strong network of contacts and friends to help with future events.
Woods told me: “I’m looking forward to being part of a unique experience and watching a small idea turn into a massive event. The fitness side of things will be the biggest problem (especially for me as I’m the oldest in the squad!) As you know hockey’s not a soft sport but our team is very competitive.”
He is right to highlight the physical demands. 23 games in eight days are a big ask for anyone. The quality of opposition too, is not to be sneezed at, as goalkeeper Robin Walker says: “I think we’ve got at least one tough game each day. We’re playing some clubs that have their 1st XI in National League such as Leek, Team Bath Buccaneers and Fareham as well as some other, very talented teams. The Army, Navy and RAF will never be easy games either.”
There are rumours that some of the clubs will be drafting in some special guest players, including Mark Pearn, who will reportedly turn out for former club Gloucester City. However, the Hockey for Heroes squad have their share of quality players, as Woods is keen to point out:
“Luckily enough we have a very talented squad ourselves so I’m confident we can give as good as we get. Tom Pickersgill (St. Albans HC) is a notable player and a penalty corner threat and Joel Forrester (Hertford HC) can find the net from anywhere in the D. I think our most recognisable player will be Adam Jordan from East Grinstead; he’s been involved with the Euro Hockey League for them this season and is a class act. We’ve got some pretty handy players.”
With a good squad at their disposal, Woods, who doubles as the team’s manager as well as playing has thrown the gauntlet down, declaring that Hockey for Heroes will win all the games. Walker is a little more reserved about the team’s chances. However he is determined to win at least one game in particular: “I’ll be looking forward to playing against Leeds HC as it’s my home team where I’m club captain. It’d be nice to get a win there!” He added: “We’ll take each game as it comes and do our best. Obviously we’re looking to pick up as many wins as possible and score as many goals as we can, but spreading the word of what we’re doing is a lot more important.”
Woods is obviously excited for himself and his team, but is also aware the success of the tour is reliant on people outside the squad: “I’m hoping that as many people get involved in the event as possible. We want them to donate, come to watch the games with their families and generally promote the whole event as much as possible.” His goalkeeper echoed that sentiment: “We are trying to be as interactive as we can. We have the full schedule confirmed so we’d love to see as many faces at each venue as possible. I understand that quite a lot of the clubs are arranging socials such as Race Nights, BBQs etc. on the nights that we’re there. We have a tracker installed on our minibus so you can see exactly where we are, we have a Facebook page and Twitter account set up so people will be able to follow the progress of how we’re doing on the tour.”
Unquestionably, the Hockey for Heroes squad has their work cut out. What is effectively an entire season in around eight days, as well as travelling in the region of 800 miles is no mean feat. Woods’ final word on the tour sums it up neatly: “The most important thing to remember is that this is not just a few hockey clubs being involved in a charity event. This squad represents every hockey club in England. We are just a small group of players acting on behalf of the “Hockey Family” and showing people what our sport can achieve when we put our resources together.”
So, feel free to get involved. Donate, go and watch a game or two, or send the boys a message on Facebook or Twitter to show your support. Towards the final few games, when the aches, pains, knocks and niggles have set in, they’ll really need the help.
You can find out more about the Hockey for Heroes tour by visiting their website here.