On Sunday 31 March 2019 Iain Lewers announced his retirement from hockey.
Well, he didn’t, his fiancée Georgie Twigg took to Twitter to do so on his behalf. In a way, that’s quite apt. Lewers, despite his undoubted class as a player, despite his steely will to win and desire to be the best, has never been one to covet the spotlight. A player who would always prefer to let his hockey do the talking; it is little surprise he decided to drift off into the background with a minimum of fuss.
I feel it’s appropriate to say something as I know he won’t do it himself but today Iain hangs up his hockey stick. He’s certainly had some highs and lows in his hockey career but what a fantastic career he’s had and I am incredibly proud of everything he has achieved! pic.twitter.com/pcc4MizH8p
— Georgie Twigg (@georgietwigg) March 31, 2019
You only have to glance at the replies to Twigg’s tweet to see the high regard Lewers is held in as a player. They all echo the same sentiments: “Top class, irreplaceable, a pleasure to watch, wonderful player, lovely bloke” are all recurring themes and the list of people paying tribute to the two-time Olympian reads like a who’s who of hockey.
Lewers has not had your average career as a player. He made 89 appearances for Ireland, making his debut in 2004 for the Boys in Green. However in 2008 he made the tough decision to switch allegiance to England and Great Britain.
People can debate the rights and wrongs of the decision until the cows come home but the fact remains that Lewers showed incredible courage, dedication and faith in his own abilities when he made that call.
Serving a three year period out of international hockey whilst he waited to qualify for England and GB with no guarantees at the other end would have been enough to make anyone question their choices. Lewers backed himself and his convictions paid off. He played in two Olympic Games, the World Cup and a large number of other tournaments for England and Great Britain before his successful international career came to an end in 2016.
Today is a sad day for hockey as Iain Lewers calls it time on his fantastic career. Not only one of the most talented and toughest players I’ve had the chance to play with but a great person and even better friend. See you on the golf course. https://t.co/sbJ2KApZP4
— Ashley Jackson (@ashleyjackson7) March 31, 2019
From a personal standpoint, when I first started covering hockey I got Lewers totally wrong. I found him to be an extremely intimidating presence. I’d seen his determination on the pitch, his sky-high standards and his unshakeable will to win and coupled with his quiet demeanour off the pitch I was, to say the least, apprehensive about approaching him for an interview.
When I finally plucked up the courage to ask him I found that yes, he is all the things I thought on the pitch, but off the pitch he is polite, warm and friendly. A far cry from the tornado of a player you saw out on the pitch. A shy, unassuming character who likes a laugh as much as any of the other players and who dedicated a hell of a lot of time talking to that fat lad with the blog who kept turning up at all the games (me!) Every time I have seen him since, I have still found this to be the case.
As a player he was comfortable on the ball, calm, unflappable. He seemed to have time when there shouldn’t be time, possessed one HELL of an aerial and just seemed to know where to be and what to do at all times. Those sound like things you would expect international players to have in abundance but there was something about Lewers, an aura and a presence that just made him different. On his day he was among the best defenders in the world. And of course, in amongst all the great moments in his career, he provided probably my favourite hockey moment of all time.
The winning goal against Belgium in the winner-takes all pool game in the 2014 World Cup is for me, a neat summary of what made Lewers great. Not only did he deal with the HUGE pressure of the moment with a minimum of fuss, instead of a wild celebration once the ball hit the net his first thought was to organise his team mates and ensure England got the job done. Laser focus. Relentless will to win. Classic Lewers.
Thanks for Belgium, thanks for all the other memories and good luck with the next challenge, Iain!