After a first round defeat to York in the EH Masters (Over 40s) Trophy, the old and wise of Adel dropped into the Masters Shield, designed to give all the first round losers another game. Looking at the draw, there is a strong southern bias to the last 25 teams in the tournament with 7 of the teams awarded byes through to the next round. Sadly, Adel were not that fortunate and the prospect of a tricky away tie was tempered by the fact that it was only as far as Durham when trips to Bath, Norwich or Old Wilfrudians (who?) might have to wait for another day.
The rearranged date saw some of the regulars no longer available with Greg Hilton away at one of his Christmas present experiences and others either unable to survive two games in a weekend (although in my case surviving one is a challenge in itself) or taking offspring back to University. A depleted squad of 12 was thankfully strengthened considerably when Ironman Sean Hewitt made himself available at the 11th hour and this proved decisive. Four of the squad no longer play Saturday hockey with the length of retirement varying from Stuart Boomer (2 seasons) through to Dave Robson (15 seasons). But a squad of 13 allowed some clever rotation of players, although perhaps not on the scale of our opponents who had at least 5 on their bench.
Durham veterans play at Maiden Castle which is the home of Durham University Sport. You would expect some seriously good facilities but the car park looked like it was recovering from the bursting of the banks of the local river and sadly the changing rooms had only three showers for 30 hockey players to share. An early arrival saw most of the Adel veterans reintroducing themselves to each other and reminiscing about victories in the previous millennium. Our opponents slowly appeared wearing a variety of tracksuits with a mixture of Sunderland HC and Durham City HC emblazoned on their backs. It quickly transpired that whilst we thought we were playing Durham over 40s, we were actually playing a mixture of Durham, Sunderland and Darlington over 40s, a cunning plan to say the least.
The modern water based pitch was something of a novelty for the men of Adel who were more accustomed to playing on the likes of Holt Park or Bedquilts. Durham started the game with lots of possession but not a great deal of penetration. After ten minutes they finally created a clear chance which was converted past the otherwise excellent Andy Miles. Was this to be the start of the floodgates opening? Would there now be a deluge of Durham goals? Would the Adel veterans realise their mistake and slip back into retirement quietly?
At this point, I was contemplating coming off for a rest having played my first 15 minutes of competitive hockey in about 5 seasons. As I signalled to the bench to prepare for the substitution, Sean Hewitt overturned the ball on the half way line and then linked up nicely in some slick passing moves with Simon Taylor and Simon Studholme in a flowing move down the left wing. Sean continuing his run picking up a reverse pass inside and drove towards the D where we suddenly realised we had a 2 on 1 with the last defender. A well timed pass and a first time shot saw Adel draw level with yours truly scoring although it was definitely a team goal by any definition.
The remainder of the half saw solid Adel defending with Simon Taylor, Nick Cooper and Carl Agar-Brennan providing a strong midfield shield to protect the defence. When we did take possession of the ball, our strong outlet was the marauding Giles Primmer down the right hand side of the pitch where he won several penalty corners which were sadly wasted (primarily due to a complete lack of practice or any idea who would do what). The one shot we did get from a corner was struck by Carl Agar-Brennan and took out one of the Durham vets on the line around his chest height. Other than that, neither side had any shots in anger and the half time break came just in time for the men of Adel to regroup, listen to Milesy’s words of wisdom and summon up the energy for the second half.
Skipper Akroyd had by now decided he had warmed up the bench enough and joined the forward line. Bob Sibley as the senior veteran felt it was his right to have a rest on the bench after some strong tackling and Scott Wardle (being scouted by a young lad from Ben Rhydding it would appear) managed to avoid getting injured and as a result put in a strong display in the centre of the defence. At this stage we asked what happened if the game was level at full time. Everyone was relieved to hear that there was no extra time and it would go straight to flicks so this gave us renewed energy to make occasional attacks towards the Durham goal. One such attempt led to another penalty corner. Despite his first half undercuts, Carl was once more trusted with the direct strike and his deflected shot was once again saved on the line by a Durham body but this time round about shin height. President Poll duly awarded the penalty stroke that could prove decisive to the outcome and 10 of the Adel team immediately retreated to the half way line. The fact that I was slow to do so was primarily due to a lack of match fitness and therefore as the nearest player to the ball and accepting Chairman’s responsibilities I lined up to take my first competitive flick for about 7 years (thanks team). The old trick of giving the keeper the eyes worked and the ball went one way as the keeper dived the other. 2-1 ahead, with about 15 minutes to go. Could we last out?
Well the answer was a categoric yes with all of the Adel veterans working tirelessly to keep the Durham (and Sunderland and Darlington) men outside of the D. Stuart Boomer rolled back the years to deny any Durham attacks down their right and to relieve the pressure with some long and accurate clearances to the forward line where Robson and Studholme (not to be confused with Robson and Jerome of Soldier Soldier fame) held the ball up well, killed time and ran down the clock.
At the final whistle, everyone had just enough energy to realise we would now have to do it all again – another away tie at either Preston or Lancaster, a long trek but still not as bad as Bath or Norfolk. An enjoyable post match beer at Durham rugby club with the novelty of the opposition buying us a jug of beer just like the old times. Restoring, more traditions like that and I might just have to come out of retirement….