This week we welcome the return of Keith Lewis to these pages with a fascinating and very entertaining trip back to memories of supporting SHC at the European Cup. From Barcelona to Bloemendaal to…Swansea Keith relives the experience of SHC riding the highs and lows of life as a SHC supporter on tour.
Here we go Again – A Supporter’s Memories of the European Cup
After the initial panic had subsided when I was asked to write this article within a seven day deadline, I set about searching for my copies of brochures and other memorabilia collected from previous campaigns. This in itself was a fascinating exercise and the memories came flooding back of past trips which ended in triumph and sometimes despondency. The supporter may only be looked upon as being there for the beer, but what happens on the pitch can often determine the difference between a successful or unsuccessful tour. The tension can sometimes be unbearable when watching a closely fought game which may be an excuse for taking solace in drink, if only to steady the nerves. On the other hand, it may manifest itself in other ways which may explain why I have lost some of my hair in the last fifteen years.
My first season with Southgate Hockey Club was 1970/71 and whilst when I joined, I knew it was a club with a long hockey pedigree I never imagined that in the years to follow I was going to witness what have been some of the great moments in English club hockey. The President at the time was Laurie Norman, the 1st XI Captain Ron Peacock, whilst the 2A XI Captain was none other than our current President Robert Watson. I would also mention that the European Club Championship as it was known had only started in the previous year in 1969 in Brussels with not a British, let alone English, representative in sight. That did not happen until 1973 and 1974 when Hounslow HC finished 9th on both occasions.
Southgate in Europe
Our entry to the European scene started in 1975 in Frankfurt when a supporting cast was also in attendance and the seeds were sown for the future competitions to come. At our first attempt we won the bronze medal, although many who saw the game against Frankfurt 1880 will tell you we were robbed and it was a travesty of justice not to have reached the Final. Nevertheless, this only made our resolve that much stronger and now we are about to commence our ninth European appearance in the last fifteen years. Our record is unsurpassed in Britain, having won the Cup on three occasions in 1976, 1977, 1978 and the “B” competition in 1987, come third in 1975 and 1983 and fifth twice in 1979 and 1988.
Much has been written about the 1st XI’s achievements and has become part of the Club’s folklore. The euphoria of winning the Cup in Amsterdam for the first time in 1976, Mike Corby stopping three short corners on the line in the 1977 semi-final at Harlington, David Owen saving a penalty in the 1978 semi-final, followed by the completion of a hat-trick of wins with Bernie Cotton scoring three goals in the final to clinch our success. I hope we will be able to add to this list, for example, that Sean Kerly and/or Rupert Welch scored a hat-trick in the 1989 final securing a fourth gold medal for the Club.
Aside from these stirring performances how have the supporters fared? For my part and I cannot recall the reason now, I missed the first trip to Frankfurt, so my “support” began in Amsterdam in 1976. Although as already mentioned the hockey was outstanding, the accommodation for the supporters was quite unbelievable – a Salvation Army hostel. Whether there was no room at the Inn or it was someone’s idea of a joke I do not know, but there were bed bugs and of course no alcohol was allowed on the premises. Nevertheless, with the help of my fellow travellers, principally Tim “the Colonel” Dodds and Warwick Hoyle, I was introduced to a hostelry called the Hopper bar which is now firmly entrenched in the supporter’s folklore. My acquaintance with this bar was renewed last year during the Bloemendaal tournament when a special evening excursion was made to Amsterdam to sample its various brews. The following year as winners, we had the honour of staging the competition in London and with the help of the HA it was decided to use the London University ground at Harlington. Even though there is a large expanse of grass for playing hockey other facilities were somewhat lacking. Now I cannot remember doing anything particularly wrong in Amsterdam, but I think I drew the short straw when it came to the allocation of jobs to be undertaken during the four days of the tournament. I had to look after the toilets and tour the acres of Harlington collecting rubbish. I suppose this was an important task in its way and perhaps to some people, they thought I had found my true niche in life.
By the time we reached Barcelona in 1978 the supporters were a firmly established group of followers now riding high on the Club’s success and looking for more. Of course, the 1st XI provided the right result and the supporters lounged in the sunshine giving vocal encouragement, always ensuring their tonsils were well lubricated. The highlight for the supporters was attending a buffet dinner laid on for all the participating teams at the Polo Club. Our team taking matters very seriously retired to bed, but the supporters gave a good account of themselves and had a splendid evening with unlimited supplies of food and drink all for free.
By this time, being a well-established member of the supporters club I then achieved the top job, having served my apprenticeship in the toilets at Harlington. For the 1979 trip to the Klein Zwitserland Club in The Hague, I was delegated to make the arrangements for travel and accommodation. With the memories of 1976, I booked the group into a pleasant hotel at the seaside resort of Scheveningen. Unfortunately, this was the year of drowned sorrows after losing our first match to Edinburgh Civil Service 1-0 which effectively wrecked our chances of a fourth consecutive win. We came back strongly in our remaining games winning 6-1, 4-0 and 3-1, but by then it was all over and an era had come to a close.
The Hague 1983
We then had a gap until 1983 during which time the supporters who had grown up on success were champing at the bit to return to Europe. Once again it was to The Hague, but by this time the team included many new names with only a few remaining from the 70s squad. On this occasion some of the supporters managed to strike up a conversation with the man in charge of the Russian team, Dinamo Alma Ata. This was the Southgate effort at glasnost in pre Gorbachov days. The Russian was a real colonel probably KGB and I think he marked me down as a spy when I told him I had actually visited Alma Ata in 1980 whilst on my way from Irkutsk in Siberia to Tashkent in Soviet Central Asia.
Following the failure to win in 1983, we had to wait until the “B” competition in 1987 although our foreign travel then only extended to Swansea. All the supporters will remember that tournament for the fact that it rained almost non-stop and for the extraordinary goings on between the hotel proprietor and his wife. The management of the hotel in the Mumbles was on a par with Fawlty Towers and was a source of amusement and annoyance to the guests. I will also remember Swansea for the fact that we actually won a penalty stroke competition and thus qualified for the full Europa Cup as it is now called.
The supporters went to Bloemendaal with high hopes of winning as we had an experienced team, but somehow, we just did not click when it mattered and had to settle for fifth place. Despite losing, the supporters had a thoroughly enjoyable trip although I am not sure how much is remembered by Simon Briggs who seemed to be in an alcoholic haze from start to finish. The facilities at Bloemendaal were excellent and provided a conducive atmosphere in which to relax and enjoy ourselves, i.e. plenty of drinking and even dancing by a few.
This year as last, the tour arrangements have been handled by Warwick Hoyle a vastly experienced campaigner and I feel sure that those visiting Mulheim will have a memorable time.
In concluding, I would like to say that I have gained immense pleasure from watching the 1st XI and I hope that they are going to continue their European appearances for many years to come and provide us all with further excitement and entertainment.
Keith M. Lewis.
Originally published in the Southgate Hockey Club Magazine 1989.
At Mulheim, Southgate came fourth losing the bronze medal play off to Bloemendaal 3-0.
The last European adventure (so far) was in 1990 at the Frankfurt 1880 club when Southgate finished in sixth place after drawing 1-1 against Royal Leopold (Belgium) and then losing the penalty decider.
In a later publication before the 1979 tournament in The Hague reference was made to my job in 1977 at Harlington. It went as follows :-
The award for Bum Job of the Tournament went to Keith Lewis who bravely manned the men’s lavatory block for the entire four days. When presented with his trophy, an inscribed silver handled toilet brush and a £5 note it was suggested that the prize money might be spent on a giant tin of figs. “My God” he reeled “never again – bring back the stodge pudding all is forgiven”
Keith M. Lewis.
12th March, 2021.