CLUB 100- Number 75 – Mens European Hockey Club Champions 1976, 1977 and 1978.

June 15, 2021

by former SHC Captain and VP Mike Crowe

Those are the stark facts behind an incredible achievement. At that time no English or British Hockey Club had ever won an international club tournament. Indeed the only previous international hockey medal won by an English side was by England in 1920 at the Antwerp Olympics! 

This depressing statistic clearly demonstrating that World and European Hockey had left England far behind. The great clubs of Germany, Holland, Belgium and Spain, with their status in society firmly established and strong support and sponsorship from their local business communities, gave them facilities undreamed of by any English club. Also their youth teams played club rather than school hockey and so from an early age played competitive hockey with the best coaching available from previous internationals . English hockey was mainly played in public and grammar schools amid a comfortable amateur environment. 

It was against this daunting historical backdrop that our triumphs were accomplished.

I have been asked by John Willmott, erstwhile Club President and now club archivist to share my recollections of those heady times. I hope that many other members of the squad will contribute to make this a truly team effort as befitting the traditions of our great club.

Great successes rarely happen by chance or overnight. There must be aspiration and ambition, dedication and determination; all coming together in the common cause. 

Here it seems appropriate to mention Jimmy Neale, the club skipper from 1972 to 1975. He was absolutely determined for Southgate to qualify for the European Club Championships, using his persuasive skills to attract David Whitaker and Mike Corby to join us.This gave us a formidable half back line of Bernie Cotton  ( selected as left half for the World  X1 at the 1972 Munich Olympics),  Tony “ The Ox” Ekins at centre half who very few forwards ever  got past and if they did it was usually over his left shoulder! David Whitaker was an incredibly fit right half becoming an extra forward whenever required. Mike Corby was a truly world class play maker and match winner.

 Nevertheless the route was long and unpredictable. Firstly needing to win the Middlesex and then the English Club Championships and after that a Qualifying round before for the actual competition the next season. In many  of those matches we were without our internationals who were away training. As our president Robin Willmot said in his 1975  newsletter “ the selection process was worthy of the best traditions of English eccentricity!”

Yet all this was duly achieved and Southgate had qualified for the 1975 European Club Tournament in Frankfurt in May 1975.

As a wonderful preparation Southgate had won the Real Club de Polo’s International Tournament in January in Barcelona. “ The best British team that I have ever seen”, was how Horst Vine the then World’s No 1 Coach described Southgate “ in a quote from Pat Rowley’s excellent article in our 1975  Club Magazine.

The fact that we had actually beaten the German Olympic Gold Medalists and virtually the full Spanish and South African sides and finished above Holland the current World Cup Champions gave us great confidence that we could indeed be cup winners.

 Sadly we lost in the final 1-0 to the eventual winners Frankfurt HC, but beat the Dutch champions Kampong for third place. That was an epic match and considering we had lost  four players to injury and illness those left standing had run themselves into the ground!

So to 1976.. Jimmy had stood down as captain and I was appointed…Again we had qualified.

 The team had four members of the 1972 Munich Olympic team: Cotton,Corby, myself and Ekins. We had spent some 10 years playing international hockey watching Germany Pakistan, India Holland Australia and others waving triumphantly from the  medals podium and listening somewhat enviously to their anthems. 

We were all determined to finish our careers with a winner’s medal. We had learnt from last year that we needed a top class coach and Roger Self was the outstanding candidate. Roger had recently guided Wales to their first ever victory over England creating a brilliantly organised and highly motivated unit. 

The club agreed that we should approach him and I well remember calling him and asking if he would consider the job.

“Yes ok Crokah ( my nickname) lets meet up for a pre season training day at Southgate at 9.30am.’’” Gosh that’s a bit early Roger most of us have a long journey.”” I’m coming from Birmingham Crokah. Do you want to win a gold medal or not’’! That was indicative of his single minded determination.

The rest is indeed history! Roger’s great attention to detail, his incisive analysis of patterns of play, and foresight in getting the right players in the right place for the right match were all essential parts of his coaching armoury. Perhaps his greatest skill though lay in the legendary pre match team meetings with their the wince making, carefully chosen character assassinations, tough clear instructions and high motivational content. Every one of us was subjected to a form of very skilful psychological appraisal, some encouraged and some rebuked. After an hour or so we all were absolutely up for it, none more so than the seriously put down ones who were going to show the …. bastard how …wrong he …. well was !

 Roger was to take us to two more “ golds” and then the GB hockey immortals to Olympic Bronze in Los  Angeles 84 and the staggering feat of being Olympic Champions in  Seoul 88, with Southgate being so wonderfully represented by Club legends  Bachelor, Kerly Dodds and Clift,along with Self ( Manager), Whitaker (Coach) and Cotton ( Assistant Manager).

Sadly Roger passed away in 2017 after a long debilitating illness. His track record with Wales, Southgate and GB is truly remarkable. He has been rightly compared to some of the great football managers, Shankly, Clough et al. It was our great privilege to play under his guidance.

Returning to the tournament itself the matches were well reported in the press and later in the club magazines and the results are listed below. Impressive though the statistics are I think what most sportsman remember is “ the moment “. Those few seconds of breathtaking brilliance which live in the memory for ever. I’m sure many of you will have those precious recollections. I can still picture vividly Roger’s half time talk in the 76 Final against Belgian Club Champions Royal Uccle. In the first half Southgate had played wonderfully well.Two penalty flicks had been brilliantly saved by the Royal Uccle’s goalie and against the run of play they had scored from short corners with their formidable corner drills. We were two one down. It was a very hot afternoon and in those days players remained on the pitch. I was winding myself up for an inspirational harangue! I saw Roger walking quite slowly towards us.” Sit sown lads “ we sat waiting for instructions. “ this is the best hockey I’ve seen from a British club, just relax, carry on with it and you will win this comfortably.” That was it. He was gone !

It was a masterly piece of man management. We then played some scintillating hockey. Bernie Cotton scored another well worked corner to make it two all and then towards the end another moment that I can picture so clearly from 45 years ago. Punchy Aldridge, who had covered an immense amount of ground throughout the tournament, picked up the ball deep in his own half, and from nowhere he produced a huge aerial pass that dropped behind the Belgian midfield. Mike Corby pounced on it, beat the advancing sweeper and was now face to face  with the goalie. With his unique experience of playing for GB at both hockey and squash no one was better equipped to win a one on one. Mike nervelessly wrong footed him and rolled the ball over the line! Three two the final score.

At long last we were the Champions. It was certainly the greatest moment in my hockey life. I rushed to congratulate Roger but he wanted the players to have all the glory and modestly kept out of the euphoric hugs. Here’s a grainy picture of me with the cup.

It was heady stuff. We were written up in the National Press and even compared to the mighty Liverpool Football Club, also European Champions ! Parties at the famous Sportman’s Club in Piccadilly and team presentations to the Mayor Of Enfield and many congratulatory letters from the Hockey Association and leading Clubs.

The Club kindly presented me with a wonderful commemorative plaque which is included here and which I still treasure.

It shows not just the squad but the other essential team members; President Robin Willmot, Manager Rowly Charlton, Physiotherapist Barry Maddox and Roger. Of course there were the many other club stalwarts, Laurie Norman, Lawrence Coley, Murray Johnson to name but  a few, giving great support, not to mention the wonderful band of supporters who kept us going with their constant  encouragement!

The plaque presented to Mike Crowe by the Club

I felt this was a wonderful ending to my hockey career. 10 years of international hockey is a test for any family. Time now  to concentrate on my business life as an underwriter at Lloyd’s and be a full time husband and dad to my endlessly patient and supportive wife and  long suffering children who had spent much their formative young life in the Southgate bar!

Imagine my surprise then after being  “ put out to grass “ in the rolling Constable countryside at our home Dedham to receive a call from Roger in the spring of 77 saying “ I want you in the squad Crokah fit or unfit ! “ My story wasn’t quite over !

David Whitaker had been appointed Captain for the 77 season and perhaps he and others will continue the narrative.

Mike Crowe- Vice President and Southgate Hockey Captain 1976.

June 2021

Southgate Hockey Club. Great fun, great hockey, great facilities.