This week we feature our current Chairman Neil Murphy and demon defender for the 4A’s. Here Neil tells us what led him to Southgate, his return to hockey under Mike Fitter’s watchful eyes and breaking the ice at Hampstead Ponds…
Neil can you tell us a bit about what originally led you down Snakes Lane to Southgate HC and a bit more about how/why you joined the club?
I first started playing hockey in the early 1980’s when I moved to work in Norwich. I played lots of cricket and was looking for a sport for the winter months and got dragged along by my cricketing colleagues. Playing hockey has far outlasted cricket. I just loved the hockey community and at that time Great Britain was about to win Gold in Seoul (thanks to the large Southgate contingent), so it was a great time to start playing and hockey has always been a big sport in East Anglia. Everyone at that time knew all about Southgate – Kerly, Batchelor, Welch, Dodds, Shaw et al.
When my career took me to London, I continued to play in South West London for a few years until a combination of work and a young family led me to hang up my stick. However, Southgate and hockey returned to my life about 12 years ago when Tom, my youngest of three, started training in the juniors, aged 5. Southgate was an easy choice as it is simply the best club around with the best facilities. The trips down Snakes Lane have continued since then, increasing to several times a week! Tom loved his hockey from the word go and about 6 years ago, I started to play again thanks to Mike Fitter’s persuasion and along with some other hockey dads like Duncan Trathen, Will Hargrove and Jez Lavy. We all had the great fun of playing a season or two with our sons in the Tankards set up before our boys trajectory rose way above ours.
Can you tell us more about the role of Chairman at the club and how you ended up taking on the role?
I still wonder how I ended up as Chairman! I think it was a combined effort by Mike Fitter, Dickie Beechner and Neil Prior – who could say “No” to that combination. This was in 2018, just after Michelle had stepped down. In my career as a venture capital investor, I have chaired numerous companies and so was familiar with what was needed.
My main job, apart from chairing meetings, is to support my colleagues on the Committee who have specific responsibilities such as Chairs of Selectors, finance, juniors etc. the other aspects are some longer term planning and getting involved with the Trust and Centre to help ensure that Southgate not only survives but prospers,as a Club and as a facility.
You still play regularly for the recently promoted 4A’s- how did you end up getting into the team and how have you found the current season?
When I first returned to playing hockey 6 years ago, I played in the Tankards set up with other back to hockey dads, developing juniors and a fair few veterans. I also played a lot of my first season back with the Magnums Over 50’s.
Originally we were named the Tankards X, then Tankards A and last season became the 4A’s. We have had a great run with successive promotions in each of the last five years (hot on the heels of the 3A’s) under the inspired leadership of our captain, Will Hargrove and it’s been great to go into battle with Will, week in week out. This season, in division 5, we have probably found our level and sit in mid table before the East League (disappointingly but not too surprising) curtailed the season.
The great thing about 5 successive promotions is that each season is a new and bigger challenge – teams are stronger and opponents inevitably younger. Unfortunately, my number of birthdays has also increased with each season. I realise that the bell is tolling for a 58 year old who is usually the oldest on the pitch! But, inspired by Nigel Spencer Knott in last week’s newsletter, the great thing about Southgate is that there are lots of teams to cater for all ages – so, I hope to keep on going for a while yet – troublesome achilles permitting.
What are your hopes for the rest of the season both as a player and as chairman!?
It would be nice to play some hockey! A huge number of people have worked tirelessly either side and during lockdowns to get hockey back on. As chairman, it has been great to work with them. It is still not clear how much hockey we will get beyond the 29th March but we are a hockey club and we will put as much on as possible. We already have lots of junior camps scheduled for the Easter holiday.
There has been lots of other activity going on, even in lockdown. We are smartening up parts of the pavilion, we have introduced online fitness sessions with GDN, looking to develop coaching in schools, raising our profile with potential club sponsors and starting to prepare for next season and the new England Hockey league structure.
Do you have any big ambitions for the club moving forwards?
We all want Southgate to continue to be the best place to play hockey – to improve our facility, strengthen and add to the number of teams, develop our junior talent. I would love to see both Ladies and Men’s First Teams in the National Premier division and to see Southgate back at the top of the pyramid – where we were when I first encountered the Club, back in the 80’s.
Any ideas and plans require resources – volunteers and money. I would love to see more people involved in developing ideas and taking on projects – we’re only as good as the effort we put in.
In your experience what makes Southgate HC stand out- what makes it special?
We have great facilities, players spanning elite level to veterans to talented juniors and great enthusiasts. There is something for everyone and we have a great history which we should be proud of. However, it’s all about what we do next and we cannot sit back, we need to look and move forward.
When not organising committee meetings and dealing with SHC what do you do in your non-hockey life?
Before Southgate took over my life, my day job was, and still is, as a venture capital investor – backing mid-sized British companies and helping them to grow – I have done this for 35 years and chaired various businesses.
I’m a runner and did a couple of London marathons either side of my 50th birthday and a daily cold water swimmer in Highgate Ponds on Hampstead Heath – breaking the ice during the winter months which I have really missed during lockdown.
How have you found the past few months? Have you managed to stay fit …and sane?
The past few months have been slow, as with everyone else, I think. Working from home has its limits.
I’ve kept up my running and a bit of cycling and enjoyed some of the Strava challenges. As for sanity, I’ll leave that to others…..