The history of South Gloucestershire Hockey Club
The club we know today as South Gloucestershire Hockey Club started its life in July 1946 as the Bristol YMCA Hockey Club, and came into being largely through the efforts of Stephen Richardson, a voluntary worker at the Bristol Central YMCA.
In those early years, a large number of people who had reason to visit and stay over in Bristol would often make the YMCA their first port of call. The club therefore had a captive audience of potential talent to choose from.
The first matches were played on Horfield Common, in the days when goalkeepers wore cricket pads and sweaters.
Three months of snow caused chaos with the fixtures of the 1946/67 season.
During the swinging ’60s players met outside the Colston Street YMCA and then took the bus to matches – having been informed by postcard of their selection for the squad.
The club also played regular friendly matches against Bristol University – Wills Hall and Churchill Hall – which again provided an opportunity to find some fresh young blood for the club’s competitive fixtures.
Nigel Sara recalls the club moving to Golden Hill YMCA, where each week the pitches were “being prepared by the (club) members, which left little energy for the game.
“At the beginning of the league, the YMCA were in the first division. We were also involved in the start of the indoor league, initially at Whitchurch Sports Centre and then Yate.”
Former player John Moore said the club had four men’s sides, playing on Saturdays, and two mixed teams, which played on Sundays. There was also a summer league side known as the Apaches.
Keep on the grass
Ed Allingham, who started playing for Bristol YMCA hockey club in 1974, recalled: “Club hockey was very different then, played on grass and, very occasionally, on shale.
“We even had ‘roll-ins’ from the side of the pitch.
“Pre-match routines included marking out the pitch and constructing the goalposts. The players were also responsible for maintaining the pitch and cutting the grass.
“Much of the ground maintenance in those days was conducted by our left winger, Martin ‘Fred’ Somers, who later served for many years as an association umpire, but everyone had to do their bit. There was also a rota for who would prepare the post-match sandwiches and half-time oranges.
“We would then retire to the ‘Dirty Duck’ at Westbury. Buying jugs of beer for the opposition and spoofing for who would buy a round were regular features of post-match socialising.
“On the pitch, we had a decent team, without ever being quite at the top level locally.
“In my first couple of seasons we still had a first team fixture against Firebrands, and although hockey did not have the strength in depth of the current era, Firebrands had many county players and a couple of full indoor internationals. Among our other rivals were Westbury and Robinsons, who we played at first team levels for many years before their standard rose and ours slipped.
“Our most notable success was our cup run that took us to the semi-final of the Gloucestershire Cup one year, where we lost out to Cheltenham. Cup matches were played on Sundays, and we had a player who was not available on Saturdays because of other commitments but who was the only player I played alongside in a YMCA team who went on to be a full England international, albeit as a prop forward making his debut at the Cardiff Arms Park against Wales!
“I refer to Austin Shepherd, who has long since retired from rugby, but who was still playing hockey for Westbury until fairly recently. Other key players in that era were the likes of Dave Tew, Gerry Babbage and Dave Peacock.
“The club had strong connections with Mangotsfield School”, continues Ed Allingham, “thanks to teacher and club recruiter Andy Herbert, and young lads from the school who came to play in subsequent years included Gary Iles and Chris Hutchings.
“Some time later I dropped down to run the third team, with a view to building up a squad of mainly young players, which was started off with the likes of Mark Cornwell and others from Henbury School, and a team that developed around Tom and Sam Herbert, John and Paul Davies.
We struggled for a couple of seasons simply because a team mainly in their early and mid-teens was at a disadvantage, but club veterans such as Phil Davies helped them develop into good players and a team with a great spirit.
“A later batch of schoolboys, this time from the Ridings, produced Andy Irwin, Nick Segger, and Nick Butler.
“One innovation in 1994 was that for the first time we participated in an Easter hockey festival, at Torquay.
“The festival trip was not the easiest thing for me to organise, but turned out to be great fun. Phil Eames took up the mantle of tour organiser in subsequent years, with great success.
“Legends were created, although more off the pitch than on it!
“I can only admire the likes of Nigel Sara and Dennis Hughes who have managed to keep playing with distinction at a comparable age, but having run out of puff a few years ago, now all I can do is blow the whistle [as an umpire for the club].
“But even the legendary Bernard Coombs, a key figure throughout my time at the Club, came to stand down eventually.”
Bernard was a key first team player in the 1960s who was still playing at wing half into the 1990s. He was also club president during the 1980s and 90s.
It was around 1998/99 that the club changed its name to South Gloucestershire Hockey Club.
Ed Allingham recalls one of the reasons: “having moved from the YMCA Playing Fields at Golden Hill, we no longer had any formal connection with the YMCA organisation, and understandably they did not want us presenting as a YMCA Club when that was not the reality.
“We had established a financial independence from YMCA some many years beforehand, although we did have a status of a loosely affiliated membership and enjoyed a sympathetic landlord / tenant relationship during our tenure at Golden Hill.
“We did hang on to the YMCA name longer than we perhaps should have once we moved to the former BGS site alongside Tesco, but there was some reluctance to give up our historic name and some indecision over a suitable new name.
“However, in the late 90s there was a growing feeling that we could attract more new players with a re-branding.
“I recall that the meeting at which the decision was taken was held in the Beehive, and various names were bandied around before Adie Dann (I believe) came up with ‘South Gloucestershire’.
“The fact that we were not based in South Glos, and never had been, was not considered to be too important. Instantly we would become ‘county’ players representing South Gloucestershire.
“And we did of course keep the traditional black and red quarters.”
South Glos ladies
In recent years, the club has tried to encourage increased participation, and during the 2009/10 season formally created a ladies side, which one year later entered league competition. This proved such a success that just two seasons later a second ladies team was formed.
In May 2011 the club earned a place in the history books, setting a new world record for the longest single hockey match – 31-hours – raising thousands of pounds for charity in the process.
Although the club lost their title in 2013 to Holcombe hockey club, in May 2015 South Glos roared back into the record books, playing non-stop for an unprecedented 50 hours, once again raising thousands for the Bristol-based Cots for Tots charity.
In the 2013/14 season, SGHC left Golden Hill behind in favour of the pitch at Bradley Stoke Community School, scene of both world record triumphs. Finally, South Gloucestershire Hockey Club was actually playing within the boundaries of South Gloucestershire.
Reproduced with kind permission from Darren Bane. Edited by Tom Herbert. With thanks to Nigel Sara, John Moore and Ed Allingham.