Home International Championships of 1971
Updated: Apr 19
By Phil Bailey
Our Hockey Wales history article this month takes us back half a century to March 1971 and Wales’ Ladies’ performance in the Home International Championship. The Championship was a regular fixture in the calendar and involved England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Wales first played all three countries in 1902, having started their international career in 1899 v Ireland at Llandudno. They played England for the first time in 1900 at Bangor and the first game against Scotland was in 1902 at Wrexham. This was the first season that Wales played all three nations, but this did not become a regular occurrence until the resumption of hockey after the first World War.
Wales arrived at the 1971 championship as a side who had been improving over time. They attained three draws in the 1970 competition and were unbeaten in the championship against Scotland since 1965 and Ireland since 1968. England were always the stronger side but Wales’ famous win in 1963 followed in 1964 and 1970 with draws meant they were closing the gap. No longer were Wales the weakest nation of the four, as they had been for much of the Pre-World War 2 days – they were now a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.
Wales started their championship on the iconic Nottinghamshire CCC Trent Bridge cricket ground, a place steeped in Ashes and Test match cricket history.
Nansi Blair, the Welsh Association president and former international player, had arrived at Nottingham on the Friday. She learned that the organisers had not been able to find the Welsh National Anthem music but, after Nansi telephoned her sister Mrs Dwyfrodd Chapman, Welsh friends came to the rescue!
England went into the game as firm favourites but Welsh spirit, a solid defence and an outstanding performance by Margaret Glover in goal held England to a 0-0 draw. Glover had not played an international game for five years as Iris Davies had been Wales’ regular keeper during that period.
Wales were dangerous in the first half with 19-year-old Shirley Ellis raiding on the left and Linda Owen going close to scoring. Ellis and Eira Matthews tested Hazel Feltham in the England goal but as the game progressed England dominated the attacking third of the pitch with Val Robinson the major theat. The Guardian reporter was so impressed by the Welsh backs Nan Thomas and Win Heath as their ‘clearances carried the penetration of Saturday’s North East wind’
Wales then had two home games against Ireland at University Fields Aberystwyth on 20 March and Scotland at Llandudno Oval on 27 March.
The game against Ireland proved to have an interesting development to it. The ‘lifted high scoop’ had been introduced in 1971 as an experimental rule and it was deployed effectively by Wales. A scooped free hit was sent into the circle and under the crossbar just three minutes into the game, confusing Laing, the Irish goalkeeper.
Janet Hopkin followed this up and scored easily and two minutes before the interval scored again. Ireland reduced the deficit in the second half, but Wales deservedly triumphed by two goals to one. England had secured a 1-0 victory against Scotland at Grangemouth, so the title came down to the last two games.
Prior to the game at Llandudno against Scotland, the Welsh schoolgirls played at 1pm. Several future Welsh full internationals played in this game including: M Thomas, M Morgan, M Rainbow, B Corn and J Evans.
Wales were able to name an unchanged line up for the third game and the same eleven players played all three games, continuity clearly aiding their title challenge. The line-up was:
M Glover, E Thomas [Capt], W Heath, A Ellis, J Hughes, S Morrow, J Hopkin, E Matthews, L Owen, H Jones, S Ellis.
The teams were presented to Llandudno Council Chairman Aldffowe Williams by Nansi Blair and with the title in sight, battle commenced at 14:30 on 27 March.
The match was a close affair, but Wales managed to win by 1-0 with captain Nan Thomas deservedly scoring the only goal. Thomas made her debut for Wales in 1954 and played for Great Britain in their first ladies’ match.
The final game of the championship was played at cricket ground, Old Trafford on April 3rd. England had to beat Ireland to deny Wales the overall championship and share the title.
All the Welsh hockey fraternity waited with nervous anticipation. The first half remained stalemate at 0-0 and as the game went on it looked more and more as though Wales would be outright Champions.
With minutes to spare the mercurial Val Robinson presented Brenda Reid with an opportunity and Reid made no mistake with the finish; Welsh hearts were broken. A 1-0 win for England meant that the title was shared between England and Wales. This was Wales’ first success and a great campaign by the Welsh side.