WHEN WELSH HOCKEY STOOD STILL
By Phil Bailey.
With the UK and much of the world in lockdown fighting the COVID 19 virus and live sport at a standstill, the monthly Wales Hockey History article takes us back to earlier days.
On 1st September 1939 WW2 began in Europe and on September 3rd Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. As in current times live sport was mostly at a standstill and no Wales international hockey games took place for the duration of the war and beyond.
However, in March 1939 both the men’s and ladies’ international teams were playing in the annual Home International Championship. This article details the 1939 games and then the slow return to hockey post WW2.
1939 was not a high point for Wales hockey with both the men and women finishing bottom of the championship.
The 1939 international season started off with a ‘double header’ against Ireland on 4th March. The ladies playing at HU Ground Londonbridge Dublin and the men at Rhyl, the scene of the very first Wales international game in 1895. Both games were relatively close with Ireland winning both by two goals to nil.
The ladies’ game was played in fine weather on a good playing surface. It is reported that Ireland were ‘good value for the win’ despite Wales starting the brighter and threatening the Irish goal. Slowly, Ireland gained the upper hand and led 1-0 at half time through a solo effort by Miss Strahan.
In the second half Ireland dominated Wales and Miss Symes closed the game to make it 2-0. Wales only tested the Irish keeper twice during the whole of the second half. Special mention was given to Mrs Smith in goal and Miss Dimmock at left back for Wales.
As with the women the men played in brilliant sunshine on a good pitch in Rhyl. It was a hard-fought game, not for the purist as the Western Mail reported a physical encounter with too much ‘body play’.
The Welsh keeper JP Pickford from the Druids club made many saves and VB Clark of Newport, playing up front at centre made his international debut; he was also joined by Pickford, A Hughes and Wyndham Morgan with debuts.
Despite the game being a fairly even one Ireland led 1-0 at the interval through J Bowden and scored again in the second half through JDL Dickson.
It was then on to play England. The ladies returned to a ground they had played on several times since the first game there v Ireland in 1923 - Penrhos College Colwyn Bay.
Conditions were very different to the Irish game with a rain sodden pitch and a storm in the second half.
Although Wales never gave up, they were outclassed by England, a side they would not beat until the 1963 game at Wembley.
England were ruthless and ‘machine like’ especially the Centre BJ Dickinson who scored a hat trick in each half, two other goals were added by Miss A Greenhalgh in the second half to win the game 8-1. Wales replied after being 7-0 down with a goal by their Centre H Jones.
The analysis in the Western Mail was that Wales should have ‘marked closer’ and had a ‘much keener eye upon the elusive Dickinson’.
Wales had made three changes to the team that lost to Ireland: H Jones at Centre, M Davies at left inner making her Wales debut and P Siddron on the left wing.
The men made only one change for their England game, J Theophilus of Swansea HC coming in on the left wing for SB Roberts.
This was the 37th meeting between the teams, England having won 36 and Wales avoided defeat in the 2-2 draw at Penarth 5 years previously.
The game took place at the iconic Test Match cricket ground, The Oval.
Wales handled themselves much better than the previous year when they lost 5-0 and were well in the game at half time, only trailing by 1-0 with EEG Clark scoring to give them hope.
England scored twice more in the second half to run out as 4-1 winners, but Wales played to the end and gave a good account of themselves.
And so on to the Scotland game, both played on 25 March 1939, the women at Craiglockhart Edinburgh and the men at Inverness.
Initially there was no change to the ladies’ side v Scotland, but a late replacement had to be made with J Whitehead coming in at goalkeeper for her debut in place of the experienced Mrs. Smith.
As with the England game, Wales were dominated by the opposition and reports suggest that Wales ‘proved poor company’, Scotland winning 5-0 but the score could have been doubled. In fact, Miss Alderson in the Scotland goal had one clearance to make all game. Misses Owen and Dimmock were singled out as outstanding in defence for Wales.
At Inverness the men had initial hope when EG Clark scored after 10 minutes, but goals by WAE Kerr and R Burton gave Scotland a narrow 2-1 victory.
Two changes were made to the last game when Edmunds and Hughes could not play and were replaced by JH Martin Evans [Penarth] and Reg Jones [Cambridge University].
Thus 1939 was not Wales’ best year but, in the shadow of what was to come, not important. One rainbow in 1939 was the marriage of Miss Enid Myfanwy Jones who played for Wales and Newport AC.
International hockey for Wales did not return until 1946 for the women when they played two unofficial non-badged matches v Scotland on 6th April at Edinburgh and v Ireland at Londonbridge Road Dublin; they lost both games 6-1 and 4-0 respectively.
Their first win after WW2 came on 10 May 1948 v Austria in the World Hockey Championships in Amsterdam, and their first post war home Nations win was at Colwyn Bay on 23 March 1957, some 11 years after starting to play international hockey.
The men restarted the international return a year later than the women in March 1947, losing 4-1 to Ireland in Dublin, but beating Scotland at Penarth by 3 goals to 2. A further 3-1 loss to England came in April.
The war did take its toll on hockey and hockey clubs in Wales.
In the ladies’ game at Cardiff Arms Park on 10 February 1954, the first match at the venue since the war it was reported that ‘Welsh women have had a difficult time since 1946 re-creating an interest in the game’ despite ‘schools interest being strong’ there were ‘not as many senior clubs’ as pre-war.
Like many things after a National effort, things did not return immediately to as it was before but the human spirit did live on and, as in today’s difficult times, this remains so and sport continues to be part of the fabric of the Nation that binds its people together.