Mens History

The earliest versions of hockey appear in drawings in the ancient tombs of the Nile Valley, depicting men playing with curved sticks and a round object. The Romans also played a similar game called "paganica" in which a feather-filled ball was hit by a club. There are also records of such a game played by Argentinian Indians in the 16th Century.  However, it wasn't before the Wimbledon Club got involved that the game we all know and love evolved into what we play today.  Ben Rea takes us on a tour of the Wimbledon Hockey Club and it's influence on the modern game.

The Wimbledon Hockey Club was founded in 1883 by E L Agar and A Donaldson to provide recreation in the winter months for cricketers. Agar was an inveterate founder who subsequently went on to found both The Hockey Association and the Surrey County Hockey Association. Initially the rules of hockey were virtually non-existent, teams played four a side, stopping the ball with the foot was encouraged, as was stick hooking and umpires only blew the whistle if any of the players appealed. So it was not surprising that when The Hockey Association was founded in 1886 formal rules were drawn up and Agar made sure that it was the Wimbledon rules that were adopted and theses are still the basis of those we play today.

Twlight at the new Wimbledon Club, built in 1998

In 1891 the Hockey Club moved from Wimbledon Common to Church Road. On the Common pitches had not been marked and cricket stumps represented goalposts. Although only tenants of the cricket club at that stage, the change in playing surface obviously did wonders for the club, in that of the first 100 matches played after 1891 90 matches were won, seven drawn and only three lost. This was, no doubt, partly helped by a novel approach to selection by Wimbledon who saw that with a three man offside rule applying, they would be better off playing with four halves and no goalkeeper. This also meant that the goalkeeper could umpire and enforce the offside rule ‘strictly’. But the 1stXI were obviously good at hockey as well, as seven Wimbledon players represented England in the first international against Ireland, one of these – Stanley Christophersen – going on to captain England. Interestingly, although almost every press report of the time mentions how wet the Wimbledon pitch was, it was unusual not to have at least 200 spectators every week. For games against Molesey, the other crack side in the South at the time, up to 1,000 spectators were accommodated, although where and how remains a mystery not specified in the Club’s annals.

From the turn of the century the playing record was less good. However, by the 1913/14 season the club was regularly turning out five XIs each week. Members represented Surrey, the South, England and Scotland. After the first world war the club was revived by George McGrath who was not only the 1stXI captain for four years, but honorary secretary for 11 years. At the same time he managed to play for Great Britain, Surrey and the South, for whom he was also honorary secretary. Coincidentally he lived in the house now owned by Eddie Casale. It was in the inter-war years that Gerald Rawlinson, who strangely was never formally elected a member although his sister was elected as an honorary member, began to embark on his long Club career during which he captained every XI from 2nd to 6th. After two stints in hockey club presidency, he finally became the second President of The Wimbledon Club, following Cyril Simpson. Cyril, although not a natural athlete, to say the least, dedicated himself to the hockey and cricket clubs for some 60 years. Many tails are told of Cyril’s exploits, not least of his willingness to keep goal for the bottom XI when he was well into his 60s, weighed over 20 stone and was very short sighted. Having conceded 13 goals in his first game he was very upset not to be selected again, despite having just bought all his kit, except for a box as he considered it superfluous.

Jimmy Wilson - the current President of Wimbledon Hockey Club and a serving member of the club since 1958. He still attends nearly all 1st XI matches

In the 30s the club provided four players for Scotland and one for England, but it was not until after the second world war that the club really came into its own again. Having been closed down from 1939-45 it took an enormous effort to get things going, albeit on a small scale, in 1946. This reformation was effected by Bunny Hart who was honorary secretary for nearly 20 years, Gerald Rawlinson and Cyril Simpson. By the end of the 50s the club was regularly fielding six XIs and indeed the 1956/7 1stXI lost only two of their 29 fixtures. Regular members of that team included Brian Gibbons, a subsequently honorary secretary of the Wimbledon Club and a Vice President, and Sandy Fyfe, president of hockey for 12 years and Vice President of the Wimbledon Club for 30 years. At this time new members included myself, Ben Rea (1952), Denis Hopkin (1955), Jimmy Wilson (1958), Eddie Casale (1959), and John Casale (1960). All have stayed with the club to the present day, two have served as Presidents and three as Vice Presidents of the Wimbledon Club.

John Casale skippered the 1stXI for 10 years and included in his teams Peter Mills (Great Britain and England), Juan Calzado (Spain and currently president FIH), Jeremy Procter (England) and Knuth Hinrichs (Germany). Despite these stars it was for the club’s social values that we were best remembered. With amalgamations with the cricket and tennis club in 1968, the club took on a new lease of life and was soon running eight XIs as well as regular Sunday and summer XIs. At this time veterans hockey also began to become popular and under the leadership of Jimmy Wilson, and his seemly inexhaustible supply of champagne, a powerful occasional team was formed. After John Casale as 1stXI captain came David Kibble, Jeremy Procter, John Rutter and Nigel Tozzi. It was at this time that Richard Creed became a force to be reckoned with. Having been stuck in the 4thXI for too long he successfully twisted the honorary secretary’s arm to get promotion and within a short time he was not only playing in the 1stXI but he was also captain. While Richard was captain, team discipline was such that nobody went home before 10pm at the earliest.

When Richard gave up the captaincy the baton was passed to a newer generation lead by Will Davis and Mark "Podger" Walker, both of whom have followed their captaincy with a highly successful spell as chairman of the committee. It is pleasing to record that the 1998/99 1stXI, with one defeat in the season, became the most successful Wimbledon XI of all time. Ably lead by David Alford, with Wilbur Lawry as coach, they swept all before them only failing to gain promotion to the National League by the narrowest possible margin. The only loss, in the EHA Cup, was to a team in the National Premier League. In a team of no stars, but enormous strength of teamwork one player – John Neill – stood out both for his dedication to the Club and as the outstanding player.

Johnny "Badman" Neill, in action during the HA Cup in 1998. A dedicated club member and outstanding player

The 1998/1999 Wimbledon 1st XI, unbeaten in the league and quarter finalists in the HA Cup.

Back Row (Left to Right): Peter Rippon, Patrick Arnold, Paul Knowles, Rob Wildig, John Neill, Rob Stone, Kelvin King, Will Lawry (coach), Mark Currell
Front Row (Left to Right): Richard Bentley, Andy Cruikshanks, David Jermyn, Paul Gyles, David Alford (captain), Gareth Nicholls, David Smith, Charles Revill, Marcus Rudler

Such a brief résumé omits the names of so many stalwarts of the club in recent years. Those like Bob Clark, who has led the veterans around the world, and David Jermyn and Mike Eley, who have given themselves unsparingly whenever asked to do a job for the club; Bruce Garrett has been instrumental in making the Juniors such a success, aided of course by David Nailor, John Pullen, Mukhta Babar and Richard Holliday. Finally, there is Peter "Shelley" Stahelin, Honorary Secretary for eight years until 1999.

This history of Wimbledon Hockey Club was written by Ben Rea, originally for the Wimbledon Club Newsletter.

Many hockey sites refer to Wimbledon as the founders of the modern game, such as this Australian one:

Other Historical Records: 2003-4 Big RON's Stats
  2002-3 Big RON's Stats
  2002-3 Club Report
  2001-2 League Tables
  2001-2 Big RON's Stats