Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Curtain Call

The show is officially over folks. It's tailed off a bit in terms of thrills and spills at the end but this season's journey, which began all the way back in last July (A mere 8 months ago), has reached it's final resting place. I remember back then setting out with all of the burning ambition and confidence of a team certain of its ability to achieve its promotion goal ready to take the fight to the league 22 times in a row, and I stand here slightly ragged and worn, but on a field of victory, proud of myself, and more importantly, proud of my team.

It represents a coming of age for our team I believe (yes, even the older players). It was the proof that we can triumph, proof we needed. Whilst the memories of moments where we won this league will boil down in our minds to great goals, skills, tackles or saves, the finer truth is that the win has come over the hard work that has been going on for the last 2 seasons. Ever since the moment where we got relegated a few seasons ago when it was sink or swim for the entire club. We chose to swim, and it has turned out OK right about now! Of course, it's not enough. The quantum leap that we made in this campaign has to be matched and improved upon as we go forward. I read an article recently written by a man who had interviewed a slew of multiple Olympic champions. They all said that it was the thrill of the journey that equipped them with the ability to repeat it, rather than the prize itself. I hope that we can understand and adopt that mentality. I have enjoyed all of the improvements we have made this season, and my own personal improvements. It has been my most productive season on terms of goals by some way, and I am determined that is not something which is going to be a flash in the pan.

As for the last game, well if you didn't know, we lost. I think the mood was one of disappointment rather than dejection and devastation. Our opponents, chasing us for so long had a major point to prove and turned up highly motivated. Now in an ideal world we'd have matched that fire; but being 2nd for so long and wanting to stick one over us just simply outshone our motivation of having a 16 point lead rather than a 10 point lead at the end of the season. A shame yes, but worse things happen at sea. Lest we forget that there has not been a single moment from the start of the season when Sale hasn't occupied that top spot. That's a pole to flag championship right there, I've had the 'beating top of the league' achievement and I know where I'd rather be stood right now.

So what now? Well most immediately we have to deal with the section annual general meeting (AGM), on Friday night. I'd urge all members who read this to please make an effort to attend. It is the most important meeting of the year and a great chance to get your voice heard and also volunteer yourself to help out, there are always positions available on the committee so why not spare some time and help out? Any effort can only help us to improve and move forward together as a club, which is the only way we want to move forward.

After that it's the presentation evening! We'll be handing out the top scorer award and the much sought-after players player award will be revealed (I do know the result already, obviously I'm not going to say it here, but let's just say that H won't be taking the shield home this season sadly for him). Of course a few jars of the finest will be had too! If you're not busy in the Saturday I urge you to come down to the pitch at Parrs Wood at 13.30 to watch (my)Dad's Army the 3rd team try and win the league, they've had a great season and hopeully can polish it off with a championship.

After all the sobriety (AGM ) and merriment (presentation night) comes the well earnt break that we deserve. Of course the Hockey never really stops and between tournaments, tours, and summer league I'd expect you can all get as much (or as little) of a fix that you want before we come back around for pre-season training and the trials ahead.

As for me and this blog well I have to admit that I've immensely enjoyed writing about our journey and sharing my thoughts and whims. I'll be honest, when I started I thought that there was a chance I'd be ridiculed constantly for my efforts but all of the compliments and constructive comments I've received have been genuinely humbling to hear. I am lucky to have such a good readership and am hopeful that there are some of you our there reading this who find the sport of Hockey a little more appealing and interesting than maybe you once did. I'm certainly not going to stop writing now. I think the next you will hear from me will be sometime next week where I'll offer up a 'season in review' edition similar to my x-mas special where I'll talk you through some of the best moments of the season as well as the most ridiculous too! After that? The Hockey world is my oyster and I'll hopefully give some insight into what we get up to in the 'off season' including summer league, tours etc. and maybe even some Olympic stuff, in case you can't tell I don't really know what I'm going to do yet.

Well that is for the future and for the now I'll just sign off by saying thank you to all of you. Yes you! You who is reading this right now, thank you for reading it and I'll see you soon in the bright tomorrow!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The weary today, The bright tomorrow

Now as I write this we'll have pulled the curtain down on training for this season. Which in party terms is the equivalent of the lights flashing and everyone preparing for a rousing last dance. You may all have you're own preferences for this ritual, in my 18 year old days we used to emerge into the early Mancunian morning to the sound of 'Hey Jude' or 'Don't look back in anger', only to burst into street side choruses of 'Oh Manchester!.... (you should know the rest)'. I've always had a soft spot for a bit of New York New York myself, in true party fashion. The point is the only thing that remains for us to decide is on what note to end on. Musically 'we are the champions' has got to be a good shout, of course I don't mean musically though.

 Not at all, this weekend we face 2nd place and it's the perfect game to end on. It should be a fierce battle of wills with both teams wanting to prove they have the beating of the other. They have been chasing us all season and while they never quite got close enough to us to trouble us they are the best team we have come up against this league season and I hope that plays out true again on Saturday. I think that now with one game to go I can admit that the weary signs of a long and intense campaign are showing. I'm certainly feeling them. It's not a complaint really, it's more something to be proud of. The following quote from legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi explains what I mean quite eloquently:
“I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfilment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious”
Beautiful words, and true for our team. The achievements of our campaign our given to no single moment, but rather they were forged through the fires of industry with the heat of our will, and we hammered that league week after week into brutal submission. With one more hammer strike to fall our eyes are all on the horizon for the next challenge. That challenge is to do it again but in a harder league against tougher opponents, to challenge ourselves and each other to improve and to once again embark on that journey towards glory again. But not yet. Indeed I want to warn against pushing too hard, we all deserve to bask in our victories and relax our play, we know how to play and I've no doubt every man is up for the challenge coming. To keep banging on the war drum isn't going to help us and indeed I believe it sows doubt in much the same way that a man who continually talks about the large size of his manhood sows rumours of a child-like endowment. So with that in mind I'm taking a fresh attitude into my game this weekend and that is to STFU, using what I know and the confidence I have; go out there and enjoy the final song of this wonderful opera that has been our season. The fat lady is singing, and I'm joining her on stage!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Champions, Champions, Champions

I've thought long and hard how to title this post, but frankly I cannot come up with anything better than the above. The statement of fact: we are the champions!

And I'm tempted to stop there. What more can be said? We have won our league. It is the first time we have been promoted in 9 years and the first time we have won a league for 16 years, and those are facts! I've been part of running this team for three years now and am truly proud and privileged to see this day come. I can remember all of those dark days and those bad losses, all of the times when we questioned why we were doing this to ourselves week in, week out. I can recall the pain of relegation and the humiliation of losing to inferior teams. Now those trials stand quiet in a corner, their time is through. For now we have achieved and now we are on the up and coming back, now we can say we have achieved EXACTLY what we set out to achieve.

I may as well take you through it then. The stage was set for a procession style victory on Saturday, 1st vs 11th should be a no contest right? Well, we were all nervous beforehand, you could feel it in the air, the elephant in the room we all kept telling each other to ignore. Complacency was our biggest threat that day. In a weirdly ironic way our opposition helped us by fielding one of their strongest sides of the season, their challenge was enough to get us going and we got into our stride and waltzed into half time 4-0 up, happy days. I think even the most cautious of people (and coach was trying his very best to be cautious) would say that the tie was over by then. The second half stood in stark contrast to the first, it was frustrating and we never really got going (I personally played very poorly), so it was then that as the final whistle sounded at 5-1 there was almost an air of anti-climax... almost. Soon the champagne started flowing and the smiles were out in full force, there was a party atmosphere in the changing room which even the old Jamaican man who had been to the gym and had the misfortune to change when we did wouldn't begrudge us. Further celebrations proceeded and I'm fairly confident I can say a fun time was had by all (from what I recall), I know it was had by me, even if I did fall short of my Christmas party level of drunkenness!

Chief among proud facts for me is the fact that we have led the table from day one... to day finish. For the observer it was a Vettel grand prix win, as dull as anything, for us, we don't care. I'm also proud to be able to say all of this about our dominance with 3 games to go, the gap at the top of our table is bettered by no other team in our entire league structure, and we still have the opportunity to improve it! And improve it we shall aim to do. The fact is that we now have a range of goals (or side quests for those of you who enjoy a bit of skyrim) left to achieve. I'll now list some: Finishing with a 100% home record, scoring the most goals in the division, conceding the least, having the divisions top scorer in our side, and finishing on an 8 game winning streak having dropped 4 points all season. All lovely aims, all achievable I believe.

So even though the party is over the band are still playing, and this weekend they're working overtime as we've got a double header on Saturday and Sunday, the pressure is off and now we can enjoy it, but then again what am I saying? I've loved every minute of it anyway...

More next time on the bright future for us but for now let me leave you with a picture of the 2011/2012 Division 5S Champions...