Hockey's Military Stories

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The International Hockey Federation (FIH) are very impressed with what we are achieving at The Hockey Museum after their two top executives visited us at Woking last July. A special 'there-and-back-in-a-day' visit made us realise that they were serious. The FIH's mission statement includes a commitment to history and heritage and they also have a modest budget to go with it. Nonetheless, we were a little surprised when they invited our Chair, Katie Dodd, and Curator, Mike Smith, to go over to FIH headquarters in Lausanne to continue the dialogue. The visit occurred in January and we crammed half a dozen meetings and a visit to the Olympic Museum into two very hectic days.

We were very well received and the atmosphere in the FIH offices is so positive. We did realise that one reason why they were so pleased to see us is because we have skills that they don’t possess. President Leandro Negre and CEO Kelly Fairweather have created an impressive organisation that is looking after our sport very caringly. Yes, their emphasis has to be at the highest level but they are conscious of the hockey pyramid and they have a number of initiatives that reach down to 'real' hockey players. While we were there they had their first meeting with the new International Olympic Commitee (IOC) President, Thomas Bach. They were very pleased with the meeting because hockey’s position in the Olympic movement cannot be taken for granted. They also had time to meet with us. Their desire to work with us is proof of their interest in our sport as a whole.

As well as meetings with Leandro and Kelly, we had lengthy discussions with Melanie Willmore, Executive Office Director, to identify the common ground on which we need to work. They realise that a permanent home for the only hockey museum in the world is a pre-requisite for preserving our sport’s history and heritage. Discussions in this area are on-going.

Several other aspects came in for deep discussion. The FIH have no definitive records of international hockey; but we do. These records need to be digitised and the FIH have produced a programme which they are currently launching on their Team Match Statistics (TMS) programme. We hope to progress this soon.

All around their offices were small collections of books, presentations and art. They want us to catalogue all of this material to provide a wider visibility in hockey. They also want us to set up an appropriate historical display in their offices and for it to be updated from time to time.

The FIH are very conscious of how important it is for hockey to remain part of the Olympic family. The last vote on which sports should be included was a close run affair. The FIH want to forge closer links with the IOC and our visit to the Olympic Museum was a case in point. We met with one of the curators who then gave us a personal tour of a very impressive exhibition. There is disappointingly little hockey content on show so we have to develop this relationship and try to achieve a higher profile for hockey in future exhibitions. We have their hockey inventory and for us to improve this collection is a good starting point.

The FIH are very aware that their centenary in 2024 must be properly celebrated. We agreed that there is no definitive history of our sport and we look forward to working with them on this exciting project. We were also pleased to hear of their enthusiasm for recording oral histories. This is an area that we are very keen to develop as, once our hockey luminaries have gone, the opportunity to record their memories is lost forever.

Perhaps most importantly, the FIH are keen to assist us to produce a business plan. With this in place both we and they will have a clear idea of where we are going and what we are hoping to achieve.

All in all it was a remarkable couple of days that we may look back on in years to come as being one of the most important turning points in the development of our museum. This was perhaps underlined a couple of weeks later when FIH President, Leandro Negre, made a special visit to Woking to see the museum for himself. He demonstrated his personal interest in what we are doing by presenting some of his own kit that he wore when he was the Spanish goalkeeper back in the 1960s and 70s.

Mike Smith, February 2014

Hockey's Military Stories: An Introduction

This research project was prompted by the enormous interest and publicity that has surrounded the centenary of the start of WW1. We knew that many, indeed thousands, of hockey players were involved and that many lost their lives. The stories do not just relate to serving men but also those...

India's First International Match: Indian Army Team Tour to New Zealand, 1926

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Lieutenant Eric Walter Poyntz Westmacott RN

Lieutenant Eric Walter Poyntz Westmacott RN

Perhaps the first Naval hockey player to become a casualty of the Great War? Lieutenant Eric Walter Poyntz Westmacott RN was on the left wing for the Royal Navy in 1912 and in 1914 he was reported as "the best player in the Navy team". That was to be his...

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