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Following the centenary of the first Great Britain (GB) men’s international match (vs Denmark) on 1 September 1920 at the Antwerp Olympic Games comes the 55th anniversary of the GB women’s team’s first international appearance on 9 October 1965.

This game occurred during a 63-day tour of the USA by a British and Irish team, nicknamed the GBITTs, comprising players from all four Home Nations.

The game against the 1964 US team was played on grass at Kent Place School, New Jersey, and resulted in a 5-1 win for the British team. Their highly impressive tour record against all teams was: played 24, with 22 wins, one draw and one defeat, 161 goals for and 13 against.

A further game against the 1965 US team, now designated as Great Britain’s second official women’s international, took place on 28 November 1965 at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, during the annual USFHA Tournament. It ended in a 4-4 draw. The tourists’ only defeat was a 2-1 reverse against Brandywine.

 

GBITT J Hornes Muckross Blazer Great Britian and Ireland Ladies tour of USA 1965     GBITT J Hornes Muckross cloth badge Great Britian and Ireland Ladies tour of USA 1965
 
Joan Horne's blazer from the Great Britain and Ireland tour of USA, 1965.
Image credit: Dublin City Library and Irish Hockey Archives.


The tour was sanctioned by the Women’s British & Irish Hockey Board but was self-financed by the players, although the Welsh members received £50 from their governing body. The squad comprised 15 players – four each from England, Scotland and Wales and three from Ireland, one of whom was from Ulster – plus a manager Mrs Hopkins, the mother of the Ulster representative Thelma Hopkins. They had no coach, physio or other support staff.

The squad was largely made up of existing internationals although a Welsh member, Mary Hyland, who replaced the English Jean Mead, was a Wales Reserve player with no previous senior caps and gained none after the tour. Three others – one each from England, Wales and Scotland – were from their nations’ Reserve teams. Four of the party, including the captain Joyce Hunter, a Scot, plus the manager, have now passed away, the whereabouts of four more are unknown and two are believed to have emigrated to Canada.

GBIITS SQUAD ON USA TOUR 1965
Back row: Jennie Braham (England); Joan Horne (Ireland); Maureen Short (E); Helen Weir (Scotland); Bridget Cannel (E); Thelma Hopkins (I); Valerie Sinclair (S).
Sitting: Mary Hyland (Wales); Janice Mitchell (S); Joyce Hunter (S); Mrs Hopkins, Manager (I); Nan Thomas (W); Ellen Toulson (E); Helen O’Neil (I).
Kneeling: Barbara Stacey (W); Janet Morgan (W).


The players had not met as a team before the tour; their first game together was in the first match against Long Island which they won 11-0. This was not their biggest win as they later beat Baltimore 12-0.

Despite the one defeat the captain Joyce Hunter said: “We can still claim a record – we never came off the field with a wet uniform, a tribute to US weather and our luck!”
The quality of the pitches they encountered was varied with some described as “like a ploughed field.”

24 games in 63 days, mainly along the East Coast, from Boston in the North to Virginia in the South and Chicago to the West, meant a lot of travel by air and on Greyhound buses. Accommodation was with families, some in very plush homes and in colleges, with roommates rotated to help in team bonding. All five tourists this writer spoke to were full of praise for the hospitality they received and the facilities at the college venues.

The food they enjoyed was also much praised with the generous helpings a great temptation. Fitness was maintained in runs rather than in gyms. Lobster at Hugo’s in Boston proved memorable while beef burgers and the 28 varieties of ice cream at Howard Johnson’s were favourites.

Despite the short down time between matches, the squad managed to visit many famous tourist places en route. At the outset they visited the World’s Fair in New York, a flight to Rochester gave them a view of the Great Lakes, and Niagara Falls was a highlight. In Washington they visited the Capitol, the White House and Arlington Cemetery, which they found very moving. Their final three days after the last game were based in a New York hotel and allowed visits to the Empire State building, the United Nations, Broadway, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Greenwich Village – and the inevitable shopping. Some admitted to having to buy a larger suitcase for the return flight.

Following this highly successful tour, it would be some 13 years before a formal Great Britain structure was put in place to select and prepare a team to compete in the first women’s Olympic tournament in Moscow in 1980. Because of the boycott GB did not compete in Moscow and it was not until the 1988 Seoul Games that GB women made their Olympic debut.

 

GBITT US CAPTAINS AND CONSTANCE APPLEBEE
 
 GBITT and USA captains with Constance Applebee, the British-born
pioneer credited with bringing hockey to the United States.

 

Sheila Morrow, President of Great Britain Hockey, commenting on the anniversary event, said: “I have enormous pleasure and pride to add my congratulations to the pioneering group of women who represented Great Britain & Ireland on the 1965 tour and are now recognised as playing the first ever women’s GB matches and earning the first ever women’s GB honours caps.

“Those visionary officials who collaborated to ensure the tour went ahead, together with the players selected to represent GB, certainly paved the way for future squads and set a standard that all subsequent GB internationals have striven to emulate. As GB President, I look forward to meeting members of this first team as soon as practicable and giving public acknowledgement of their achievements.”

Scot Janice Lang (nee Mitchell) summed up the reaction of the players, twelve of whom will earn honours caps, saying: “I’m absolutely stunned at the news but delighted to get tangible recognition of our achievement after all this time.”

The importance of this USA tour in the annals of hockey history has been uncovered by the very thorough investigative work carried out by the volunteer statisticians at The Hockey Museum. It is amazing that prior to this study project no definitive playing records existed for the Great Britain teams. It was through the investigations that this 1965 tour became apparent and, as the Americans had advertised the two games as full internationals, it was obvious that GB had to consider including them.

The study is now complete with 415 women’s matches in addition to the 615 men’s matches. The records give full results of all matches, with goal scorers, match number and, most interestingly, the player numbers. The numbers for the tourists to the USA are easy to determine as they were the very first GB women’s internationals. The remainder, together with all the other fascinating information, will be announced in May 2021 when the GB teams preparing to go to the Tokyo Olympics will receive their international honours caps.

This will be followed over the next few years by definitive details of England players, hopefully in time for the World Cups, then a listing of all international matches ever played, some 29,000 of them. The Hockey Museum also has volunteers working on a listing of Umpires and Officials, the unsung heroes of our sport. Then we will turn our attention to the English National and Regional Leagues for which virtually no complete records exist.

 

If you fancy getting involved with this fascinating and rewarding work, please get in touch. Don’t be frightened off because you have no experience in statistics.

The writer is indebted to the five tourists who contributed to the composition of the story of the USA tour: Janice Lang (nee Mitchell) and Valerie Crombie (Sinclair) from Scotland; Eirianwen (Nan) Thomas and Janet Hopkin (Morgan) from Wales; and Joan Priestman (Horne) of Ireland. Their memories in recalling events 55 years ago were remarkable.


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