I’ve come to Hong Kong to watch the IMHA Masters World Cup. There are three venues spread across the territory with games being played on four consecutive days. This is an indoor event, and has been using two state run facilities at Shek Kip Park Sports Club, in Kowloon and Island East Sports Centre. I have turned up on day three (Saturday 16th February) at Hong Kong Football Club, which is a private members, multi sports venue in Happy Valley, on the island. The HKFC Hockey section itself has some of the strongest hockey teams in the region and have provided free, temporary, membership to all participants in the tournament, so that they can make use of the fantastic range of sports and leisure facilities here, including the gym and swimming pool.
There are four categories; Men’s Over 40’s, Men’s Over 50’s, Ladies Over 40’s and Ladies Over 45’s:
|Men's Over 40's||Men's Over 50's|
|Hong Kong Dragons||Itally|
|Ladies Over 40's||Ladies Over 45's|
|Hong Kong Dragons|
The best attended game of the day is Australia vs. Hong Kong in the Men’s Over 40’s division. There are a lot of families in attendance watching the game, quite a few kids enjoying seeing the older lads playing including a few sons and daughters in attendance, as well as some of the HKFC junior players dotting around in their club colours. Just before half time, Hong Kong take a 1 – 0 lead, from a penalty corner. Goals are a bit more frequent in the second half and with a little over five minutes remaining the score is now level at 2 – 2, with Australia levelling the game from a rebound, after hitting the post. With 30 seconds left, Hong Kong get a penalty corner again, but fail to convert this time. The game goes to a shootout. Hong Kong win 3 – 1 in the shuffles, with the keeper putting on a good display. He gets a hug from his reserve and a friendly slap on the back from a team mate.
There is a wealth of talent and knowledge at this tournament. Over this weekend I will meet former full internationals and national team coaches from Australia, Canada, Barbados, USA, Germany and Switzerland. I’ve even met an Aussie umpire who’s officiated at world cup finals and Olympic games. There are also a number of female team managers supporting male teams, which sets a nice change of pace from the mainstream game.
One of the characters that I’ve met in my time here is Dave Cox, who is one of the attacking players for Canada. He is also the Head Coach for the Barbados National Men’s A Team and a former international himself. He is a dual national, having held a Canadian passport for fifteen years. Having settled down with a Canadian wife he feels that his adoptive country is now his home. He’s done well with the Barbadians, though, moving them up from a world ranking in the forties somewhere, to 28th in the FIH Indoor rankings. He explains to me that Barbados, playing in the Pan American competitions, are coming up against economically stronger countries, with larger populations, such as the USA and Argentina and that this is the main challenge that his teams are facing. He is also struggling to compete for funding against sports such as cricket and football, which are more popular in the Caribbean region. He is positive though and seems proud about the developments his teams have made over the years. Dave tells me that the Canadian outdoor programme is getting some good funding from the government. The indoor programme is based in Toronto and is mainly self funded, but are bringing through a lot of youth team players, so the future seems bright.
Ashley Grumitt, who won the English National 1st Division with Bournville is here with the Australian O50’s. He remarks that at events like this it’s a fantastic opportunity to continue his friendly rivalries with the old English boys that he was playing against in the 1980’s. He praises the facilities and the perks that HKFC have provided, but this sort of fun competitiveness is part of the reason why he comes along Masters events. He also likes to set an example to the younger members of his family, showing them that we can keep active to a high standard, no matter what age you are.
Ken Pereira, also of Canada, is a two time Olympian, having gone to the Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008 Games. He has also won two Pan American gold medals and competed at World Cups, including the 2003 indoor event in Leipzig, as well as the 2012 World Series Hockey League, which is the precursor to the Indian Hockey League. He puts his memories of the Olympics as the highlight of his career. The moments that come with participating in a great multi sports festival is something that seems to be appreciated by him. The idea of an amateur athlete sitting down to breakfast next to LeBron James and Kobe Bryant of the USA Basketball team is something that seems special. He says that there is a similar atmosphere here at the Masters World Cup in Hong Kong. There is a relaxed party ethos and an enjoyment of being involved in sport, but also with a will to win and a stout competitiveness amongst the participants.
I’m back again on day four for the finals. The Germans have been dominating matches so far in the tournament and this is shown, in a literal sense – in the Gold Medal Match for the Ladies O45 category, we see Germany O45’s playing against Germany O50’s. The younger team is a bit more fluid up front at the start, but the O50’s get the first penalty corner. The goalkeeper breaks early, sending one of the defenders to the half way line, although the forwards can’t capitalise on the advantage. The O45’s keep coming forward and take a 1 – 0 lead at half time. The O50’s equalise within two minutes of the restart, making it 1 – 1. Six minutes later the number 27 for the O45’s beats two defenders and plays the ball to the left for her team mate to score past a prone goalkeeper to make it 2 – 1. The lead is extended further from a penalty corner. With around 90 seconds remaining the O50’s pull one back from a penalty corner of their own. The excitement is tangible as this derby match comes to a close, but the older team can’t find an equaliser and the match finishes Germany O45 3 – 2 Germany O50. I’ve spoken to a couple members of the German coaching staff and they seem to be fairly confident of success for their teams across all of the categories and it’s proving to be well founded. The Germans put this down to the level of commitment towards indoor hockey back home, with serious leagues set up and players taking up the small sided version of the game from an early age. The understanding of what to do, how to do it and when seems to be of a much more advanced level to many of the other nations.
The Men’s O40’s Gold Medal Match sees Germany playing the hosts Hong Kong. There’s a huge attendance from the locals, who are mingling in with the players of the teams from elsewhere in the tournament. It’s standing room only for many people and the corners of the spectator gallery are rammed, especially where the makeshift bar is situated, with plenty of beer flowing. The Germans continue to show their dominance over indoor hockey, by scoring in the first, fourth and seventh minutes to take a three goal lead. On 10 minutes, Hong Kong are awarded a penalty stroke and a chance to get one back, but the player puts it wide of the left hand post. The Germans, with perfect efficiency keep on scoring and the first half finishes 6 – 0. The Central Europeans keep possession of the ball very well, their qualities on the ball are finer, the speed of thought is quicker and their greater technique means that they are able to extend their lead in the second half. It’s a joy to watch. Their short corner routines look particularly effective. The biggest cheer of the match, though, happens seven minutes into the second half when Hong Kong pull one back. The Germans reply quickly to make the score 8 – 1 in their favour, from a penalty corner and this is how the game ends. It’s been a clean sweep for the Germans, winning all four categories, across the men’s and women’s events, as well as winning silver in one of the finals as well.
Glenn Paton is the President of the International Masters Hockey Association (IMHA), which is the organising committee of the competition. He is nice enough to sit down with me and have a chat about the history of Masters Hockey and what is happening in the future. He tells me that events of this kind started primarily with the Pacific Rim nations, putting on events around that region. It developed slowly to include teams from nations of other continents and the first FIH recognised Masters World Cup was hosted in Canterbury, England in 2012 and it continued to grow. Glenn hails from Scotland and it turns out that he actually played for an earlier incarnation of the club that I played for – the Waverley part of Waverley Inveresk Trinity Hockey Club – and won the Scottish Championship in his heyday. Interestingly he thinks that we might only see the 11 a side version of the game in Masters Hockey in years to come, with the International Olympic Committee thinking about using the smaller version of the game as a cost saving mechanism. He seems keen to talk about, not only the development of these sorts of events up to now, but also what is happening in the future. The IMHA and the World Grand Masters organisations will be merging together, as per the FIH plan from five years ago and will have the overarching reach of responsibilities for all age groups up to Over 75 categories, which will begin from the 2nd of August. The idea of this being that they will be able to sanction all events and work with National Governing Bodies in order to promote the sport for veteran players and help these events to grow further.
There seems to be quite a sense of camaraderie between the different teams and players. Off the pitch people are mixing together well. Quite a few different people have told me how enjoyable it is to play with their old mates from the height of their playing days and to come across other familiar faces from the wider hockey community. Events like this Masters World Cup seems to be a fantastic opportunity to bring people together, from a wide range of countries and continents. I managed to have a chat with Karen Seaman of Australia, after she had won the bronze medal in the Ladies O45 tournament. She is formerly an assistant coach and team manager within the Australian national set up. She has also played at the regular Indoor World Cup at Leipzig 2003, but took a break from playing as she went into coaching. She was talked into picking up her stick again for this competition. Participating in this masters tournament seems to have reinvigorated Karen’s passion for playing again and she puts this down to the atmosphere created by the coaching staff and team mates. Her team mate Lisa Roach, who was an Olympic level umpire, as well as a former Australian international is also with us. She makes the point that the games are still very competitive and combative, but that is left out on the pitch at the final whistle and she reiterates her friend’s point of the players wanting to have a good time together afterwards. Karen tells me that if the team can carry on this positive ethos in further events and continue to get along together then she’ll want to continue playing for as long as possible. She speaks with real enthusiasm and she gets joyfully emotional about talking about her pride for playing for her country again – her playing career seems to have been truly reinvigorated by Masters Hockey.