My forty year love affair!

Back in 1974 a young enthusiastic hockey player from Sunderland was co-opted at 3 weeks’ notice to fill a vacancy in his clubs Easter Touring side.

So started 40 years of Easter at Blackpool.

The early days at our social centre – Blackpool Cricket Club – saw an upstairs room with bare wood flooring, pie and peas and “Dancing Girls” who gyrated for male entertainment. Pennants brought to swap with other teams were seen dangling from nipples! This was a men only festival.

Games were played for crates of beer often drunk at half time!

The pitches were marked out areas on Stanley Park and if you were really lucky you got to play on the cricket oval. Flat they were not, full size they were not, muddy they were, more often than not. In those days a new offence of stamping the ball into the pitch was added to the FIH rules.

As the years progressed discos in the downstairs of the cricket club became the norm with DJ Steve Kennedy (who was heavily involved with the Cricket Club and later went on to sponsor the Mixed Festival) on the decks, and records were played which allowed the Undertakers from Bury H.C to parade round with their coffin (often filled with cans) and the boys from Dyabas, Fudgie, Marshall, Dougie et al to dance to Jeff Beck’s Hi Ho Silver lining with their own words of DY…DY…DYABAS.

Sadly numbers dwindled to a mere 13 teams in 1986 with Peter’s club no longer one of them. They were off to other Festivals. At that time every seaside resort seemed to have a festival at Easter – Scarborough, Bridlington, Folkestone – with results reported in the Daily Telegraph!!

Peter joined up with the York Trojans boys and came as an umpire.

Umpires in those days were provided by the teams from the previous match and were marshalled by a funny little man with a bobble hat who patrolled Stanley Park with a dozen whistles hung on string round his neck “volunteering” you to umpire on pitch C D or E. That man was TA “Bunny” Wain who took over as Festival President from George Greaves.

Thankfully umpires are more organised now and a Merry Band gather every year.

Weather at Blackpool is to say the least unreliable and one year when all the grass pitches were waterlogged two teams fed up with drinking (honestly) took to the beach. Magpies from Shifnall versus York Trojans. Pitch marked, posts created and the game started with Peter as one of the umpires.

“How long we playing for Peter?” came the cry. As ever he quickly came back with the retort ”Until the tide comes in”!!

Peter continued to Umpire at the festival and in 1999 took over from Ken Mounter as Umpires’ Secretary, a role he undertook by living in the umpires’ room and sending umpires to all parts of the Fylde coast. The Festival had spread to several outlets where “Astro turf” pitches were based. Hockey was now played on plastic grass,

2006 disaster strikes. A carefully planned hip resurfacing operation is cancelled at the last minute when a nurse collapsed in the operating theatre with an anaphylactic shock.

No Blackpool now as the operation was reorganised for 1st April (Yes April Fools’ Day!). So after 33 years the run was to end. No Blackpool Festival!

But wait! His long suffering partner Sheila seeing how upset he was offers to drive him over for the day on the Saturday. Ever resourceful Peter offers a meal at his favourite Blackpool Italian Don Antonio’s in Red Bank Road and an overnight stay in the De Vere Hotel close to Stanley Park.

Hey Presto! Two days at the Festival hobbling with two sticks round the pitches claiming it was rehab exercises. A coffee in the umpires’ room and his usual greeting of “Mr President Good Morning” to George Robson our Festival President – All was well with the world.

2013 is his Fortieth Festival – Easter would not be the same without Sun, Sea, Sand and Hockey. Why Blackpool at Easter?? Fun & Friendships honed over 40 years. That’s what hockey is about and long may it continue.

By Peter MacLellan