Team Focus – Combined Services HA

The Combined Services U23 Hockey team first came to the Blackpool Easter Festival in 2000. Why? Well, after attending the Canterbury Hockey Tournament over the previous two years our manager, Peter Rosser, and Lead Coach Bru Baker both decided that a change was needed.

Canterbury was OK – we did well finishing third on our second visit – but we felt we did not belong because Canterbury Hockey Club wanted National League teams at their Festival and we, the best of the youth from the Armed Forces, did not meet their criterion.

But Peter Rosser, with his contacts up North, knew of a well-established tournament with pedigree and its list of participants made our mouths water. Our eyes turned to the Blackpool Easter Hockey Festival and our first visit was to be their 49th, Festival 2000.

And so the legend that is Combined Services in Blackpool was born. Festival 2013 will be our fourteenth consecutive attendance despite all the conflicts and other requirements made upon Her Majesty’s Forces around the world.

In our first year we were not sure what to expect – was it just all fun with some easy hockey thrown in, or was it testing National League hockey? We only came 15th but we knew we had found our niche – the place to play our hockey and a town to enjoy the great nightlife and share beers with friends. In fact that first year saw us win the award as the most sociable team.

Over the following few years we introduced our three famous evening acts: Night 1 – Camp Night; Night 2 – Team Night; Night 3 – Drag Night! Other notable Combined Services activities:

The Military Pyramid which is carried out during the final night, building a human pyramid and seeing how high we can make it. At Festival 2012 we managed 21!

The famous Navy Gun Run at Stanley Park’s arena. On the running track we take apart a ‘borrowed’ trailer then put it together again as at the Military Tattoos. The wearing of skirts whilst playing – something they do in the Navy. Keeping the 24 hours MacDonalds in business before we roll in at all hours to the now famous Lancastrian Hotel. (and here we must thank Becky, the owner, for putting up with us for the past fourteen years)

As already mentioned the first management team were Peter Rosser (Army) and Bru Baker (Army, but now civilian). Peter handed over to Ali Charhaun MBE (Army) who then after a few years handed over to the respected Chris ‘Taff’ Brady (RAF) who is still in charge of the team and the overall organising. Bru is still hanging on and will be making his 100th hockey festival attendance at Blackpool 2013.

Ali is still involved and comes each year as a sort of ‘favourite uncle’ to us. He gets the best deals when we are out for curries in the evenings. We also need his expertise on the grass pitches.

The Blackpool Festival has been the best training for CS prior to the County Championships. It gives all three Services a chance to play together and to get to know each other. From day one Bru puts the Paras and the Marines in the same rooms so that they ‘bond’ or else don’t come out!

We also know that we must play good, fast and skilful hockey for us to win. But this must be done in a graceful and pleasant manner so as not to upset the teams we are up against.

Over the years the rest of the Armed Forces have recognised that the successes of the CS U23s must have their roots somewhere and they have discovered these roots are in Blackpool. Taff’s efforts have paid off.

Away from Blackpool we have met successes elsewhere. The CS U23s have been to Malaysia and also taken on and beaten teams on our Australia tour. Closer to home we have recently been to the Channel Islands and Holland.

Players who attended our first Blackpool visit still come back each year to join in. They call themselves The CS Old Boys. CS U23s and The CS Old Boys have met up on the pitch only once when the youths won.

Some of our lads have gone on to play at very high levels. Paul Montieth has represented the GB U20s, Pete Britain-Dodd and Danny Mackerkec both have played for Wales as have Bru Baker and Pete Rosser. Wayne Masters is the present Army Seniors Coach, Dan Catermole is the Army Senior Manager and plays his hockey for the National League side Hampstead and Westminster.

Finally I would like to say a big thank you to the Blackpool Festival Committee, old and new. George Robson, Peter Danson, the Danson family and each of the new committee who have given a well-established and everybody’s favourite Festival a new and exciting vibe.

The biggest thanks has to go to the teams who have joined us for many a memorable festival and who have made us, The Combined Services, feel so welcome.

We look forward to Festival 2013. We are really proud to be part of what is probably the best festival in the UK!

By Cpl Chris Brady (RAF)