May 23, 2024

Women’s international hockey upstaged by Charlie’s military flyover, in Stratford

A couple of thousand people were sat in the national hockey stadium in Stratford today, watching the Netherlands muscle their US counterparts out of a game they went on to win by a handsome margin.

Towards the end of the first quarter, the crowds, and maybe the players too, were distracted for ten minutes by an assortment of military and civilian planes, flying overhead. Apparently the airborne spectacle was organised as part of the birthday celebrations of a rich chap, by the name of Charles, who lived in west London.

Well, the hockey was scintillating. I was amazed at the quality of play. I had to constantly remind myself that this wasn’t some local knock-about. Its easy to forget you’re watching an international when you’re in such as modestly sized stadium.

The Dutch women were quite something. Tanned, long-legged, athletic, muscular, slim and dressed in bright orange. They smacked the hockey ball round the pitch and harassed their American opponents til the very end. The Americans were plucky, but wider in gate and slower in movement. Some of them looked more like power lifters, ill suited to tracking their Dutch counterparts.

For a while though both the Dutch and the Americans were overshadowed by the planes. There were red arrows. There was a load of fighter jets spelling out CR in the sky. Whilst the players played their hockey, the crowds looked up at the sky and let out gasps of astonishment. Sometimes they were spellbound, momentarily terrified by some of the more sinister military planes.

It wasn’t just the crowd who was distracted. During the interval break, whilst the planes continued to pass overhead, the stadium DJ played the theme tune from Top Gun.

The music system in the stadium is fantastic. We should have all had a disco on the pitch at the end of the match. Instead the tradition is to play intense electronic music, whenever a penalty corner is awarded, whilst the defending players put on their skull protectors.

Moments before the resumption of the next quarter, the stadium screen had a close up of a Dutch player, trying her hardest to mentally prepare. It was all in vein. The music that was being played between quarters was so loud and visceral, it was impossible to think about anything else. Everyone in the stadium was now under the spell of The Proclaimers and the chorus from ‘Letter From America’. Hockey is a game of short sprints and confrontations and yet it was all the player could do to not think about walking 500 miles.

But most sympathy goes to those poor Americans: demolished by the Dutch, having their republican sentiments injured by royalist pageantry and then, to add salt to the wounds, told to send a letter back once they’d gotten back home (its nice to know you’re here, its nice to know you’re here etc).

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