Andy Halliday is Team Manager, England Hockey and was Great Britain Mens Olympic Hockey Team Manager at the 2012 Olympics. Andy had previously served 30 years as a London Metropolitan Police Officer. In this guest post he reports on a unique, cross-borough inclusive Hockey event in Waltham Forest – and reflects on the Olympic legacy and the impact on sport and communities of east London. We are grateful to Andy for permission to reproduce this article which first appeared on his own blog.
The word legacy has reverberated since the curtains closed on the London Olympic experience. Sometimes overused, sometimes misunderstood. However, not for over 100 able bodied and disabled athletes in East London last week, beneficiaries of the true gold standard Olympic legacy experience and stamped with the ‘hockey nation” logo. In our minority sport, the England Hockey Board take the legacy project rather seriously and last weeks events at the Walthamstow Academy were indicative of the attempts to maximise the Olympic “glow”.
For many of the children participating in the event, the glow began well before the games in the Olympic Park. The brainchild of former Great Britain Men’s Coach, Jason Lee and Chris Grant, a member of Lord Coe’s legacy team, the foundations were laid on a cold March morning at Newham 6th form College in 2011. Thirty youngsters from Newham and Tower Hamlets were cajoled, mentored and taught the basics of hockey by the Great Britain Men’s Olympic training squad. It wasn’t just about the hockey and the benefits were mutual for both groups. For International athletes, listening to young people and learning that day to day life in this deprived area of London was tough, had a substantial impact. And so the relationship began, the FRE Flyers (named after three Olympic values, friendship, respect and excellence) were born and the bond has gone from strength to strength.
Incredibly, some three months later both groups were heading for a camp site and sharing a double decker bus on route to Nijmergen, Holland, where the Flyers tasted their first competitive hockey against youngsters from the local Union hockey club. Coached by the GB group, it became clear that this was a rather special bond.
And so to London 2012, for the Flyers, tickets to see the Olympic hockey were a fantastic reward. For the GB Men, the ultimate disappointment of finishing 4th and missing out on a medal was tough to take. However, if the Riverbank Arena had a roof, the noise created by the small band of Flyers (and Chris) would have surely raised it. In our hour of need, when times were tough, the Flyers were there, raucous, noisy on the terraces, supportive off the pitch. No chance that the end of the Olympics would see any reduction in activity for the Flyers. With continued support from Community Links and substantial financial help from Land Aid, paired with Chris Grant’s dedication and the appointment of Jo Melchior as group leader, the future was looking healthy. Regular Friday night training in Beckton followed under the watchful eye of coach, Allan Dick.
Their progress, both on and off the field has been remarkable. For four of the Flyers in particular, this was so evident on Wednesday. I ran a two-hour coaching session for some of the aspiring youngsters from Waltham Forest Hockey Club. Helping me were Flyers, Mike, Dawn, Stevie and Bradley. Two years ago, they hadn’t picked up a stick and here they were, encouraging, organising and passing on their tips to a willing enthused group of youngsters.
The next step is for the Flyers to start playing regular games next season, more recruitment and development is needed, but the glow is bright. And so to yesterday. The Fre Flyers were joined by youngsters from Arsenal Gunners, Waltham Forest Hockey Club and the Forest Flyerz, a disability hockey group. With 30 coaches and mentors from both GB squads running 12 six-a-side teams and providing a morning coaching masterclass, the day was a resounding success.
Many also took up the opportunity to fire a few balls at current GB squad member, Patrick Smith. 150 shots later, Pat described it as “the best workout he’d had all week!”
The atmosphere all day was electric, the enjoyment, palpable. None more so than amongst the Forest Flyerz. This hockey disability project is, I think, the first of its kind. Panny and her helpers (including Kate Walsh) had their hands full controlling the enthusiasm of their 17 strong squad. They were joined in the afternoon by Alex Danson, Georgie Twigg, Simon Mantell and Dan Fox. We have something very special in hockey when five iconic members of our International squads can spend two enjoyable hours mentoring and helping such a deserving group. To many of the able bodied, the challenge of working with disability groups is often difficult, but Panny immediately puts you at ease. “Forget any apprehension, they all just love playing hockey.” And so it proved, they are an inspiring bunch.
According to Panny, there are at least 20 clubs interested in setting up this sort of project. A long way off, but could we see hockey in the Paralympics in years to come?
For the remainder of the GB athletes, it was a six-a-side tournament, rounded off with presentations to all who took part. Not sure that anybody actually wanted to go home. As the GB athletes signed an unending batch of autographs, I caught a glimpse of our GB Head Coaches, Bobby Crutchley (Men) and Jason Lee (Women) packing away the inflatable goal and carrying it to the bus. (Take note, Roy Hodgson!) With EHB development officer, Charlie Farrow brilliantly overseeing the day, it went without a hitch. It wouldn’t have happened without the support of the staff at Walthamstow Academy, the financial support of Waltham Forest Council and help from Waltham Forest Hockey Club. The Fre Flyers would not be in existence had it not been for Community Links and the continued funding from Land Aid. With the proposed legacy Hockey centre at Eton Manor in the pipeline to host the 2015 European Cups, it looks like there could be a new batch of supporters ready to raise the roof and cheer our teams on to Gold.
The hockey future in this part of London is looking healthy and the seed sown by Jason Lee and Chris Grant continues to grow.
Personally, I have loved every minute of my involvement with the Flyers. Yes, the transition period at the end of the Olympics has been difficult for many involved at the performance end of the game. However, the personal involvement in this initiative really brings a smile to your face. I’ve witnessed and been involved in some bad events in London over the years and sometimes only seen things from one perspective. Seeing this evolve from an area where I was used to only meeting the bad guys has done me so much good. As we move forward, it is obvious that the benefits are reciprocal.