Not too old just yet Being the oldest on the roster is only a number

LONDON, UK – Training starts this week for Streatham and just like many players across the National Ice Hockey League, I am looking forward to another season of training, travel, games and hopefully not many visits to the dentist or the hospital.

This time last year I started writing a diary for the first time in my life. I have tried this before and failed after about a month of trying to make my life sound more interesting than it actually was.

We all like to think that our lives are exciting and glamorous, that they are in some ways more dramatic or sensational than others but as you get older you realise that your sh*t smells just like everybody else’s and that in fact you are as significant as the bloke stood next to you sweating on the Underground.

The reason I wrote it was not to be the next version of Bridget Jones, a London based divorcee skating his woes away in an exciting (or otherwise) season of National Ice Hockey League action, but simply to chart what could be my final season of competitive hockey in a Redskins jersey.

I figured I could look back on it in old age or show my kids it if I ever have any, a reminder of my final swansong playing a game I have devoted most of my life to.

A year on and I am signed up and ready to start my fifth season with Streatham Redskins at the grand old age of 33. I am the oldest guy on the roster and admittedly a squad player in every sense.

I may have finished the season on the second line in the Play-Offs thanks to a crippling injury list and an improvement on my part, but I am not naïve to think that I will be batting that high up the order this coming year, at least to start with.

At the first session of training after the summer break of 2012 my mind was perhaps not where it should have been as part of my diary entry showed.

Photo by Nicky Craft

Photo by Nicky Craft

Thursday 9 August 2012 – Head to training after work and start off badly by sawing my new stick down too short, due to a rather attractive Japanese girl sat across from me in the skate hire area. This lack of concentration means I am once again stuck with the broken stick that now has a blade that looks like a shark took a bite out of it.

Strangely enough, the attractive lady that indirectly ruined my £120 stick was not just hanging around the rink trying to pick up men late at night (all my years in ice rinks should have told me this), but was actually with her boyfriend Hironori Kobayashi.

The Hokkaido native played in the Federal league last year for Danville Dashers and is here to trial with the team. He sets off to do his warm up in the car park in what can be best described as a foil suit much to everyone’s amusement – clearly more professional than the rest of us.

To add to the international flavour, a guy wearing a Romanian Olympic tracksuit shows up with an entourage and declares he would like to try out for the team as well. Mircea Constantin an Olympic swimmer and Romanian junior ice hockey international is only 16 but he looks a good player.

Training goes ok and Kobayashi also looks like a good player, I score a pretty good goal in the top shelf which everyone cheers. I am not sure whether to take it as a compliment, or whether it’s a shock induced cheer – did Carrsy really just roof one?!

The English Language is full of clichés and boy does hockey make the most of them. One I hear regularly is ‘I am getting too old for this game’ and it is bandied about by hockey players from as young as 22 upwards.

I used to use it myself, probably from around 25 in fact. One day in 2010 I made that casual phrase when a voice piped up in the locker room and said

‘Stop saying that, I hate it when people say that, it is a load of bollocks, you wouldn’t be here if you believed that so if you don’t believe it don’t say it‘

It was a throwaway remark from both of us, but I had a think about it and have never uttered that sentence since. Age is a number and convincing yourself you are gone before your time helps nobody, least of all yourself.

Say it enough times and you will begin to believe it and I believe I fell into that trap myself.

Redskins room

Redskins room

So this summer I have skated with the various recreational teams in London, sometimes playing well and other times stinking out the building. I love the enthusiasm and spirit of those that play rec hockey exhibit.

They often pay through the nose for ice time and equipment but do so because they love the game and I like to be on the ice with players like that.

I have skated with London Legion, London Devils, Streatham Nightwolves, Lee Valley Lions and Haringey Racers and enjoyed almost every minute of it. I have also enjoyed the holidays and summer break from the regular training and games both with the Redskins and the Streatham Braves under 14’s team who I coach.

Now hockey is almost back and I feel a lot more positive than I did twelve months ago. Streatham have seven defensemen and if everyone is fit and I don’t play well, there is a risk I could be sat picking out splinters or worse sat in the Harvester eating Sunday dinner with the rest of the people with nothing better to do.

It is a risk but that’s what hockey is about. The key is not to write yourself off early, don’t hide behind your age and give it a good shot.

This year my diary starts with the following excerpt:

Streatham fans

Streatham fans

Thursday 22 August 2013 – The summer wind is blowing across the canopy and the sound of the Mediterranean sea crashes against the beach below as the waiter serves our drinks. The natural ambience is ruined slightly by a balding Italian man playing a selection of seventies tracks on an electronic keyboard.

Suddenly the rough looking peroxide blonde women in her forties gets up from the table behind and picks up the microphone. ‘No one mentioned karaoke’ I chunter under my breath and then the opening chords of ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon fly out of the Yamaha special. I wince visibly as I hate this song, it is up there with ‘Raining Men’ and ‘Harvest for the World’ in my list of all time worst music.

Then something happens that surprises everyone (proven by the worried looking faces when she got up from her table), the slightly overweight crooning chubster smashes it. Not the plastic stage beneath her heels but the song. She adapts it and makes it better, much better and when she hits the final note the ovation from everyone present is well deserved.

I want to be that women, in a hockey sense of course and exceed expectations.

My kit is washed which is good news as it was beginning to smell like sewage, training starts Thursday and I cannot wait to see the lads again. Bring on the hockey season for another year and let’s see what happens.

Streatham have a new rink coming, a good team, knowledgeable coaching team, dedicated fans and of course lovely jerseys. Exciting times indeed.

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