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Grass Roots of Hockey: From 14th century repression to global domination

Did you know that hockey was once played with a rubber cube? The first professional team in the world was set up in the mid 19th century and is still growing from strength to strength now? That it was through the education system that hockey flourish in England, ensuring its development to the game we know and love today? I didn’t either. Here’s hockey’s historical grass roots story.

The Greeks were considered gods of sport. The creators of the Olympics with a multiple of Adonis-like heroes battling against each other in a variety of events in search of glory and victory, to be the best of the best. Hockey, or the essence of hockey, was included here, where Athenian legends combated against each other in force using similar equipment to Irish Gaelic Hurling today.

There are a variety of traditional sports that were born within the realms of the United Kingdom that intertwine the beginnings of hockey. In Scotland the classic game of Shinty was played across the country, although typically more popular within the stormy highlands of the northern parts of the country. Warring villages played against each other, using camen, which is similar to the hockey stick, albeit a lot heavier and the head is slanted on both sides in order to chip the ball too. The aim of the game is to get the ball into the back of the net, pretty similar features right? However, the game is full contact, you wear helmets and you have to be very courageous to play – definitely not for the faint hearted. Shinty is still played today, especially within universities such as St Andrews, where they celebrate their Scottish roots and submerge themselves in Scotland’s vibrant history.

Both Wales and Ireland have their own national sports that helped build the foundation of the hockey family of sports, bridging the gap between history and the present. In Wales, in particular the south, a game called Bondo was played, which was apparently as brutal as it’s Celtic rivals in the north. The rules echoes those of hockey, however the game died a death slowly due to the lack of consistency, as the games were officiated due to two neighboring villages agreeing on the rules beforehand, therefore no two games were ever the same. This could be the reason why the 30 men on a field battling it out became quite an angry affair.   However, some games are still played as part of Easter celebrations in the south of the country.

It’s safe to say that hockey as we know it is an English invention, where the first mention of the game was during the14th century when king Edward III repressed sport for the working class. Due to this, hockey remained dormant in the sleepy hills of England for centuries until the Victorian era. The Victorians are renowned for being revolutionaries for a variety of reasons. Britain underwent a dramatic transformation with Queen Victoria on the throne, and she was a true advocate to grow and develop social and cultural aspects of life for her people.

During this time there was a resurgence of sports in schools, in particular the public school system that harnessed a healthy ethos of competitive culture within their philosophy. This was a lifeline for the development of hockey, as it was through fiery matches between old rivals that hockey grew in dominance, becoming as popular as rugby and football, a spectacle that was really worthy to behold. Interestingly, this echoes the foundation of growing the sport today, facilitating talent at grass roots level through the nurturing of hockey within schools in order to develop and sustain healthy and distinguished competition both locally and internationally.


The Victorian era was also the time the first ever professional club was established in England’s capital, London: Blackheath HC. 1861 to be exact. After undergoing a transitioning period where they have developed a link with a local school in order to foster and cultivate the club to new levels whilst building on their initial fundamental values, the club is still a force to be reckoned with within the hockey world. They are now in their 151st year, with a new name of Blackheath and Elthamians taking them into their new chapter.

According to sources another London based club had their say in transforming the game. Teddington HC revolutionized the game by introducing the sphere ball and the attacking half circles; more commonly known as the D now. Previously using a rubber cube played the game!

The 19th century also saw the dominant rise of The British Empire, where Britain extended its boarders across the globe, with hockey surging through. One country that embraced hockey to its full extent is India. Hockey became exceptionally popular, growing from strength to strength at a ferocious pace. This is undoubtedly the foundation that India hockey built its game upon, and could be the reason why India Hockey League is a giant in the hockey world now. Proof of its popularity is conveyed in the fact that India won gold every Olympics in succession between 1928 to 1956.

The Olympics is considered the main stage for international hockey, the Commonwealth Games also offers a grand display for the world to enjoy the unrivalled entertainment that only hockey can offer on a global scale. Some of the former colonized countries are some of the best countries in the world in our field, such as: Australia, New Zealand, The Home Countries (England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland), Canada and Pakistan. There is no doubt that history has had a crucial and indispensible effect on growing the game in these countries. A coincidence? I think not.

Also, over in the USA hockey widely recognized and celebrated with over 250 colleges and universities across the country offering coveted scholarships, showing its popularity and prominence.

In sport, we naturally consider the future as an essential part of progressing. We look forward to what’s to come: future achievements, moving on and growing to new levels. However, as part of development it is essential that we reflect and learn from previous challenges and obstacles that signpost our strength and courage to overcome adversity. It’s just like driving a car; we need to look back whilst moving forward – this is how we get to new and exciting places.

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