Reading 5 Canterbury 5 (Women) & Reading 2 Canterbury 4 (Men) (14th October 2012)
Hockey must be my “lucky” sport. I’ve been to four games ever, including two at the Olympics, and seen 26 goals. There are more goals in hockey than in football, but even so, and 6.5 a game I’m at around double the average. I only went to the games after a mate’s late Sunday morning suggestion, and I was glad I did as £6 for two games and 16 goals was something of a bargain.
One of the pleasures of a more low-key sport is that the more egalitarian nature of the club game means a noticeable lack of big city dominance. There’s something quite comforting in a way that places such as Canterbury, East Grinstead, Beeston and Cannock can all be top sides in the national game, and Reading can count themselves as former European Champions (not to mention the detail that their their chairman was a director at the company I used to work for up until a year ago).
Of course the downside of that is that Reading’s Sonning Lane ground isn’t quite the stadium you’d imagine former European Champions to play in. I’m not going to knock it. Different sports clearly have different priorities, and the fact that they run 21 different teams, not to mention only charging £6 for a double-header, shows theirs clearly lies in the playing side rather than ticket revenue.
Actual structural spectator accommodation was limited to an uncovered “temporary” stand of about 200 seats, and a series of railway sleepers raised up a few inches as a one-step terrace – basic, but actually a lot better in terms of a view than a number of non-league grounds. Or even the odd League one, for those who’ve been to AFC Wimbledon.
One end was completely uncovered. A high mesh fence deterred fans from watching behind the goal, as did the lack of even railway sleeper terracing. The small child’s scooter behind the goal was presumably not a permanent feature. Thankfully a scoreboard was, as it would be rather busy later.
The opposite side houses the dug-outs and the sin bin for players having to sit out a few minutes after fouls. Also on that side was a green caravan of indeterminable purpose. Two angled flaps opened up allowing the occupants to peer out, giving it the look of an ornithologist ‘s hide that had been towed to the wrong location.
Much of the flat land around the perimeter was covered in astroturf, which is at least somewhat softer on the feet than concrete. Astroturf was put to its intended use behind the other goal, given over to two small training pitches rather than viewing areas. On a sunny but increasingly cooling afternoon, one team warmed up with Geordie-like defiance in “skins” rather than training tops – a mens’ team, I hasten to add.
When the women’s game started it was nearly warm, and if the the sun didn’t warm you through, the game certainly did. Reading took an early lead against their 2nd placed opponents, narrowly missing a chance to go 2-0 up in a bright start. Canterbury came back strongly, first equalising, then really stamping authority on the game to go 3-1 up late in the 1st half. A late rally saw Reading hit two goals, the last on the stroke of half time, to go in 3-3 at the break.
Could the 2nd half see another six goals? Not quite, but it wasn’t far off. Canterbury went back in from from a penalty corner 10 minutes in, only for Reading to bring it back to 4-4 with a penalty corner of their own 10 minutes later. Yet another penalty corner saw Canterbury take a 5-4 lead five minutes later, but a good run into the area, going round the stranded keeper and hitting the ball unstoppably into the top corner, saw the game tied at 5-5.
Both went for the win, and both teams looked disappointed not to have won at the final whistle, but a draw was probably a fair result.
The men took the field half an hour later, enough of a gap to grab a quick Guinness, although I did wonder if one or two of the Reading team had done similar, such was their sloppy start. Canterbury were also 2nd in the men’s league, and their slow start to the game was aided hugely by some less than memorable defending which allowed them to take a 2-0 lead their play had hardly deserved. Reading pulled one back on the half hour, and like their female counterparts, completed a first half comeback with a few minutes to spare.
That was as good as it got though for them though. Canterbury looked far more determined in the 2nd half, and parity lasted less than 15 minutes before a Canterbury attacker on a break went round a committed Reading keeper to go 3-2 up. A 4th, not too long later sealed the win, with the game suddenly becoming much tighter than the previous game and a half had been. It looked like Reading had earned a life-line with 7 minutes to go, as a cracking shot arrowed into the far corner. Alas the goal didn’t stand, and defeat from that moment in looked inevitable.
Overall, a decent, if slightly too cold at the end, day out. I’m sure Reading hockey club would rather my luck with goals would have resulted in a few more in the Canterbury net though.
Before the game I also popped across the road to have a look at Reading RFC’s ground. It was “basic” (i.e. nothing but grass around a perimeter fence) apart from one odd stand on the far side. It had four rows of wooden benches, covered by a roof supporting two tv gantry positions, like giant book-ends.