Play to Win, Play to Play
I gave a talk to the College of which I was the Chaplain a few years ago, on the role of sport in my life. I have always been a ball player, and loved balls of all shapes and sizes from very early in my life. I seemed to have wasted so much time in my life throwing a ball against a wall, catching or bowling or batting or kicking a ball.
I learned to play hockey in the streets of Woodstock when I was very young. My elder brother and my sisters played hockey so my younger brother and I always had hockey sticks available to us. We could supply a team of kids in our street with sticks, so everyone could play. And like many people, I have played to win, sometimes at all cost. I played hockey for teams in Cape Town, and for teams in Scotland and England, and through this sport made many friends and have had lots of fun.
I still play hockey into my 70s and have played Masters Hockey for South Africa in Oxford, Holland, Australia, Barcelona and Belgium. I love team sports, that sense of being part of a group with a mission and the friendships and camaraderie that come with it. Our coaches are like generals before a battle plotting the downfall of the other side and encouraging us to win.
But these days, as I have grown over the years, I have come to a new understanding of why I play sport, and walk and keep fit, and give so much seemly wasted time to it.
It is quite simply that I play to play. Enjoy three of my masters’ hockey poems. I offer them in a spirit of fun.
Hockey Masters in March
It’s a hot March afternoon.
Our masters hockey players are at work
on an expansive green unwet astroturf field.
The field licks its tongue in the dryness
and the white ball refuses to befriend our players.
We are the over 65s, as fit as our longevity,
breaking all the records that our parents set.
We are living the life of eternal youthfulness.
The invitation team we play against is really as old as we
but they have won a match.
The sun explodes in red spots
and reaches the fulcrum of our earth field,
reducing energy levels and drying up our water.
In the turmoil of heat and lethargy
the game lingers a little beyond stationary.
Now I’m furious with the right wing!
Whenever I look up, he’s busy unscrewing his prosthesis.
We advised him not to play but after Oscar Pistorius
he has a vision of becoming famous.
Our backs are a little precarious.
The hubs of their wheelchairs haven’t been oiled for months.
The squeal of their wheels creates such panic in the back line.
To pass the ball back is like laying tiles on a weekend.
The two inside forwards both suffer with arthritis
so that when one expects a strong pass
one gets this feather weight leanto that never really almost reaches you.
Now our centre-half has colon syndrome.
He’s a nice chap really but he plays hockey with such heaves and sighs
that it always appears that he is rushing for the loo.
Our left wing is totally deaf. He plays and smiles.
All attempts to exchange him for another player fail.
In fact we have to slap him with a hockey stick
to injure him in order to bring on a fresh player.
Even then he only smiles, while someone clears the blood.
Ours link players are on zimmer frames.
They are all on the board of an Old Age Home.
They move in a wonderful rhythm to the tune of “We are the champions”,
which is quite misplaced as none of them
can keep a tune or move in sync.
I look back and see that our backs are swiffling around in wheel chairs.
Our coach who controls the movement of their chairs has lost control of the monitors and sneezes with hay fever.
But the most frightening aspect of our play
is the nature and shape of our shadows.
They do not follow us as one would expect.
It is as though they are more aware of what we are capable of
than we ourselves, for often
when we rush into a dribble
which is more than what happens along the line of our mouths,
they seem to just stand and wait, with hands on hips
until we return to them.
The centre-forward had to run fifty yards
against the run of play, to catch up with his shadow.
His shadow didn’t half give him a drubbing down for being so ambitious.
I look forward to having a few pints tonight in our local pub
The Old Goose, an event of which
our warden knows nothing.
First Published in McGregor Poetry Festival 2013 Anthology
Quotation and story by Dorian Haarhoff, poet and story-teller on the theme of sport.
Poems read by ordinary people Today a poem entitled Mauve Month, by Mike Alfred is read by Peter Fox, Counsellor and Hospice Chaplain. Jozie in the poem is the city of Johanneburg.
Quotation from Rumi the poet:
The breeze at dawn has something to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep.
When I heard my first love story
I started looking for you
Not realising how blind I was
Lovers don’t finally meet
They’re in each other all along
Western Cape Bird Photograph by photographer John Donald
Twice a year I invite small donations to my blog. The blog is free and will remain so, however if you enjoy it and use some of the material you may like to make a small donation towards its upkeep and improvement. Donations to
R W Commin, Standard Bank, Rondebosch, Current A/C 071438475, code 02-50-09
S.W.I.F.T. Address SBZA ZA JJ
Ivan the Terrible
Becoming a fearsome defender
He is Ivan
the iron curtain
of the uncertain,
who aims his stick
and runs you down
a missile on attack.
He is Ivan the terrible
He’s animal not vegetable.
He grumbles here;
He gnaws you there
and flicks you with his hip.
And when you fall
he stands so tall.
His smile is all polite
but that is you for the night.
He is Ivan
He eats your stick
and gulps your ball.
He seeks you here,
he seeks you there.
His manners are invisible.
He is Ivan the terrible.
When whistle blows
he snuffs his nose
and stiffens from his toes,
but when the ump gives him the query,
he’s all bonhomie and merry.
Now glasnost is his claim
until the next encounter,
when the missile like a spear
flashes past your ear
and before you can retreat
you are the victim at his feet.
He is Ivan the terrible
He’s animal not vegetable.
So pass the ball to the player
on your right.
A tribute to hockey coaches who never give up on their teams, despite their age and who are constantly trying to teach you new skills.
Watch what you teach Master Players
To field hockey at 70
Yes, watch what you teach master players,
you coaches of books and television.
You at the side-lines gazing the crystal ball.
How you gesticulate and chalk with red.
Don’t go forward, turn around, and pass ball back.
And the pitch is green, rough and dark as the forest,
mysterious in movement of moonlight and floodlight.
Turn around, turn around, 180, 360,
Go back, not forward, start again, then left, then right.
And the sky is angry in its darkening gestures.
And the clouds descend like chariots on the hills.
Turn around, turn around, pass back to go forward.
Then shrieking and shrieking till moments are silent,
For the masked and armoured ‘keeper
Has turned round to pass backward…
And the pitch is green and the sky dark in moonlight mystery.