Hockey at Bedford School has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, and much of this is perhaps testament to the superb example set by our 1st XI, whose determination and commitment to the game has set the bar and filtered through the school with more boys, at all levels, playing more games than ever.
The resilience and stoicism, mental attitude and courage of these young men was put to the test on Wednesday 1 May, when they travelled to the Olympic Park to compete for the national title in the prestigious England Hockey National Cup Finals.
The match began with an emotional minute’s silence to remember Mrs Jo Spir, a much-loved member of our staff who sadly passed away the night before. Both teams, officials and supporters bowed their heads and the arena was momentarily calm; a wonderful tribute to a remarkable lady.
Quick off the mark, Charlie Axford scored the first goal of the match against a strong St George’s College side. This was followed by a second from Tom Blythman before half time. Back into the second half with two goals comfortably under their belts, Charlie scored a further two goals; bagging himself a hat-trick. His third goal was a spectacular show of dribbling and ball control, swerving neatly past the St George’s defence and effortlessly placing the ball into the back of the net from 40 yards.
Bedford boys and teachers, including the Head Master came out in force to support the boys, including a coachload of boarders cheering from the stands. And what a game they witnessed! The atmosphere was electric and the boys were jubilant with their 4-0 win. Despite the victory, their experience and manner enabled them to maintain a steely focus for the final, to be played the following day.
The boys spent Thursday in active recovery, which included walks around the Olympic Park and a tour of the West Ham Stadium – the stadium used for the London Olympics. It was soon time for pre-match warm ups and the start of the Cup Final against Charterhouse School.
Once again, in true Bedford School style, supporters came along to cheer on the boys in this all-important match. A group of Prep School boys were particularly animated and excitable for the big game. One of the Prep boys told us afterwards, “The atmosphere was really exciting and intense. It was so cool to be able to go. We all loved it.”
The first half started off fragmented and open, with the players not quite finding their rhythm. Charterhouse were first to score taking the score to 1-0 at half time – we still had everything to play for. An equaliser came from Felix Mallalieu in the second half. In a heart-stopping moment, with just a minute of play left, Bedford were awarded a penalty, which the Charterhouse goalkeeper saved. The sound of the final whistle meant penalty flicks would decide the fate of the game.
With Bedford missing their first flick and a subsequent one, the overall result was 4-2 to Charterhouse making them the winners of the National Cup. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for the boys, particularly when this was the last game they would ever play together and how close they came to winning the title – many have been playing as a team since their Prep School days. With emotions running high and heavy hearts, the boys graciously thanked Charterhouse and took their silver medals with pride.
While today feelings are still raw, we hope that the boys will, in time, look back at all they achieved with pride. To be the number two team in the whole country is an outstanding achievement. However, it is not all they should be proud of. It is the legacy they will leave behind. We are a school with a passion and a commitment to hockey that is contagious. Our young Prep boys are showing a renewed enthusiasm and energy for the game and a new generation of hockey players have been inspired. Not only did these boys give their absolute all yesterday, they played tremendously and are true sportsmen in every sense of the word. They embody everything that is Bedford School, and for that we are hugely proud.
Captain, Tom Blythman said, “I have absolutely loved every minute of the last few days. Playing hockey on such a big stage with a group of your best mates was an absolute honour for us all and we are very lucky to have had this experience. I could not be more proud of the team for our efforts over the years and yesterday especially. On another day we may have come away champions, but unfortunately that’s sport and congratulations must go out to Charterhouse for the victory. For me it was really pleasing to see the Prep School out in such force supporting us. It is brilliant to see that we have inspired a new generation of hockey players that are now dreaming of replicating us and hopefully going even one further. Ultimately the bigger picture is that this is the most important thing, that Bedford School hockey is now full of ambition and desire for years to come.”
We also caught up with Director of Hockey, Mr Samuel Mee who told us, “Yesterday was a really tough result to take. Having worked so hard and performed so well, to lose out on the lottery of penalty strokes is a heartbreaking way for the boys to end their hockey career at Bedford. The end result after the shootout does not take anything away from a special year for the school’s first team. Playing 15 games and losing only one in regular time against Repton School, as well as a top four finish at the National Indoor Championships. The boys have been an absolute credit to the school throughout their time here, representing everything that is special about Bedford School. They have been a pleasure to work with and I am sure they will go on to have successes on hockey pitches away from Bedford. They leave a legacy here at Bedford which is more than a national title. The first thing a Prep School boy said to me on the way to breakfast this morning was, ‘Don’t worry Sir, we will go back there and win it!’. Countless boys would have been inspired seeing that game yesterday and hearing the stories of this group’s successes over the years, hoping to replicate it in years to come. The support and enthusiasm they have received from all areas of the school is testament to the way they have represented our school. I would like to thank all of the boys for their efforts during their time here, it has been a privilege to coach them, helped by the leadership of captain Tom Blythman. Also, a special thank you to all the parents and staff for their support of the boys this year and especially this week. Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it ever happened.”