Give it some stick

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The countdown to the London 2012 Olympics is well under way.

It will be the first time the Olympics has been held in Britain since 1948 and will be watched by millions of people around the world.

To mark the countdown to the start of the games, The Evening Telegraph is running a series of special reports every fortnight on the A to Z of Olympic sports.

For most people, the sport hockey brings back memories of playing at school on a cold and windy playing field.

The game was slow and clumsy, and the pitch would be too rough and uneven to ever score a goal.

Today the game could not be more different. Matches are generally played on all-weather pitches – free from molehills – and top-level teams play on water-based synthetic-turf pitches, allowing the ball to roll much more smoothly and, more importantly, quickly.

One of the biggest clubs in the area is Wellingborough Hockey Club, which has more than 60 players over six teams: three ladies’ teams, two men’s’ and one junior team for boys and girls under 13.

Berni Westley is the club’s press secretary and fundraising co-ordinator.

She joined the club after playing hockey at school, where her coach spotted her potential.

She has been with the club for 15 years and now umpires after retiring from playing due to a back injury.

She says the game has changed immensely since she first began playing.

She said: “When we used to play on grass it was a lot of ‘hit and rush’ – you’d do a bit hit up the pitch and rely on a defender missing it.

“Now, with the arrival of astroturf, players have become exceptionally skilful and it’s no longer about simply smashing the ball up the pitch.

“The speed and fitness of players is phenomenal and some of the things you see players do is amazing. It often surprises me how quick they are.”

As the speed of the game and the hardness of the playing surface increases, so does the risk of injury.

Players would always wear shin pads but many now wear gum shields and some even use face shields and padded gloves.

Wellingborough Hockey Club is enjoying its most successful period ever in terms of results.

One of its most successful players to date was Julie Pearce who has gone on to play for the England Ladies Masters for the past two years.

However some clubs are suffering from falling numbers.

Berni said: “I think hockey is dying out in the area because girls now have a lot more choice for sport in rugby and football.

“When I was at school we only had netball, hockey and rounders and for a lot of us hockey was the closest thing to football.

“Years ago you would not have heard of girls playing football but that’s not the case any more.”

Wellingborough Hockey Club is always looking for new players, particularly women aged from 20 to 35.

The club trains at Wrenn School in Wellingborough on Wednesday evenings and its fixtures are on Saturdays.

Berni said: “Hockey is great fun, it keeps you fit and there are lots of local teams to play.

“From my own experience, I have made friends for life through hockey, people you have played against or team mates. There is quite a bit of camaraderie because there are so many highs and lows in the sport. Everyone has a game they should have won but didn’t and a game they shouldn’t have won but did.

“It creates a real bond.”

Wellingborough Hockey Club trains at Wrenn School in London Road, Wellingborough on Wednesday evenings from 6.30pm for junior players and from 7.30pm for senior players.