With three games each for two teams in only 5 days, the 1st XI and U16 tour to Gibraltar was by no means a beach holiday. On the first weekend on the Christmas holidays 2006, a turbulent plane journey came to an end as we landed on the world famous Gibraltar runway with sea at either end, and the hockey astro just meters away. The first night was spent getting used to the surroundings, the luxury four-star hotel, trying to spot monkeys on “The Rock”, at the base of which our hotel was situated, and coming to terms with the strange atmosphere of the English speaking nation, from which Northern Africa can be seen only a few miles away.
Days two, three and four was to be the time where we would home our skills each morning on the training field, a water-based astro of the highest quality, followed by a tough fixture each afternoon at the same venue. The water-based pitch was a fairly alien environment for most of the Oakham players who are more accustomed to the sand-based type of astro. This lack of experience on the new surface was probably reflected by the results of the first day of play. The 1st XI lost 3-1 vs Gibraltar U18 and the U16s drew 2-2 against Gibraltar U16, with John Veasey’s goal being the pick of the day in the 1st XI match. These results were slightly disappointing, and dashed our high hopes of a one hundred percent tour record. Nevertheless, these matches gave both teams a good indication of what was going to needed to succeed in the two games to come.
The activities outside of hockey were fairly limited on the days that matches were played as everyone just wanted to rest in the hotel or get some well deserved calories in one of the many cafes. And so it was after a café stop at the marina for lunch that we entered our second fixture against the Bayside School. The 1st XI sailed to a comfortable victory, winning 7-2, displaying a far better level of skill and composure on a surface that was quickly becoming well suited to the fast and skilful way that we like to play the game. This was typified by resounding performances from Freddie Allen and Ryan Keal. Unfortunately for the U16s a late equaliser from a dodgy short corner decision meant that they were still without a win on Gibraltar soil. As tired legs made it back to the hotel, there was a quick drink in the bar awaiting the senior squad before retiring to the rooms to get some much needed sleep.
On the day of the 3rd match and still without having seen a monkey, the staff decided to let us have a bit of extra time for lunch and a wonder around the town centre. But for the seniors, nothing could take their mind off the task that was to face them in the afternoon; the last match of a gruelling tour against the same team that we had lost to in the first match, and it would turn out to be a battle of attrition and a test of stamina and desire. After a closely fought first half the Oakham XI turn up the heat and ground out a extremely well deserved 2-1 win. The U16s who played against the Gibraltar National Ladies team had similarly exiting match but were out-muscled and were on the wrong side of a 2-1 score line.
After very positive feedback from the coaches both teams were left to enjoy the last night of the tour in and around the hotel complex. The following day, the tired faces were brightened up by the prospect of seeing some monkeys. A guided tour of “The Rock” would lead us to historical sights and, more importantly, monkeys. I think it’s fair to say that a good show was put on by the close relatives of some of the members of our squad, particularly William, an alpha male, who was lured onto Mr Denman’s shoulders, where he stayed for a good few minutes.
Sadly the end of our tour had arrived and it was back to rainy old England, and we all returned home, although we are still not sure if one of the monkeys took the place of Charlie Trembath on the plane. The tour was definitely a great success, and I think that all of the boys are itching to get the domestic season underway, to continue the successful development of Oakham hockey. Finally, a thank you must be said to the four members of staff, Mr Ward, Mr Sharp, Mr Paddock and Mr Denman, who made the tour possible.