The Magnificent 7’s
The ‘Wycombe Wolves’ Hockey Club compete in the Akrotiri 7’s Tournament
It was a small but determined band of High Wycombe hockey players that met up at Luton Airport ridiculously early on 12th October to fly out to Cyprus to compete in the Akrotiri 7s Hockey Tournament. Injury, work commitments and a number of high-profile defections to touring sides left ‘The Wycombe Wolves’ consisting of only 5 players including 2 goalkeepers and no women. This left the captain with an interesting selection quandary for a 7-a-side mixed tournament but confidence was high!
The aim of the annual Akrotiri 7s Tournament is to promote and widen the appeal of hockey to all military and civil dependants within British Forces Cyprus by exposing them to a mixed tournament (played on grass) involving military and civilian teams from both Cyprus and the UK. It also offers participating teams an opportunity to develop their team and individual skill whilst experiencing the warm weather and other attractions that RAF Akrotiri and Cyprus has to offer. This year’s tournament contained a diverse mix of 21 teams including RAF station sides, civilian clubs, touring ‘colonies’ and representatives from Cypriot Hockey, The Prison Service and UK Police.
The first two days on the island, prior to the tournament, were primarily spent acclimatising, trying to come to terms with the ‘challenging’ Cypriot grass playing surface and meeting/bonding with the other competitors, most notably at the pirate-themed Tournament opening party. A cancelled EasyJet flight also saw Curns having to step into the breach to play in goal for the UK Police in an 11-a-side warm up match against an ‘RAF Select XI’ on the Astroturf of Happy Valley in Episkopi.
Day 1 of the of the Tournament dawned in blazing sunshine and those members of the squad that had done more bonding than acclimatising were clearly going to have to dig deep. The Wolves Team found themselves playing on a patchy and dusty pitch in a Qualification Pool of seven teams including Cypriot Hockey (a squad containing 6 internationals), Marham and Northolt. Despite the scorching conditions and unpredictable surface, The Wolves turned in consistent performances based on hard work and solid defence from Curns (goalkeeper) and Ben Fletcher, the lightning pace of Ash Webb in midfield and the mercurial finishing (if not mobility) of skipper Chris Ellis. The Team were also grateful for those ‘dissident’ members of the RAF High Wycombe and other stations who regularly pitched in to fill the gaps in the team sheet. Where possible, The Wolves tried to return the favour, most notably in the significant shape of Wolves’ other goalkeeper ‘Diaz’ Swindell, who represented 6 teams throughout the Tournament. The hard work was not in vain and a tough day’s competition saw the Wolves finishing with 3 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss (to Cypriot Hockey) and the second best goal difference in the competition. More importantly, by coming second in their Qualification Pool they qualified for the top-tier Cup Competition the following day.
The thought of an exponential quality in opposition the following day did little to quell the Team’s enthusiasm for the Olympic themed Tournament social on Saturday night. Everyone was grateful for both the late Sunday start and the cloud/breeze that greeted players at the start of Day 2. The Cup Competition included the much fancied UK Police, Brize Norton Wildcats, Cyprus Exiles, Cyprus Hockey and Witney. A reduced game time of 10 minutes one way meant that there would be very little room for mistakes and concentration would be crucial. The Wolves continued where they left off the following day building on solid defence but a combination of fatigue, injury and pure bad luck meant that the goals were not going in at the other end in the quantities required against such high quality opposition. However a never-say-die attitude saw the Wolves battle to achieve 3 draws and 2 losses and finish a very creditable 5th place.
The time after the tournament, prior to flying home, was used to recover and experience many of the sights and experiences of Cyprus – as well as the many of beaches, members of the Team were also able to visit Limassol’s world renowned Sea Sponge Museum, a traditional mezze, an impressive bouzouki rendition and work their aches and pains away at an authentic (if slightly intimidating) hammam (Turkish-style bath).
The Tour undoubtedly achieved all its sporting and force development aims with the unexpected Top 5 finish being an added but welcome bonus. Thanks must go to RAF Akrotiri’s Exiles Hockey Club for organising the tournament, Flt Lt Emma Simpson (OIC RAF High Wycombe Hockey) for organising the Team’s participation (despite not being part of the side) and for the grants from both the RAF Sports Lottery and RAF High Wycombe Sports Fund – financial support without which the trip simply could not have happened.