The ladies cross sticks in hockey pitch battle

JOJO MOYES

Verbal and physical abuse, language that was "out of hand" and a neck- grabbing incident which prompted the walkout of a whole team "for the safety of the players". No, it's not Chelsea versus Millwall. Welcome to last week's West of England Ladies Hockey League match in Dorchester.

For years women's sports have been mocked for being too soft. But any men attempting to do so in the South-west had better watch their shins. Because the unprecedented walkout at last Saturday's Channel Division One match between Dorchester and Sidmouth has prompted a league investigation and a war of words almost as aggressive as the alleged incidents on the pitch.

Dorchester, bottom of the league, claim that they experienced extreme verbal and physical abuse from the other side.

Eleven minutes before the end of the match Sue Brunt, team captain of Dorchester, led her team off, saying it was "purely for the players' safety".

"I've never even considered removing the team before. But nobody wanted to play on," she said. "The language was , well, ... I've heard it bad but never this bad."

Top of the league Sidmouth Ladies dispute this version of events. Player Karen French, 35, said: "There were a few incidents. The umpires allowed stick tackle after stick tackle [where the stick is used against the shins] and tempers got a bit frayed. It culminated when one of their players attacked our captain and grabbed her around the neck. We thought if anyone should have walked it should have been our team."

Reports from both teams are being submitted this week, while the league investigation takes place. According to Jane Sixsmith of the Women's Hockey Association, matches have become more aggressive since they changed from friendlies to league games with "everything to play for".

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