Freak moment in golden age

The Anniversary: Ten years ago British hockey enjoyed its finest hour in Seoul. A reunion is planned
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IF PROOF were needed that sport's true purpose is to ripen camaraderie into lifelong friendships rather than bloated bank accounts, then look no further than Great Britain's Olympic hockey heroes of a decade ago.

They arrived in Seoul tagged as second favourites, but after an early setback were forced to rise mightily and collectively to the occasion, seeing off their arch rivals Australia 3-2 in a pulsating semi-final and beating Germany 3-1 in a final that seemed almost an anti-climax by comparison.

Many of the squad - such as the captain Richard Dodds and the goalkeeper Ian Taylor - promptly brought the curtain down on their playing careers while others, such as Russell Garcia, who has been performing at the Commonwealth Games, carried on to this day.

But the umbilical link between them will be demonstrated next month when they assemble almost to a man for a reunion in Guernsey. "I still speak on the phone to at least four of my team-mates every week, and Sean Kerly, Richard Leman and Robert Clift are all godfathers to my children," said the right-wing, Steve Batchelor, now 37.

"It all really started with winning the bronze at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles after we'd been drafted in as last-minute replacements when the Soviet Union withdrew. One of the keys to our success in Korea was that we'd had the same squad together for a few years. Our confidence was high, but losing to Germany early on forced us to focus as it meant we had to win the rest of our pool games to qualify for the semi-finals.

"The game against Australia was the most important of the tournament. We kept getting ahead and they kept equalising. Then Sean completed his hat-trick with less than two minutes to go and we held on. It was a 50- 50 ball but Sean, typically, just got there first."

Had a "golden boot" been on offer to the leading individual scorer, then Kerly, dubbed at the time as hockey's Gary Lineker, would have swept the board with his tally of eight goals in seven matches.

Now 38 and still playing top-flight hockey for Canterbury, Kerly said: "My recollection of how I felt after the final was of relief. The worst thing would have been to get that close to winning the gold and not doing it. After all the training and the hassle - I'd even lost my job during the build-up - it was all worth it in the end.

"The game against Australia was a grudge return match after they'd beaten England in the 1986 World Championship final. We put Germany away in the final quite clinically as we'd worked out how to play them. Everyone seemed to be quite nervous playing against us because we were difficult to beat and they didn't know when we would turn it on."

Batchelor was also aware of the team's psychological edge. "Before the World Championship final, we were nervous and unsure how the result was going to go. In 1988, though, the changing-room beforehand had a very calm atmosphere and there was no fear. Everyone was very focused and I don't think anyone had any real doubts that we would win. We'd definitely won a silver but nobody was even thinking about that. All we were bothered about was getting the gold.

"In the final, we got the breaks. Imran Sherwani scored early on and then Sean got a goal. I was involved in the third with about 20 minutes to go. David Faulkner found me with a long pass and I beat my marker before crossing. Imran had run from the halfway line and he had an open goal to make it 3-0. That put us in a really strong position and, even though Germany scored with about 13 minutes left, I don't think there was much panic in the ranks. When the final whistle went I just ran to Sean first. Everyone was so happy but the feeling of elation is difficult to describe.

"A lot of British competitors from other sports had come to watch us, and Princess Anne altered her schedule to be there. The Korean people were wonderful - I remember running down the side of the athletics track and waving to the crowd."

Taylor, now 43 and the chief executive of the Ice Hockey Superleague, said: "I have two especially fond memories of Seoul. The first was when I was selected to carry the flag at the opening ceremony and walk in front of all those great athletes representing Great Britain. The second was that I kept the vow I made after the 1984 Games that my last ever hockey match would be in Seoul."

The question of why British hockey failed to build on this legacy - the England side lost to Australia in yesterday's Commonwealth Games semi- final - or whether the 1988 pinnacle of excellence was a freak of circumstances may never be answered. Batchelor inclines towards the latter opinion. "I was talking the other day with Richard, and he put across the theory that great teams only come round in 50-year cycles. I'd say we were a special team.

"The problem for the present squad is that we've won nothing since 1988. You see it with English football - everyone still keeps harping on about 1966."