An email conversation with Sean Kerly: 'We stepped up to the plate and made things happen'

The hockey player talks about: Olympic glory and a fleeting 15 minutes of fame Teaching 14-year-olds to argue with the umpires On the road as Dandini to turn a quick buck The sensational autobiography that never was By Mike Rowbottom
Click to follow
The Independent Online

What are your abiding memories of your win in 1988 at the Seoul Games? Four years after Los Angeles we were more of a geared-up unit and we were expected to do well. We'd got the silver in the World Cup in 1986 and there was an expectation on us - we were seeded second. So the feeling at the end of it was more relief than anything else. I was absolutely knackered and emotionally drained and just so relieved that we hadn't cocked it up, because you don't get your chance very often, and we'd lost in the semi-final in Los Angeles, so we'd tasted the pain of that then. We'd lost in the World Cup final at Willesden against Australia and tasted a little more then. So there was no way on earth that we weren't going to win. That was the 15 minutes of fame. You do get your chance. If nothing else happens in our lives we'll know that we stepped up to the plate, as they say in America, and made it happen.

Do you still play hockey? After Seoul I went to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where we finished sixth. I retired after that, but I still play for Canterbury, for the sixth or seventh team. We've got four oldies like me, and quite a lot of 14-year-olds coming into hockey for the first time. So we look after them. Teach them to swear and to argue with umpires...

You will be at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne this February commentating for the BBC. How do you think England will fare? And when can we next expect an Olympic medal from Britain? If the men get the right personnel, considering that the World Cup qualifiers come shortly afterwards, and if they get it together, they can get a medal. They should be top four at least. It will be harder for the women. It is not pie in the sky to think we can earn an Olympic medal on home ground in 2012. We just need to have a GB mindset rather than what we have had in the past, because of all the different home countries.

Talking of commentary - when did you become aware of that classic line of Barry Davies' during the 1988 Olympic final - "And where were the Germans? Although frankly, who cares?" I first heard it while watching a re-run of the goals and I remember laughing my head off. It was very funny. I don't know if it came off the cuff, but I think it must have been Davies' best line, and it has gradually seeped into hockey's consciousness.

What are you most proud of outside your hockey career? I am proud to have helped produce three fine children with whom I have an honest relationship.

How long can our cricketers expect the hype to last following their Ashes win? What were your experiences after returning from Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988? It was around three months for us. That's what the cricketers will find, and the rugby boys already know. Between getting back and Christmas I wasn't out of a dinner suit. It was fantastic fun, a bit of a whirl really. It was huge for a very short period of time - and I was unlucky in many ways that I wasn't still in my job. Most of the other guys had just taken time out and got back to work. I was not in employment and ended up doing all the stupid things like Sporting Triangles on the TV - everything a "celebrity" does, and I wasn't really equipped for it.

Presumably pantomime was involved somewhere along the line? I was on a road show at one point. Can't remember where. I came on as Dandini in Cinderella with a hockey stick. It was all a daze.

How easy did you find it combining a career as an international sportsman with the relatively normal jobs you had as a sales or transport manager? I've done lots of different five-year stints with companies. When you start, people like to have someone with a bit of profile. But then when you get in there and say, right I need two weeks off there, another week over there and I've got to go training at lunchtime here, they say "well, hang on a minute. You need to manage the work you're doing." And eventually it wears thin with your colleagues, who have to cover for you.

What happened to that autobiography that was supposed to come out after the 1984 Games? When I arrived back in 1984 the airport was full of people, and this guy in a big fur coat came up to me and told me I was worth a million quid. He put this card into my hand. I rang it a few days later and I ended up doing God knows what. He said we'd do a book, and he got this writer in. We spent quite a lot of time on it, and I gave him a box of photographs and stuff. About four or five months later this manuscript arrived and I read through it and it was all sensational, an absolute load of rubbish. So I rang up and said, "I'm sorry, I'm not happy with it," and then it hit the fan because he'd obviously paid the bloke to do it. So I lost all contact, didn't get any money for it, and I lost all my old bits and pieces. But I suppose at 24 you are a bit young to have an autobiography. After Seoul it was similar. You're hot for a short while - I think in Olympic sports like ours, you can make a bit of money for a short while. But you shouldn't believe all you're told. It was great fun, though, and I wouldn't change it because you get to see both sides of life.

So you haven't been bloated and ruined by the whole thing? Well there's some people who might think that.

What are you reading at the moment? Crime fiction by Iain Rankin.

People remember you for your goalscoring and your aggression. Is that fair? I would say my game was built around hard work, enthusiasm, bloody-mindedness and a very good team around me. I used to do a lot of legwork - I was very fit and aggressive.

Would you encourage your daughters to play hockey? They all play now. The have natural ability, and if they want to they can do it. But it becomes more a matter of will than ability as you go on in the game.

What three words best sum up your character? Stubborn. Determined. Loyal.

Do you all give each other nicknames in hockey, like footballers do? And if so, are they more imaginative? They used to call me Butch, after the dog in Tom and Jerry, which doesn't leave much to the imagination.

What is the best thing you have ever done on a hockey field? Our school, Chatham House Grammar School in Ramsgate, always used to get one match a year against Kingston Grammar School, who were the best school team in the country. As a 16-year-old I scored a goal to make it 1-1, having dribbled all the way through the defence, and then smashed the ball into the roof of the net. The whole school was watching. That started the excitement for me.

What are your favourite films? I liked watching the Matrix films with my kids.

Do you support a football team? Do you find the posturing of today's stupendously paid professionals just a little bit absurd? Not really, but as kid in the 1970s I followed Leeds. And yes - but it can't be easy living in a world that is not real. To us it is all totally pathetic, but we don't know all the pressures they are under. When you are playing, all you know is your ball, your team-mates and bits of ground.

Do you still keep in touch with the boys from '88? I recently played in an exhibition game with Richard Leman, Steve Bachelor, Imran Sherwani and Richard Dodds from the '88 team.

What is your favourite saying? If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.

Attachment: The Sean Kerley attachment

* Born: 29 January, 1960.

* Educated: Chatham House GS, Ramsgate.

* Clubs: Southgate, Canterbury.

* Honours: Olympic bronze (1984). World Cup silver (1986). European silver (1987). Olympic gold (1988). Sixth place at 1992 Olympics. National club champions four years in a row with Southgate. Third in European Club championship, 1983. MBE (1993). GB Team of the Year at BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards 1984, 1988.

* Lives: Herne Bay, Kent.

* Works: Now co-owns and runs graphic art and marketing agency.

Comments