Dom Joly: 'Clash of sticks' leaves me feeling left out

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The Independent Online

There are certain sports that seem to only really exist at school. You spend valuable portions of your formative years learning the skills and traditions of a particular discipline only to find that it doesn't really exist anywhere in your adult life. I'm thinking in particular of hockey.

I have to admit that I've always been put off the game as it's completely prejudiced against left-handers like myself. If a left-hander and a right-hander ever faced up to each other on the hockey field, their bodies would both be on the same side and this would completely defeat the "clash of sticks" that lies at the very heart of the game. So, whenever the game was coded, probably way back in the days when left-handers were still being burnt at the stake and ducked in the local pond as witches, it was decreed that the game would be played right-handed. That was that.

Personally, I think that they missed a trick. If they had reversed the codes of the game and made it exclusively for left-handers then they would have made a fantastic niche sport for us lefties as well as doing their bit to stop the right-handed mobs' rampages ... this actually might not be completely historically accurate but I was too busy protesting against the game at school to do any history. I couldn't play the game there unless I agreed to do so right-handed. I refused, I was a conscientious objector, a leftnik, I had plenty of other things that I could use my left hand for at that age... Has it scarred me for life? Do I find myself a social outcast in modern society because, at weekends, the in-crowd are all at the hockey club? No, nobody I know plays hockey and if I wanted to do so, I have no idea where I could go. In fact I think I would suspect that I was having a bit of a nervous breakdown and head for the psychiatrist first.

I refused to play the game at an all-boys school. It is, therefore, very weird to find that the older you get the more it becomes considered to be a girl's sport, lumped in with netball and lacrosse. This is a UK phenomenon. Cross over the pond to North America and you find that lacrosse is a violent men's sport played by homicidal jocks. Hockey, although mostly played on ice, is also a man's arena. Play is occasionally sanctioned in between hugely violent brawls – "I went to see a fight the other day and a hockey match broke out" is one of the jokes that Canadians find hilarious when explaining their national sport to foreigners. Netball, however, is still for girls only. There are some things that no man, whatever nationality, can bring himself to play.

With all this in mind, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to go and watch my daughter take part in her first school match. She is eight years old and already has "a good hit on her" according to her hockey mistress. This was proved beyond doubt last week when I picked her up from school and observed one of her classmates being lead to a waiting ambulance. It seems that Parker's "good hit" had been a direct one on this poor girl's upper teeth – she lost three. There has now been a rush to the local dentist to get everyone fitted with mouth-guards. Anything we can do to help local businesses get through these troubled economic times, I thought.

The Saturday came and we headed off to the match. It was an extraordinarily competitive affair – mostly it has to be admitted, from the sidelines. The opponents were from a nearby school that is considered to be a bit "posher" but not in a good way – full of Porsche Cayenne drivers, not the solid Volvo brigade of our place. Two vocal sets of parents hurled encouragement and advice at their little darlings as they ran around the field with all the skill of slightly lame Shetland Ponies. I had really wanted to bring along a banner that I could raise at half-time that read "hockey is racist to left-handers" but my wife told me that this would not only embarrass my daughter but was total nonsense and didn't make any sense. I took her advice; she's very wise my wife. She's tough as well. She was a hooker for four years in Hong Kong. No, not in that way ... she used to play women's rugby. That, however, is a story for another day.

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