History of Hockey

The answer to these questions is that probably we will never know for sure.  There are records of people participating in a hockey-like activity dating back 4000 years. There is some doubt as to whether all of them are really hockey scenes and they come from such differing locations as ancient Egypt and the Indians in both North and South America.
With “Man” being a hunter-gatherer, he would also look for some sport or recreation. The most natural activity would be to kick around a ball-like object. The next most natural would be to pick up a stick or club to propel a ball-like object. This must surely have happened in many parts of the world, either between just two people or in larger groups. On frozen lakes with a very fast surface and before the advent of skates, some form of hockey on ice must have taken place. In northern Europe bandy, shinty and hurley were being played long before any formal mention of hockey. Similarly the North American Indians were playing lacrosse a long time ago. Polo has been referred to as “hockey on horseback” and proficient horse riders have been playing polo type games for many centuries. In less civilised times, this sometimes involved using the head of an enemy as the “ball”!

Club Hockey
The question then is, when did hockey develop from knocking a ball-like object around with a club, into a more formally organised game? The answer is probably somewhere in the late 18th century. Cricket was already established as a team game, indeed a club game, but there are definitely no references to a hockey club until Blackheath in 1862. This is perhaps surprising, as a recognisable form of hockey was being played in schools at least 75 years previously. The reference comes from the Book of Sports published in 1810, which gives a synopsis of recognisable rules and a comment by the scribe that he had not played the game for 30 years, since school.

England Men in the early 1900s

So, the first hockey club in the world was Blackheath HC in 1862, some twenty four years before the formation of the Hockey Association in 1886. Oddly enough though, Blackheath was not one of the founding clubs. The formation of the men’s association was followed ten years later by the setting up of The All England Women’s Hockey Association.

International Hockey
The first magazine for hockey was published in 1893 and by the turn of the century coverage was impressively comprehensive. England’s first men’s international hockey match took place in 1895 against Ireland and England won 5-0.  The first recorded women’s international match was also England v Ireland in Dublin but it was the Irish who won 2-0.

Men’s hockey was included in the Olympics for the first time in London in 1908 when England (not GB) won the gold medal – women were not included until 1980. This feat was repeated in Antwerp in 1920.

International History

By the First World War, England had played 63 international matches. By the Second World War this total had increased to 143. 1948 saw the second London Olympics but this time we were represented by Great Britain and we won the silver medal. Helsinki in 1952 saw us winning a bronze medal and this feat was repeated by the men in Atlanta in 1984 and the women in Barcelona in 1992. The peak of post war achievement has been the men at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 winning a gold medal, which was preceded by a silver medal at the London World Cup of 1986. So, London has proved a happy hunting ground with a gold and two silver medals in the last century.

The most publicised image of hockey through its history was undoubtedly the Wembley Women’s International matches played between 1951 and 1991 which saw 60,000 people attend Wembley stadium.

Recent History
All of that activity was at the pinnacle of the pyramid. Down in the “body proper” club hockey prospered and developed in both the men’s and women’s game. This was separately in the main and by 1980s there were nearly 2,000 clubs. Today the figure is nearer 1,000 because of amalgamations of ladies’ and men’s clubs and also the amalgamations of local clubs.

While the basic format of the game remained largely unchanged for the first 100 or so years, recent years have seen many major changes; the introduction of league hockey in the 1960s/70s that took over from purely “friendly” fixture lists; technology improvements to stick, ball and GK equipment; rule changes (removal of offside, ‘sticks’ and obstruction rules have opened up the game), the introduction of Indoor Hockey and the move from grass to artificial pitches.

GB women celebrate Rio success

To see a timeline depicting the development of hockey over the last our centuries go to The Hockey Museum website. For more information about The Hockey Museum and what it does contact Mike Smith at curator@hockeymuseum.net.