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Army Mens Hockey Tour - Hong Kong & Malaysia 2011

Heathrow was cold and miserable, as the Army Men’s Hockey Team embarked on an epic journey to the other end of the world to compete against the best Hong Kong and Malaysia had to offer. An eight hours time difference and humid conditions awaited, not to mention the twelve hour flight. The loss of eight hours seemed irrelevant as the Army team descended over the South China Sea and were met by an amazing view of Hong Kong. The ride to the hotel took the team through the city, in peak traffic with hair-raising driving, and over magnificent bridges to Hong Kong Island, the Army’s new home for the first leg of the tour.

On arrival the team was briefed by the host, Owen Hughes, on the facilities and the team’s temporary membership to the elite Hong Kong Football Club, only a 5 minute walk from the Army hotel being an added bonus. The Army arrived to what can only be described as hockey heaven, sky scrapers surrounding the perfectly laid Astro-Turf with stands worthy of any Olympic hockey star. The humidity was the first obstacle for the team to over-come before even being able to match the hockey skills of the Hong Kong elite. The day would end with everyone exhausted and having earned a much needed sleep.

Team bonding was second on the list and between coaching sessions and matches the team was let lose into the tantalizing city of heights and lights that is Hong Kong. A close-knit group formed within the Army ranks as we scoured our way through the city. High-tea on the 113 floor in the fourth tallest building in the world, the International Commerce Centre which is 484m high, was a highlight of the trip.

The Army’s first game against the formidable, Hong Kong Football Club (HKFC) left all in the team nervous not knowing what to expect, with humidity still an uncertain factor. Under the guidance of ‘captain courageous’ Major Jon Hooker the team went to war against their first opponents. The game began slowly and The Army struggled to gain a foothold, but slowly they clawed their way into the match and went up by a well taken goal from open play. The first half ended with the Army dominating play and HKFC struggling to break down the Army’s formation and playing style. At the start of the second half HKFC took control, dominating possession and equalizing early in the half. After a hard fought few minutes HKFC scored again leaving the Army to regain their composure and battle on. The Army rallied and equalized through a good short corner routine and had belief to go on and take the game but HKFC had other ideas, putting the Army on the back foot and eventually scored what seemed like a game winning goal, against the run of play. The clock was counting down from 60 seconds as the Army got up the field and with less than 10 seconds to go, somehow got the ball into the back of the net. The final whistle blew and it ended honours even, a great start to a tough tour.

The second game was meant to be against a local side that plays in the same league as HKFC but due to their cup fixtures they had to cancel and instead the Army played a mixed team of players from HKFC. The Army dominated the game and used it to practice their new formation and get used to playing alongside each other eventually winning 4 – 2.

The third and final fixture in Hong Kong was against the best the city had to offer. They combined to be named the Hong Kong Barbarians (HKB), a host of players from many nations around the world who have played at the highest level. The Army started slowly and struggled to gain composure and gave away a short corner early on in the game. HKB converted the short corner going 1-0 up early on in the half. The Army hit back quickly and equalized with a well executed short corner of their own. The half pushed on with HKB continuously pushing the Army back and Goalkeeper Cpl ‘Griff’ Griffin was forced to make some amazing saves. But after a quick counter attack the Army went 2 – 1 down, the same score at half time.

The second half started much the same as the first and after a few minutes of HKB dominating possession the Army went 3 – 1 down and it looked like a big loss may be on the cards. The Army rallied and picked up their game. Going forward in numbers The Army took the game to the opposition, within minutes, with the crowd sensing they were witnessing a true spectacle of hockey; The Army Hockey team drew level with two well taken goals. With time running out, HKB dealt a killer blow by scoring a spectacular goal. The game come down to the wire as the Army had one last attack and almost levelled with the last hit of the game but it wasn’t to be.

The second leg to Malaysia began with a short 3 hour flight to Kuala Lumpur known to many as KL. The Army team was collected by the host Major Fauzi, a member of the Malaysian Army, and taken to Wisma Transit Barracks just outside the city centre. After a meet and great with the opposition, a combined forces team from Malaysian Army, Navy and Air Force, who’s only job is to play hockey, the team knew they would have a tough series on their hands. The fixtures were designed to begin in Kuala Lumpur and move up the country, ending in Penang for the final game of the tour.

Kuala Lumpur, as a city with an abundance of wealth and beauty, brought a whole new experience to that of Hong Kong. The daily four o’clock thunder showers were crazy; they began with thunder and lightning then progress into a full blown storm that would see the 2 meter deep drainpipes filled within minutes. As quickly as the storm came it went and the city carries on as nothing had happened.

Due to conflicting training schedules with the Malaysian National Hockey side, the Army were unable to use the Malaysia National Hockey Stadium, a 12000 seated stadium, and had to settle for second best but itself an impressive ground, Stadium Hoki Bukit Jalil in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The setting of this impressive stadium was the perfect place to begin the first of three battles against the Malaysian Combined Forces (MCF). It began with most of the Army team sporting new white sweat bands and struggling with the even hotter weather and unbelievably humid conditions. The game kicked off at a shocking pace against an opposition with a different style of play which caught the Army off guard and allowed them to go a goal up very early on. After some more pressure the Army were further pinned back and again conceded leaving the Army to wonder how to contain the pace and skill thrown at them. The British Army fighting spirit kicked in again and they began to rally, every player throwing their bodies around and showing the MFC they really wanted it. The Army were rewarded before the end of the first half with a well taken goal and the belief they had a chance to get back in the game. The Army came out the blocks flying in the second half and after a hard fought few minutes equalized and left the MFC trembling with the thought of a hard hitting, well disciplined British Army side, who was now in top gear. The game went on looking like it may be end honours even but the script was changed when an inspired Captain Keith McDougal struck an unstoppable back stick shot to win the game. The Army gave it everything for 70 minutes and the result was proof of their progress throughout the tour.

The second game was further north in Lumut, a naval town where the Army were hosted by the Malaysian Navy. The Army began the second game at 16:00 hours; a definite disadvantage due to the excessive heat that the MCF were far more used to than the Army. The start was similar to the first game and within 10 minutes the Army went 2 – 0 down. The first half ended with the Army struggling to contain MCF and with heat and injuries forcing the Army to change their formation. The Army struggled on in the humidity and eventually got our reward but it was a case of too little too late and the game ended in a 2-1 loss leaving the series hanging on the final game further up north in Penang.
After a heavy schedule of travelling, training and matches the Army headed for an overnight break on Pangkor Island, which can only be described as paradise. The Army had time for team bonding which included jet skiing and enjoyed the luxury of the beauty around us by sun tanning on the beach. The night ended with a meal of fantastic, fresh seafood on the beach.

The final game was again in a magnificent stadium, in Penang, this time with a large crowd supporting the MCF against what were becoming formidable foes. The game brought with it the nerves and the excitement and yet again the Army got stuck in and fought hard. The first half was a battle with both teams giving everything they had left. The Malaysians went 1 – 0 up and again the Army had to chase the game. The series hanging in the balance the Army fought tooth and nail to get back into the game with some hard hitting tackles and impressive courage as the Army players threw themselves about to win every tackle possible and show that they meant business. After a period of pressure the Army equalised and the game came alive with the crowd turning and starting to support the Army due to their love of their heroic Goalkeeper, Cpl Griffin. The Army battled on and with a moment of brilliance the ball bounced up and Cfn Stu Tognarelli struck it into the top right corner of the net. The Army held on to take the match and the series 2 – 1 an amazing achievement in such straining conditions and against such formidable opposition.

The tour ended with a celebratory night out in Penang, before heading back to Kuala Lumpur and then beginning the exhausting journey back to London. The tour was an immense success and will be remembered by all for many years to come.

Pte Rich Chapman RAMC