The Bull’s Rats

I wanted to share a memory today.  Something a lot lighter than my recent poetry.  Sometime pre – 2004 I joined a hockey team called the Bull’s Rats.   I am lousy at numbers so that is the closest approximation to when it was. The team name is derived from our sponsor, The Rat Hole in Bull’s (more formally the Rangitikei Tavern).  Our coach was L, from the army and his wife played centre forward.  I played goalie.


The first year we played we got to know one another and had a mixed bag of wins and losses. More of the latter from memory.  We had enthusiasm and individual past experiences but we needed time to gel as a team.  L’s fitness training nearly killed me.  He was very fit and fitness was his goal, the skills of hockey were meant to follow after that but I found it was more often bruises and aching muscles.  In our first practice I got my thumb broken in a hard hit.  I remember in one practice he showed us how to do push ups but his had his wife standing on his back – needless to say mine were a mess with just my body weight.

L’s philosophy was that pain was only transitory and would go away – in other words keep playing.  In more pain filled moments I envisioned smacking him over the head with my hockey stick and seeing if that pain went away!  Despite that, he was a great coach.  Well except for a further sin, he took oranges at half time away because he read they were bad, the man had no respect for tradition. We got water. No really he was a great coach, more for his endless motivation and belief in us, than his expertise at any facet of hockey.

We practiced in the old gym on the O’Hakea air force base and ran on the grounds.  Let me tell you our enthusiasm for running had little to do with fitness and more to do with who else was running those same grounds.  Let me just say eye candy with a tasty topping of military uniform! Our team was a mixture of locals and those women who were or whose hubby’s were stationed here.

Mt hubby used to come to practice quite a lot.  This was even after he learnt the hard way that L did not believe in observers.  My poor man learnt more about hockey than he ever imagined he might want to know, including just how hard those balls hit.  The team accepted him and he was one of our most consistent fans.  Fans consisted of the family and friends we dragged to the game or might have to enlist to play if we were short on players.

L loved the beep test (  Running from one end of the gym to the other. The beeps got closer together and a rest from the runs depended on beating the beep to the line.  When it beat you, you were out, a mercy let me tell you. Unfortunately, one fast runner used the wall to slow down and broke both her wrists.  The beep test was a killer all round.  My proudest moment was being second to last to be beaten by the beep and L telling the forwards etc to be ashamed to be beaten by the goalie.  The right wing beat me.

In the second year we got a second coach for when L was deployed, he was air force and W actually played goalie himself.  Between the two of them we were fitter and got better skills.  W wanted to teach the team to not hit at the goalie.  His bright idea was for me to lie in the goal, while they hit around me.  Their idea of  ‘around’ and mine greatly differed.  Thankfully, we had bought me more protective gear, both the team and hubby so it wasn’t as painful as it might have been the year before with less gear..

I had a love affair with Obo goalie gear (  This is a local innovative designer and producer, who I was lucky enough to hear speak at one of my graduations.  The gear was great, not least because it meant I got hurt less and looked less like the stay puff character when protecting the goal.  I did most of my running in my leg pads, so I got pretty fit.  When I had played hockey as a kid I remember riding my bike with the pads on.  They were bulky, but I got used to them.

images (7)

We made it to the final.  In the game before it there was no penalty for loss.  We were pretty tired and sore and as a way to de – stress before the big game, we switched positions.  We lost really badly but with much laughter.  At times I was laughing so hard at forwards trying to play backs that I couldn’t deflect the ball and goals were scored. Sadly no one had wanted to play goalie since the other team were playing seriously, even if we were not. The coach on the other side commiserated with us, not realising we were in the final.  A final that made us division two champs that year.

My boss and his family came to the game.  The kids had made me this great banner with our team name on it.  Now, this must me at least 10 plus years ago and I still have that banner, it makes me smile.  When I unwrap it, it crinkles  and crackles with age, but the colours remain bright and the memories fill in for any damage.  Sometimes a physical touchstone can keep the good memories vivid and current in our past paced lives.

After the game and getting our trophy, we celebrated in our pub and with much glee.  We had had a letter read to us pre – game from L who was deployed and the game was taped so he could see it.   We sent him personal messages from the team, while still high on the victory. Luckily he was used to the craziness of us.   I think I was the only one in the team that didn’t drink alcohol, so it was funny to watch the girls and supporters unwind.

They did try and find me an alcohol whose taste I could enjoy.  L lined up the shot glasses on the air force officers bar and I sipped a fair few – gross covers it.  I do like beer, I just don’t see a need to get drunk. They eventually gave up, I had just as much fun on my non alcoholic cocoa cola (coke).  I was useful as the sober driver. They drank as hard as they played.  Post game drinks was their one night out away from their daily lives.

Those two years were amazing.  I loved being part of a team, the winning was incidental in many ways.  We became a family, cheered each other on, sopped up the tears and dabbed at the injuries.  It is interesting that for all society’s changes and claims to modernising, we still compare relationships to the family structure.  As if this remains the gold standard of what is important to us, the origin point for comparison.  If we deem someone family it enhances their status from those outside of that designation.

This led me to consider what relationships are acceptable to be defined as ‘family’ and which are not.  But also how that can change over time. Who makes the determination and how long must we be defined and ultimately confined by it?  Is it based in the formality of the declaration and potential legal implications?  Any thoughts?

I have kept up with none of the girls.  We did for awhile but we had one common thread, the hockey and without that we lost the connection it had created and sustained.  If we were family in the real sense of the definition, would those bonds be so easily dismissed or cast aside for the next connecting element and the people it brings with it?  However, we do lose touch with family, more often keeping contact with those that we spend more time with, through proximity or shared interests.  Or sadly, more often than not, through funerals that mark the decreasing of the family circle.  It just interested me, that comparison and what it might actually mean.

I hope you enjoyed my meandering down memory lane . I will probably return to this in the future.  There are some more stories I can share, like the love I had of originally playing on the grass, in winter, and the subsequent mud pool sliding about on the field.

Let me know what you think on any aspect of this piece.

Categories: Tags: , , ,

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s