Match of the Week: North Devon Hockey Club's vast experience and young talent
IN FRONT of the dugout were three men with almost 90 years of service to North Devon Hockey Club between them.
One was the last remaining founding member, a veteran of some 800 appearances as a player and still active in the game in his 81st year.
In central defence was a 52-year-old veteran with more than 20 years' experience at the club, and the midfield was marshalled by a former first-team captain who has been wearing North Devon colours for some 25 years.
Even the two umpires had long-serving North Devon records, John Brett, a member for more than 30 years, and Kevin Robson, in the ranks "on and off" for the last 32 years.
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Add them all up and you are close to 200 years of wisdom swirling around the pitch at the Park Community School, Barnstaple, for the visit of Torbay in a second-team match.
But what was this? On the far side of the pitch, at right back, was a 17-year-old captain.
All that experience populating the North Devon ranks, including two former first-team captains on the field, and they give a schoolboy the captaincy.
If one of the outstanding features of North Devon Hockey Club is the loyalty shown by so many members, another is the refusal to let seniority stand in the way of progressing youth.
Nick Hanousek, the 17-year-old captain, was not the only teenager in the starting XI for this Davis Wood League South East One match.
He was one of no fewer than six, including 14-year-old Jack Helicon and two 15-year- olds, James Dole and Oscar Freeman.
Hanousek, an A-level student at Kingsley School, Bideford, is believed to be the youngest captain in North Devon's history after being voted in at the annual meeting.
Nick Howells, the club coaching co-ordinator, said: "We did raise eyebrows at the start of the season but it seems to be going fairly well."
Well enough for North Devon to register their first league win of the season on Saturday, in their second game, as a 30th-minute goal from former first and second-team captain Simon Allen secured a 1-0 victory.
While another ex-first-team captain, 52-year-old Trevor Hubble, "did marvellous" in defence and pushing into midfield according to Howells, a third former first-team skipper, Tim Braund, was assisting from the sidelines.
Braund, unable to play because of an ankle injury, stood beside Howells in front of the dugout.
With more than 25 years at North Devon, it is to the 48-year-old Braund that Hanousek looks mainly for guidance.
"When I said I would be captain they knew I would need people to support me, especially Tim," said Hanousek.
"I almost made it a condition of accepting that I would have his support. I don't know enough to do it on my own."
Is he daunted by the challenge? "Yes, I am," he said. "It's the pressure on me because they all know what they are doing and I am just trying to get it right."
So how is he dealing with it? "Different people know different things. You have to take each person's strengths and make the most of them."
Howells, more than 20 years at North Devon as player and coach, said Hanousek must be confident enough to issue orders.
"He has to learn to do that and we have to allow him – like you would bringing up your children – and he will develop that confidence," said Howells.
It is, added the coach, finding the balance between advising the young skipper and letting him have his say that matters.
In the meantime, Hanousek's game is holding up and a critical contribution was the saving tackle he made on the line.
"He made a few mistakes but he had a good game on the whole and I don't think it (the captaincy) is affecting him," said Howells. "It will probably encourage him."
Braund has faith that Hanousek will succeed. "He has all the attributes to make a good skipper," he said.
"On a Saturday we can have three former first-team skippers out there but we know he is the skipper, while we advise him.
"It is more of a mentoring role to bring him on because we are not going to play forever.
"We need to bring youngsters on with responsibilities in the club because, if you just leave it to the old guys, when they stop there is nothing."
Stopping seems to be the hardest word.
Take Gerry Upshon as the prime example.
Born in India, where the game is hugely popular, and raised during a time when his country won six successive Olympic men's hockey gold medals, he eventually settled in North Devon and played in the club's first match in the 1971-72 season.
On Saturday, Gerry stood near Howells and Braund, offering encouragement to the youngsters but yearning to be back in action himself.
He may be 80, and eight years retired from league hockey, but he is not done with umpiring, nor has he given up playing completely, continuing to appear in the annual club match.
A knee replacement in July last year interrupted his umpiring role for the ladies' second team but he returned after Christmas, only to be sidelined again while he awaits the removal of fluid on his knee at the end of this month.
Is that it then? No more Mr Umpire? "No, I will go back after Christmas if they need me," he said, as if there was any doubt.
Playing his early hockey in Bangalore, Gerry moved to England in 1959, where he joined Hayes.
"All my folks came across after independence and my brother and I were the last," said Gerry, who was 26 at the time.
"I played at Hayes until 1966 when I went to Canada but, when I came back in 1970, I came to North Devon – my wife's folks lived here.
"They were just forming a hockey team for the first time. I saw the advert in the Journal and phoned up."
And the performance against Torbay, what did he think?
"It was a good game and the youngsters played well," said Gerry. "A little more experience and they will be up in the first team."
Which is where goalkeeper Sam Wormington normally plays.
Work commitments prevented him from travelling away with the firsts and his commanding presence denied Torbay on many occasions.
At the other end, Helicon and Freeman had chances early in the second half.
Helicon had a shot blocked and Freeman fizzed one just wide.
As the game drew towards a lively climax, Wormington capped his fine performance with a blocking save and, from a potential 1-1, it could have finished 2-0 as the visiting goalkeeper saved a shot from Freeman.
But it was the other 15-year-old, Dole, playing in centre midfield, who earned the last word from North Devon's deep well of wisdom.
Braund said: "That's my position and I am going to struggle to get back into the side. But that's what I want."
So, it's the captain's decision?
"That's what captaincy is all about – and a 15-year-old stepping into a 48-year-old's role has got to be good," said Braund. Over to Hanousek.