The Mighty Magpies
PUBLISHED: 17:20 08 June 2015
Harleston Magpies are celebrating 80 years of hockey – as well as fun, friendship, and national and international success.
A hockey club launched in Harleston 80 years ago has lots to celebrate this summer.
The Harleston Magpies will be holding a summer ball to mark the birthday – as well as continuing to play hockey all year round.
Players range in age from six to 60-plus, and in ability from complete beginners to international stars. The club, which has more than 400 members and is renowned for its friendly, family atmosphere and active youth section, is one of the most consistently successful hockey clubs in East Anglia.
Club chairman Murray Graham says: “Sense of community is all-important at Harleston Magpies Hockey Club.” He had never played hockey when his sons asked to join. He began playing when an adult team was short of a goalkeeper one day, and found he loved the game. His sons have now grown up and moved on - but Murray stayed. At 56 he still plays regularly for the club’s veterans teams and loves both the hockey, and being part of a club which prides itself on being friendly, fun and part of a supportive sporting community.
Harleston Magpies have been playing hockey since 1935 – when a men’s club was founded and named after the pub where the very first meeting was held. A women’s club was founded in Harleston in 1954, and merged with the Magpies almost 20 years later. The land where the Magpies play today, at Shotford Heath, just outside the town, was used by the US Air Force during the Second World War, with the first hockey matches played there in September, 1958. Today there are two beautifully maintained artificial grass pitches alongside the well-equipped clubhouse, and the Magpies run 26 teams, with members playing hockey in outdoor, indoor, mixed and mini versions of the game.
Fifteen Harleston Magpies teams play league hockey every week, with more teams in youth and over-50s competitions plus a mixed team and indoor men’s and women’s teams which play at a national level. For children there are sections through the age-ranges, with regular training, games, matches and tournaments and a dedicated youth development officer. The club also regularly runs umpiring and coaching courses.
Several Harleston Magpies players have won international honours through the decades. Kath Johnson represented Great Britain in three Olympics – winning a bronze medal in Barcelona in 1992, and also playing in the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, and the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Susan Wessels, who plays with the Ladies’ First Team, represented South Africa in both the Sydney (2000) and Athens (2004) Olympics.
Richard Alexander, a Harleston Magpie from childhood, was the youngest person to play in national league hockey and another Olympian. Tim Whiteman, who learned to play hockey with the Magpies, is in the current England team and Alice Hopgood plays for the England Under-16s team. Other England players have included Amy Campbell and Toby Price, who played for the Under-16s teams, Philip Cobbald played for the Over-50s, Jonathan Aldridge for the Over-55s and David Blackmore for the Over-60s.
This year the Harleston Magpies men’s first team won the East Premier A League and achieved National League status – which has been enjoyed by the Ladies’ First Team for the past 13 seasons.
Alongside celebrating their 80th anniversary, Harleston Magpies are also looking to the future, with a recruitment drive planned in schools and colleges. Social and fundraising fun continues all year round. And on Saturday, June 13 the mighty Magpies will celebrate their 80th anniversary with a grand ball with a marquee on the lawn at the clubhouse, a drinks reception, dinner and dancing. Harleston Magpies Hockey Club, Shotford Heath, Weybread, Diss, IP21 5UF; 01379 853706; www.magpies-hockey.co.uk