Monday, 18 June 2012

Historically Eurasian

It's hard to pinpoint where a game got its start simply due to the various versions of the game that have been played throughout history. Ice hockey's start is still being debated today, but we're fairly sure it started somewhere in Canada. When it comes to field hockey, however, there doesn't seem to be an exact point in time or even a location where the game got its start. We do know that the modern version of the game has a specific starting point, but the history of field hockey in the past is something more of a mystery.

The game of field hockey can trace its roots back to a few places of interest. The Greeks were known to have played a game called "Κερητίζειν" ("kerētízein") as far back as 200 BC, and it resembled field hockey in that a curved horn was used to propel a ball-like object into a defined goal. It differed in a number of ways as well, but the idea of using a curved object that players swung to hit a ball seems like it might have some relation in how field hockey may have evolved.

There are reports that the Daur people of Inner Mongolia have been playing a game similar to field hockey for over 1000 years called "Beikou". Beikou sees a ball-like bundle of apricot root used in place of a ball, and players hitting the root bundle with sticks. The game itself is played in two fifteen-minute halves. Again, this seems like a fairly close description of field hockey, but night games are certainly different as the root bundle changes to a felt-covered ball. That felt-covered ball is set on fire, and players chase the fiery ball around.

The British have also laid claim to have started playing a sport that certainly is the closest resemblance to field hockey. In 1363, Edward III of England, in order to push the decadence of archery, issued the proclamation: "[M]oreover we ordain that you prohibit under penalty of imprisonment all and sundry from such stone, wood and iron throwing; handball, football, or hockey; coursing and cock-fighting, or other such idle games." His mention of hockey makes it clear that some sort of hockey-type game is being played in England in 1363, so there could be a relation to the current game of field hockey.

By all accounts, however, the modern game of field hockey as we know it today got its start in England in the mid-19th century. It was here that the game started its major evolution into the second largest team sport in the world while being played in over 100 countries. The Blackheath Football and Hockey Club was formed in 1861, and became the first organized field hockey club on the planet. The game rapidly grew in popularity in England, and the Teddington Hockey Club radically helped to form the modern game by introducing the striking circle and changing the ball to a sphere from a rubber cube.

The game followed the British across Eurasia during its reign. In the 1870s, the game was brought to India by British soldiers, and the first clubs were formed in India for field hockey by 1885. Two major tournaments had begun within ten years in India, and the sport's popularity grew within the region in spades. Before long, India and Pakistan had formidable teams made up from local citizens.

The game continued to follow British servicemen abroad. The sport moved into Australia and New Zealand near the start of the 20th century, and field hockey became increasingly popular in those countries as well.

Back home, this new sport that was being played all over Britain began to expand its borders. Germany, Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, and the Scandinavian countries all saw the sport cross into their countries, and each has seen the sport grow in popularity. Needless to say, field hockey "fever" gripped western Europe, India and Pakistan, and the Australian islands very quickly.

In Canada, the game arrived in the late-19th century as part of the British Commonwealth's influence, but it never really caught on as it did in Eurasia. The game was played where it could find a niche, but the summer sport of choice in Canada during the late-1800s and 1900s was lacrosse. Field hockey never really grabbed the attention of the British servicemen who were here due to lacrosse being far more popular upon the arrival of field hockey.

Where it did catch on in Canada, however, was in the province of British Columbia. As early as 1896, records have been found of clubs playing field hockey on Vancouver Island and school records have shown that school teams on Vancouver Island were playing field hockey as early as 1903. The game was definitely a fixture on the west coast where lacrosse was not as popular as it was in eastern Canada, and the game found a foothold there for the better part of a century.

Back in England, the Hockey Association was founded in 1886 in order to track club play and establish clear rules for the game that all clubs would follow in order to remove regional rules. In clarifying the rules and laying the groundwork for all clubs to play the game by, the very first international match was played between Ireland and Wales in 1895. The Irish took that game by a 3-0 score, but there were still some concerns over the differing sets of rules being used in different countries.

After that historic game, the International Rules Board was founded in 1900. This Board diligently worked to take the best rules from a number of regions to define the current rules to be used by all regions and countries whenever a competition was held. By 1908, the rules had been streamlined enough that field hockey appeared for the first time as a Summer Olympic sport at the 1908 London Olympic Games.

Historically over time, there have been some excellent teams for periods of years. Great Britain, and now England, usually produce solid squads. The Netherlands has always been a threat to capture a medal, and Germany always seems to find a way to hit the podium. India and Pakistan were once powers in this sport, but their dominance seems to be fading as other countries get better. Australia and New Zealand more recently seem to finding their groove in winning medals as well.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the Olympic Games of past and see which teams were the favorites when it came to winning medals. A number of the countries listed above will be mentioned often, so you know that they are leading the way in Olympic field hockey events.

Until then, keep your sticks on the field!


John "Ratty" Arbuckle said...

Canada is not even sending a team to the Olympics? What a disgrace. Hockey Canada should be ashamed.

Teebz said...

They didn't qualify, John. They competed, but missed out on qualifying.

Teebz said...

And Hockey Canada has nothing to do with field hockey.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't? Then it should be called "Ice Hockey Canada". If you are going to call yourself "Hockey Canada", then you have to govern ALL aspects of hockey, including field hockey.