Aspirants (to be aged over 75) Sevens Tournament
6-8 April 2018 Wellingborough, Northamptonshire
This tournament, played on the Wrenn School astro pitch, London Road, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire included a mixture of sides, including England LX Ladies and an Under 14 team from Kettering Hockey Club. Scottish Thistles turned up with only seven players, two of them under age. Each game was two 20 minute halves on half a pitch. Normal hockey rules applied, but the halfway line was treated as the 23 metre line in 11-a-side hockey. The tournament ran in parallel to the English Regional Over 75 championship.
Though the method of working out the final positions was not obvious given the number of double fixtures, Scottish Thistles appear to have ended in fourth place, with a win and a draw to make up for four losses over the weekend. On the first day, they lost 6-2 to Alliance and won 4-1 against England LX Ladies. The second day went less well, Thistles losing 2-1 to the Ladies and 5-1 to a very impressive Kettering HC Under 14 side. A 5-2 loss to the eventual winners, England LX, and a 1-1 draw with Wales completed their tournament.
Thistles started the first day with a 6-2 loss to an Alliance side fielding a number of skilful Asian players who took full advantage of turnovers conceded by the Scots to run in six goals from open play. At least Thistles managed two goals, the first from a penalty scored by Alan Bryce after Ian Downie's close range shot was stopped by a foot. The second came when Donald Dunbar, for the second time, found himself all alone in the centre of the Alliance circle. His first attempt had gone narrowly past the post but he made no mistake with the second, despatching a fine shot past the Alliance keeper.
For the second match, against England LX Ladies, Thistles recruited two substitutes: Scot Mabe Neish who had played against them for Alliance and the sole member of the Kettering Under 14 team to turn up, William Middleton AKA "Oor Wullie". Both the substitutes proved more than useful, Mabe picking up a goal and an assist for David McIntosh to score from close range, and William scoring a brace, the second a brilliant tomahawk shot into the top corner of the net. The Ladies managed a consolation goal but the match ended 4-1 in favour of Scottish Thistles.
In a re-match against England LX Ladies in the morning of the second day, Scottish Thistles were without their substitutes from the previous match but played some of the best hockey of the weekend so far in the first half, which they dominated with some excellent, passing hockey. It was no surprise when they took the lead with a fine team goal finished off by Sandy Weir, but the Ladies took advantage of a misunderstanding as Thistles pressed forward in midfield, the ball being intercepted by their best player, who burst through from just outside her own circle with no Scottish defender between her and Dick Pearce in goal, with a forward racing through on her left. She committed Dick Pearce and slipped the ball to the unmarked forward who had no trouble netting the equaliser. The second half was more even but Thistles did not take advantage of their opportunities and the Ladies did, a weak pass back from Ian Downie to Alan Bryce being intercepted by an English forward who once again committed Dick Pearce before slipping the ball to her unmarked team mate to score what turned out to be the winner - final score 2-1 to England LX Ladies.
The second match of the second day was against a very impressive Kettering HC Under 14 side fielding a number of skilful players and playing a very good brand of passing hockey, with players taking up good positions and the man (or girl) on the ball always looking to pass. The youngsters had earlier completely dominated the Welsh side but found it a little harder against the Scots. In truth, if it hadn't been for the substitute Kettering goalkeeper, more than five times the age of any of his team mates, the score might have been a lot closer, as Thistles manufactured a number of chances but found the keeper on great form, and no one was ever in the right place to pick up the rebounds off the keeper's pads. The boys and girl ran in four goals before a fierce Alan Bryce shot from one of many short corners was deflected high into the net off a defender's stick, but the tiring Thistles side conceded another goal before the end of the match, which finished 5-1 in favour of the local side.
The final day brought the first rain of the weekend, though it was not heavy and the temperature was still comfortable. England LX were the opponents and the task was never going to be easy against a well drilled side which was eventually to turn out tournament winners. Unfortunately the English knew that goal difference would be needed for them to win the trophy and they did their best to rack up a big score, In the end, they could manage only five, Thistles keeping their shape and making it difficult for the opppoaition. It was to their credit that they did not buckle under pressure but created a number of chances of their own. Up against the keeper who had kept them at bay the previous day for Kettering Under 14s, they once again found it difficult to score from short corners, winning a good number. The two Scottish goals came from open play, and Tony Walker claimed an assist on both. Thistles had played some good, passing hockey throughout and one such move found Tony in the clear on the right. His early cross was met by David McIntosh on the left of the circle, and David cracked the ball into the net. As the game wore on, Thistles became more and more adventurous and a forcing run by sweeper Alan Bryce and pass to the overlapping Tony Walker led to the second goal when Tony's accurate cross found Donald Dunbar on the penalty spot ready to sweep in the second Scottish goal. The final score of 5-2 was not a true reflection on the balance of play.
Thistles ended a gruellng tournament with a match against Wales, who were using the tournament as part of their preparations for the upcoming Over 70 internationals but included a number of underage players in their squad. With Alan Bryce having left for his long drive home to Macrihanish, Thistles once again called up William Middleton, who had already played in two successive matches just before this one. Once again, William fitted in very well with the team. The pace of this match was a little on the pedestrian side, which allowed Scottish Thistles the time to find their passes, and with Oor Willie linking well in midfield, they strung together a series of good moves without seriously threatening the Welsh goal. With Thistles well on top for the whole of the first half, a goalless draw was scant reward for some excellent, team hockey. Unfortunately, Wales put in a power play at the start of the second half and overran the Scots to run in a goal well against the run of play. Thistles kept at it, though, and won a series of short corners. Finally, Donald Dunbar just managed to reach the rebound from one of his shots, poking the ball past the advancing Welsh keeper Glyn Thomas to injector Ian Downie, who passed the ball into the corner of the goal to equalise. The game proceeded as if both sides had decided that a draw was good enough and a good natured contest ended 1-1 to leave Thistles in fourth place in the tournament.
Alan Bryce, Ian Downie, Donald Dunbar, Dave McIntosh, Dick Pearce, Tony Walker, Sandy Weir.
Guest substitutes William Middleton and Mabe Neish