Hockey player turns 80

10:09 18 January 2022

Sixty-three years after first picking up a hockey stick, a St Albans veteran is still playing the sport as he enters his ninth decade.

Nigel Strofton, who turns 80 on January 22, started his hockey career for St Albans Hockey Club at the age of 17, and he has never retired.

Unable to make it to a local rugby club, his favorite sport of choice, in September 1959 he attended Trials Day at the SAHC – and the loss of rugby was a gain for hockey.

Nigel, who was born in King Harry Lane in 1942, played his first game the week before Christmas 1959, on the grass pitch against Hampstead HC.

At this time there were three men’s teams at St Albans, increasing to four during the holidays when university students and boarders returned home to town, and his father and older brother Roger also played at the club.

Nigel remembers his father, a shopkeeper and wine merchant, who helped the team during World War II because he had gas vouchers. He took them to matches in the back of his van, but always had to be back in St Albans by 6pm to open the shop in the evening.

In 1967 Nigel was appointed captain of the 1st XI, a position he held until 1971 and then again in 1975-6 when the team entered the New London League – the first organized hockey league in country.

He led the club’s transition in 1989 from grass to astro-turf on the grounds of Clarence Park and served as club chairman from 1996 to 2005. He was a key figure in the hockey club’s relationship with its neighboring St Albans Cricket Club and their joint use of the Clarence Park Pavilion.

Nigel said: “The cricket club wouldn’t allow hockey players to use the bar so we went down the road to The Crown who had to apply for a special license to open at 5pm instead of 5.30pm, as was the law at the time.”

Eventually Nigel ironed out these start-up issues and the two clubs agreed to combined use of the bar and clubhouse facilities.

St Albans HC was founded in 1898 as a club for ‘gentlemen’ and joined Abbeyside Ladies HC in 1989, moving from Clarence Park to its current ground at Oaklands College in 2013. These days Nigel plays in the 10th team men’s, where he helps develop the young players on his team – some of whom are over 65 years younger than him.

The club colors are orange and navy, but the club’s supporters, made up of friends, family and former players, refer to themselves as the “Tangerine Army”.

Nigel also contributed to this: “In the 1960s we used to play with faded blue shirts, blue shorts and blue and white striped socks. But we found that many other hockey clubs were using similar colors, and we wanted to have our own unique club color so we never had to play in an away kit. At that time, no other club in the country played in ‘tangerine’, so that decided it.

“In 1969 we went tangerine and never looked back. Once our shirt dealers ran out of shirts at the start of the season so we asked a favor from a friend who sent us 12 tangerine shirts in various sizes from Dundee United Football Club.”

Nigel says he loves the club and has no plans to quit hockey just yet. He takes everything in his stride, including hosting extra games when the pandemic caused hockey leagues to be canceled; and in 1975 a tour in Toronto which he organized after a conversation in a bar with a Canadian hockey player.

He is happy to use the new technology involved in selecting teams and players now, but remembers a simpler moment: “We used to meet at the King William IV pub on Monday nights, select teams and send out postcards that night telling everyone where and when their game would be the following Saturday.

Catherine J. Martinez