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Rachael Heyhoe Flint from Hockey Field vol 51 no 13 March 1964 low resI was very saddened by the recent announcement of the death of Rachael Heyhoe Flint. Having listened to the many tributes on the TV and radio and read the extensive newspaper coverage on front, media, sports and obituaries pages, you could be in no doubt that Rachael was not only a very talented sports woman but also a special person who touched the lives of so many people.

The tributes have understandably concentrated on her cricketing career, her time at Wolverhampton Wanderers Football club and as a campaigner for women’s sport but little on her hockey exploits. I felt this was an omission that needed to be corrected as after all, she was a double internationalist having played for the England Hockey team in the 1960s.

Was she one of hockey’s ‘greats’? Probably not, but for those of us who had the pleasure of playing with her or knowing her in the hockey environment she was an extraordinary person – fun-loving, quick witted, persuasive, a campaigner, a writer, a raconteur but above all, an outstanding sportswoman.

A Wolverhampton girl through and through, she taught at Wolverhampton Girls Grammar School after qualifying from Dartford College and played for local hockey club, Tettenhall Ladies going on to be Club Captain and a Club Vice President. While cricket was her first love, she somehow found the time to also play representative hockey and in the early 1960s her talents were rewarded by selection as GK for Staffordshire, the Midlands and then the England team in 1964. She played in four full internationals including the Wembley match where they beat the Scots 3-2 and then the Dutch by the same score.

Rachael Heyhoe Flint in England team photo from Hockey Field vol 51 no 12 March 1964 low resRachael Heyhoe Flint in an England team photo from Hockey Field magazine, vol.51 no.12, March 1964.
Above left: Portrait of Rachael Heyhoe Flint from
Hockey Field magazine, vol.51 no.13, March 1964.

Brenda Read, a former England team mate remembers an occasion during the Midland Counties Hockey Tournament at Ramsgate when the matches were all cancelled due to the weather, “The players used to entertain each other and Melvyn Hickey, Rachael and I did several skits including the shipping forecast and a take-off of ‘Fanny and Johnny Craddock’ (older folk will recall their cookery shows!)”. She went on to add “Rachael was great company and the best all round games player I have known.” Her ability to play sport to the highest level but also have fun was well known. Brenda again recalls “at one club cricket match she came in to bat wearing a shower cap and carrying a mop with a wooden handle and of course she connected the mop with the first delivery and dispatched the ball to mid-off”.

I first met Rachael when I started playing for the South and England and she was the Telegraph hockey correspondent. Her sense of fun and easy manner made conversation flow. I think many of the hockey hierarchy of the time were somewhat wary of her as she probably knew the players a lot better than they did! Fellow international player, Sue Slocombe, remembers Rachael’s thoughtfulness, “Rachael had arranged for hockey boot sponsorship for the team. I had a mild form of polio as a child so have a shorter left leg and a left foot two sizes smaller than my right. Rachael had noted this and when the boots arrived with everyone's names on the boxes, mine said ‘Dolly Mixture’ on the lid and in it was a pair of boots with the left foot two sizes smaller than the right – they were so comfortable!” Former England captain, Anita White, also remembers her “unique style and wonderful sense of humour. When we won the World Cup in Edinburgh in 1975, I was not surprised to find that she’d managed to invite herself to the England teams’ party afterwards!”

I got to know Rachael well when she came to play for my club, Ealing LHC, in the early 1980s when we needed a GK. By then in her early 40s, I’m sure that fellow England cricket colleagues Glynis Culley and Janette Britten who played for Ealing must have persuaded her to pull on the GK pads again. In the days before helmets, modern kickers, and full body protection, I remember Rachael as a somewhat diminutive figure between the posts. But this first impression was swiftly dispelled once the game started as her agility, eye for a ball and competitive spirit kept many a clean sheet. She did want to win every game but that did not stop her coming out with jokes or amusing comments in the middle of play. Netta Forward, the Ealing captain, remembers her eating a sweet just before a match that turned the inside of her mouth bright blue – during the game she then opened her mouth wide to any opposing forward that got too close! We all have fond memories of those matches where Rachael turned up with son, Ben, in tow and always added energy and fun to the day. Even after hanging up her pads for good, she continued to support the club and spoke a number of times at our annual dinners.

Over the past few days I have received so many messages from hockey friends who also knew or admired Rachael. Many had fond or amusing stories which for me sum up Rachael the person. She also showed support for other hockey friends and it was only recently, and at a time she would have known about her own illness, that I received a lovely message from her on hearing of the death of former hockey international, Melvyn Pignon (nee Hickey). The tribute was generous, calling her a true hockey legend but she also recounting several amusing stories about their time together in the 1960s. She signed herself “The Wicked Baroness of Wolverhampton and Tettenhall Ladies HC”. The wit was still there.pdf

We have surely lost a great friend and member of the hockey family.

Cathy Harris, journalist and friend of Racheal, wrote a personal tribute to Racheal that appeared in The Times on Thursday 19 January. Click on the pdf to read it. Reproduced on THM website with permission from Cathy Harris.

Katie Dodd
THM Trustee, former England International and Ealing LHC
30 January 2017

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