Lizzie Richmond considers what it is to be a sporting hero and highlights changes over time in the vocabulary we use to describe them.
In her 1901 book entitled 'Hockey for Ladies', Mrs W. H. Pickering recommends playing with 'dash', but warns that:
"Many ladies during the summer are enervated with garden parties, parades at the seaside, and other soul and body destroying functions. A woman ought to have grave duties in life, but her life would be fuller if she gave a more than passing attention to serious games in her leisure hours."
The copy of 'Hockey for Ladies' that we hold in the Library once belonged to Hilda M. Light. Hilda was a keen, all-round sportswoman from an early age, regularly taking part in tennis tournaments and regattas. She played in the South Hampstead High School hockey team before being selected to play right half for Middlesex in 1909. By 1914 she was playing territorial hockey for the South and, in the same year, joined the England team. In 1924 she achieved the distinction of captaining her club, county, territory and country. Later in life she served as President of the All England Women's Hockey Association. Hilda was an outstanding player of hockey; she took her games seriously and Mrs Pickering would have approved.
Hilda must also have been an extraordinary person. In 1916 she joined the St. John Ambulance Brigade and volunteered for France. She subsequently worked at front line stationary hospitals in the Somme region of northern France. She is pictured with colleagues at Abbeville. Note the sporting equipment.
One of the finest sportswomen of her generation, Hilda understood about life's grave duties. She might be impressed by the continuing importance of sport in so many aspects of 21st-century life, but, perhaps, she would also feel that something 'sporting' has been irretrievably lost. Mrs Pickering reminds her readers that:
"Dash must not be confused with roughness. The dashing player, though she is always on the ball, and though she spares no effort to be there first, is scrupulously fair, and will observe the rules both in the spirit and in the letter."
This country's earliest players of hockey tended to be people who took their sport very seriously but, because of their character and experiences, and the circumstances they found themselves in, they were able to balance their enthusiasm against a real understanding of the need for propriety in all that they did. It would be interesting to know how Hilda and her teammates would view today's sporting heroes. Might they think that in some places dash has given way to the roughness that Mrs Pickering cautioned against?
Hockey for Ladies, Mrs W. H. Pickering, 1901.
AEWHA (Hockey) Collection, University of Bath Archives & Research Collections.
Hilda M. Light, her life and times: a tribute by her friends, AEWHA, 1972.