St Albans hockey player still going strong at 80

Nigel Strofton (front and centre) with the St Albans Hockey Club squad of 1975.

Nigel Strofton (front and centre) with the St Albans Hockey Club squad of 1975. - Credit: SAHC

Sixty-three years since he first picked 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, began his hockey-playing career for St Albans Hockey Club when he was 17 years old, and he’s never retired.

Unable to travel to a local rugby club, his preferred choice of sport, in September 1959 he attended Trials Day at SAHC - and rugby’s loss was hockey’s gain.

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

At that time there were three men's teams at St Albans, increasing to four in the holidays when the university students and boarding school boys returned home to the city, and his dad and older brother Roger also played at the club.

Nigel remembers his father, a shopkeeper and wine merchant, helping out the team during the Second World War as he had petrol coupons. He would take them to matches in the back of his van, but always had to be back in St Albans by 6pm to open up the shop in the evening.

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

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He led the club’s transition in 1989 from grass to astro-turf at the Clarence Park grounds and was president of the club from 1996 - 2005. He was a key figure in the hockey club’s relations with its neighbour, St Albans Cricket Club and their joint use of the pavilion at Clarence Park.

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

Eventually, Nigel smoothed over these teething problems and the two clubs agreed a combined usage of the bar and pavilion facilities. 

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

The club's colours are orange and navy, but the club’s fans, made up of friends, family members and ex-players, refer to themselves as the ‘Tangerine Army’.

Nigel had a hand in this, too: “In the 1960s, we used to play in washed-out blue shirts, blue shorts and blue-and-white striped socks. But we found that many other hockey clubs used similar colours, and we wanted to have our own, unique club colour so we never had to play in away kit. At that time, no other club in the country played in ‘tangerine’, so that decided it.

"In 1969 we switched to tangerine and never looked back. Once, our shirt stockists ran out of shirts at the beginning of the season, so we asked a favour of a friend who sent 12 tangerine shirts of different sizes to us from Dundee United Football Club.” 

Nigel says he loves the club and has no plans to give up playing hockey yet. He takes everything in his stride, including organising extra games when the pandemic caused the hockey leagues to be cancelled; and in 1975 a tour to Toronto he organised after a chat in a bar with a Canadian hockey player.

He’s happy to use the new technology involved in selecting teams and players now, but remembers a simpler time: “We used to meet up in the King William IV pub on Monday evenings, select the teams and send out postcards that evening which instructed everyone where and when their game would be the following Saturday.”