Coops, a personal story. (in installments)

Part 1 - Curry & Quiz

This is my last photograph of Coops taken at 10am on February 7th 2015, the morning of the last Curry and Quiz for the season. On the right is the card sent by Mollie after the funeral and wake to all the Club members.

Coops and I always met at 10 to start cutting the onions for the curries, and it marked one of those special days that I would always look forward to in the year as it was a our time to enjoy a unique moment together as friends of over 35 years, and a chance for us to confirm why both of us spent several days preparing for a Club event that most people thought just happened by magic. Well, it did happen by magic, Coops magic.

25 Kg of onions take some chopping as does 20 Kg of chicken, so we had plenty of time to put the World to rights and to remember some of the thousands of funny moments we had shared over the years. In the early 1980's we were playing hockey seriously on a Saturday, for serious fun on a Sunday where Coops was the captain of the special Sunday team, then we had indoor hockey at John Players on a Monday, Tuesdays was Balderton (Newark) on the redgras (white gravel, with a white ball) and Wednesdays at Beeston, so we had plenty of opportunities for odd things to happen! And they did.

That morning Coops reminded me of the "Rugby" at Leek, and the "no hockey" at Rugby incidents, which should be minuted here I think. The Sunday matches at Rugby were marked, as most Sunday games tended to be, with a Pub lunch prior to the game. The Rugby away venue was always at a pub just off the motorway which did Nasi Goreng (fried rice with an egg on top) as I think the landlord had imported a Malay bride. That was always nice washed down with 4 pints of Tim Taylors (not the Malay bride), so the game tended to be incidental, or more likely accidental, as injury in the warmup was a common event post luncheon. This particular year the game took on a surreal nature as the Rugby HC groundsman had run the heavy roller over the pitch using a very large tractor. Sadly (or not) the tyres had cut large brick shaped lumps out of the pitch, turning them over neatly so that the sticky clay was exposed. As a hindrance to flowing hockey the multitude of clay bricks were a good leveler as the ball could rarely go more than a few yards before it became embedded in clay. The game degenerated after the umpires decided that our attempts at overcoming the "sticky bricks" by flicking the ball up and hitting it (Hurley like) as far and as hard as possible was dangerous, while 20 people standing around a pile of clay trying to hack a ball out was OK. And as Coops pointed out, the half cut team was well matched by a half cut pitch.

Leek away was always amusing as the team (ours) was blessed with a bunch of very sarcastic players, and Leek had become well loved as a team of 13. Leek played on the water meadows (this is a nice name for bog) next to their current clubhouse, which in those days was little more than a large shed. In the warm-up, which for us meant trying to avoid injuring ourselves, Coops asked their captain if they had managed to get the full 13 as he could only see one chap with a whistle and one functional arm who could be mistaken for an umpire. "No - Gerald is over there, the old chap with the retriever", he replied, with no hint of irony (well it was Leek). So Gerald and his dog umpired (a loose interpretation of the word), and we were not disappointed, with cries of "whos' ball ump?" whenever there was a whistle blown, being met by Gerald's reply "ours". Fortunately after half time both umpires were able to rest their exhausted (ours) arm, and get some good other arm action by pointing in the new direction of "ours", by which I do of course mean theirs. Phew - repetitive strain injury avoided.

The trick in such situations is to try and engineer a goal that cannot possibly encourage the umpires to blow a whistle until the keeper is picking the ball out of the net. This game however provided a "third way" which did involve the umpire not blowing for a Leek free hit, but sadly also involved him ignoring a blatant foul which reduce our team to joining me on the ground rolling around with laughter. What had happened was a tragic loss of memory by the Leek sweeper, who, as I pushed the ball around him on the reverse stick side during a rapid breakaway, and, with only the keeper to beat, forgot that we were playing under hockey rules (that was an easy mistake to make by this time I guess) and he found himself making a splendid rugby tackle which, as my old PE teacher would say, was "low and hard". Whilst I was congratulating the defender for a fine tackle if slightly confused codes, and most of our team were enjoying a hearty laugh and roll in the mud, Gerald was busy petting the dog and trying to avoid making a decision, which proved successful. Coops strolled over to him to discuss the issue but Gerald had decided that any retrospective decision based on people rolling around laughing at him was not going to happen and asked Coops "what would you suggest I do?", to which Coops replied "give the whistle to the dog". Cue further rolling and retirement to the "shed" for cans of John Smiths, which was lukewarm, despite being stored in the shed where it was -10 C.

As you will know, Coops had a wonderful sense of humour, best described by the Antipodean rainwear brand Superdry. This Saturday was no exception, as we retold and embroidered old stories, he was in top form and I was looking forward to the quiz in the evening more that usual that day as my twins Sophie and Jamie were joining us for the evening, a rare treat for us all now that they were "fledged". Coops went home at 12 to polish the quiz questions, and we planned to re-convene at 6 to prepare the raita, Coops enjoyed a good "chop".

That evening was very special, as Coops was in marvelous form, and the trick was to sit close to the front so that the quiet asides and "off mic" comments could be enjoyed. The twins had a great time, as they really loved Coops who had been a "best uncle" to them all their lives, generous and supportive, was our Coops, and they loved his humour and warmth. Teams with noisy members missed out on so much. Coops was amazingly patient and forgiving, with people too over-excited to listen the first time asking for repeats of the question, something that most of us would have found all too easy to make snide comments about, but Coops always managed a soft put-down. It was a true joy, and at the end of the evening I remember commenting to Derek that it was "the best yet", little did I know that it was tragically to be the last.

Next - part 2  Missed signs and funny feelings.   Geoff Bail