According to The Federation of International Hockey, field hockey is one of the oldest team sports, dating back over 4000 years. The game is believed to have originated from Ancient Greece at a time when the hockey was played using a horn and a ball. Cairo Scene disagree with this narrative, citing that the game originated at an earlier date from Egypt:
The oldest evidence of field hockey was found in the tomb of Kheti in Beni Hasan and shows two players with crooks in a large ball.
Researchers made this conclusion after 2500 BC drawings were found etched on the grave of Beni Hasan, an ancient Egyptian administrator of the 11th Dynasty. Field hockey turns out to be one of history’s oldest ball games, dating as far back a staggering 4500 years ago.
In East Asia, a similar game was played using a carved wooden stick and a ball before 300 BC. As time progressed variations of the sport were introduced among the Romans, Greeks, Ethiopians, and Aztecs. During the Middle Ages, hockey-like games like hurling and shinty were also introduced throughout Europe. It was during this time that the word ‘hockey’ was recorded in the Galway Statutes of 1527.
King Edward III, in 1349 outlawed hockey, football and other recreational sports among the working class as he was worried they would abandon their bow and arrow lessons. Britain was in a constant state of war with the French. His hunger for battle was summed up in The Vernon Manuscript, late medieval English manuscript, 1400 ” The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III, Father of the English Nation (Vintage, 2008), p. 394(
He was the flower of earthly warriors, under whom to fight was to rule, to go forth was to prosper, to contend was to triumph … Against his foes he was grim as a leopard,
The game remained kept on the low down over the next several centuries until the 19th century. It was this post-Elizabethan period that marked the re-emergence of field hockey in English public schools. Modern hockey developed from among the students of the English school system and grew to a point where it rivaled sports like soccer and rugby.
The rules for the game were however borrowed from the hockey version played by members of the Middlesex cricket clubs for winter sport. The first men’s hockey club, Blackheath, had been formed in 1849 in the south-eastern region of London. Later, another London club, Teddington, was formed. It introduced other rules to the game we are more familiar with today, including the banning of lifting sticks above shoulder level, using hands, and replacing the rubber cube with a sphere-shaped ball.
Teddington also introduced the use of a striking circle. These rules were incorporated into the constitution of the Hockey Association in London, formed in 1886.
Field Hockey Spread Round the British Empire
As I examined the chipped toe on my XG 7000 my mind started spinning off. How many players had done the same as me and when did it all begin? It is hard to believe naked Greeks were swinging sticks 4000 years ago or is it? Writer Plutarch (or Pseudo-Plutarch) refers to a sport with hockey like rules with the name Keretizein. A beautiful marble relief is on display in the archeological Museum of Athens depicting teams holding same size sticks as they tussle over a ball in 510 BC. Although it was amazing to discover the earliest record was over 4000 years ago in Egypt. The weather must have been perfect for that kind of game and with the warm Mediterranean never far away Greece was a perfect place for team sports during long warm spring and summer seasons.
I digress, in recent times, The British are widely accepted as molding the rules and spreading the passion for the modern game. As the British Empire expanded its influence to other regions around the globe, its soldiers began introducing the field hockey game to far flung places. The popularity of the game grew in India rapidly where the first clubs were formed in Calcutta in 1885. It was here that the Aga Khan tournament and Beighton Cup were held a decade (1895) after the sport emerged.
Until the mid 20 th century, the modern game was believed to have gathered popularity and even begun in Scotland.
“In the Highlands it is a grand sight to see two opposing bodies of clansmen—met as of old they met with targe and claymore—to fight out a friendly game. Everything is cast aside but shirt and kilt, and bare-headed and bare-legged the contestants seem to have walked out of the picture of some ancient Highland foray. Striking off in mid-ground the welkin soon rings with their shouts in Gaelic, their cheers and expostulations.”
The above extract is taken from the book, Three hundred things a bright boy can do, published in 1914 when it was believed hockey had been born from Gaelic Shinty.
When were the first international competitions held?
The first international competitions were held at the beginning of the 20 th Century. The game appeared during the Summer Olympics of 1908 and 1920, but in 1924 it was removed. The Federation Internationale de Hockey sur Gazon (FIH) was developed, as a result, and reinstated hockey as an Olympic game in 1928. Indian hockey players also participated in the 1928 Olympic Games where they won all the five games and began a great legacy of top awards. The players won the gold medal from 1932 to 1956 and in the 1964 and 1980 tournaments.
The game also experienced tremendous success in other former British colonies, i.e., Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. In Canada records show that as early as 1896, clubs in Vancouver were taking part in regular fixtures. While other countries had embraced the game, the United States began playing field hockey in 1901. Constance M.K.Applebee introduced it and spread it across many schools, clubs, and colleges including Vassar, Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, and Radcliffe.
The first U.S touring team set sail for England in 1920, and in 1922 the United States Field Hockey Association was formed. Since a woman introduced the game, only female athletes participated. In 1930, however, the Field Hockey Association of America was formed to govern the men’s hockey game. Later, both associations merged to form the USFHA, the official hockey association recognized by the Olympic Committee.
The emergence of women enjoying field hockey began to grow towards the end of the 19 th Century. In most of nineteenth century England, field hockey was considered a dangerous sport for women. However, with women’s lib in the fore, by the end of the century more and more women participated in the game, and in 1887 the first women’s hockey club, Molesey Ladies Hockey Club, was formed. Later the Irish Ladies Hockey Union was established. It was the first national association. Although women’s hockey spread to other countries around the world, the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations was formed 40 years after women began playing the game. International competitions for women only started in the 1970 s with the first Women’s World Cup held in 1974. Additionally, women’s hockey only became an Olympic event in 1980.
Field Hockey Today
Today, field hockey is played in many countries within a club structure. A regular club consists of 3-6 adult teams though other clubs may have only one team.
Modern clubs provide opportunities for players of different ages and ability levels to enroll. The chances are incredibly competitive and structured in the form of senior and junior leagues. The leagues are tiered into divisions according to the player’s level of play. As such, annual, provincial, and invitational tournaments match the league play and offer participants a chance to enjoy the game. The need for more international matches led to the introduction of the 1971 World Cup. Other international competitions including the Asian Cup, the Pan-American Games, the Asian Games, and the European Cup followed suit.
College field hockey for women is the most popular sport in US colleges and universities with up to 250 institutions recognizing this game. Its popularity makes field hockey the most lucrative scholarship sports in the country. As a result, the NCAA dictates the number of scholarships each school can award and requires 12 of them to be awarded by college field hockey programs every year. There are 78 schools at Division 1 level and 23 at Division 11 hence high school field hockey players interested in playing the game at the college level can access more than 1200 scholarships every year. Getting a scholarship can be incredibly difficult given the number of other high school students pursuing them.
The most prominent field hockey tournaments remain the Hockey World Cup, and the Olympic Games Tournament held after every four years. Also, there is the Champions Trophy held every year for the six best teams. The game is also one of the competing sports at the Commonwealth Games. For the men, India has clinched eight Olympic gold medals while Pakistan has lifted the World Cup four times. Among the women, Australia has won three Olympic gold medals, and the Netherlands has clinched the World Cup six times. Teams from around the world also participate in the Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament held every year in Malaysia.