PENDLE Forest have been crowned National Over 35s champions following a thrilling 6-3 win against Old Georgians. JAN CORMACK reflects on a memorable day at Lee Valley Stadium, the home of hockey...

A long, but excitement-filled road trip to Lee Valley Olympic Stadium awaited Pendle Forest Over 35s Masters.

After arriving, checking in, several beverages and lots of clean wholesome fun in the bar from players and the travelling supporters alike, an “earlyish” night was on the cards in preparation for the final.

4am and dreaming of victory was rudely interrupted by the fire alarm and resultant evacuation of the hotel. Julie Shaw insistent the opposition we’re in league with the hotel to kibosh our chances of a good night’s sleep - except for Judith Hind who slept through the whole thing!

Match day morning with some bleary eyes, a brisk walk to the Olympic Park and changing room lucky number seven, saw the stars align for Forest.

Captain Chaos Karen Wignall sweet talked an official, whom it transpired was born in Nelson, after not realising we had to hand in our starting line up an hour before pushback and the ceremonies began.

The majority of the Pendle team having never been to such an auspicious event looked professional and composed when lining up, hearing their names called over the tannoy and addressing the supporters on the sidelines.

Wignall won the toss and opted for the push back, the umpires rejecting the option of an orange ball for pain in the arse starting keeper Jayne Kirkpatrick.

From the off Forest dominated the press taking the game to the Old Georgians and with only five minutes on the clock a pass from midfield to Charlotte Hartley saw the Commonwealth Games medal winner drive to the D, reverse stick strike and beat the keeper for pace and quality.

Intricate play from Sarah Towers, Becky Bell and Fiona Head in the defensive line to midfield Hayley Baines, Julie Shaw and Ali Gill created oodles of attacking opportunities for the forward line. Claire Birkett the high player receiving the ball, brilliantly holding up play for support to arrive.

Hartley received the ball minutes after her first goal from Wignall at top D, drag the keeper right and slip the ball left for her second.

Hartley was again involved in Forest’s third goal, slipping right to Wignall in the ugly zone for a tap in, poachers paradise!

After a sustained period of play in the tropical, balmy heat of the South, the Georgians first attack into the Pendle D saw Kirkpatrick put her crossword down, dive to her right and deflect the ball onto the attackers foot. The whistle went and Forest started for a hit out only to be dismayed the umpires hadn’t seen it and we’re to be on the end of a penalty corner.

A well drilled set saw the OG’s get a goal back, a slip left then hit back across goal, Head unable to keep the ball out from a deflection on the right post.

Forest found this particular play difficult to defend, and it was replicated in their second goal.

With the score at 3-2, Forest took their foot off the gas and started to defended deep, putting pressure on themselves and at times giving the ball away cheaply. It surely was squeaky bum time until the end of the half, but with no more goals, and just a green card for Deb Bythell for not retreating five (and she’s been so good for the last three seasons!) Pendle went in ahead with a 1 goal advantage.

A cracking team talk from Hartley and Lisa Crewe talked of decision making and discipline for the next 35 minutes knowing that with these qualities the match would be theirs.

Taking heed of half time instruction, Crewe led by example and a through ball to Hartley saw her hat-trick goal minutes from the whistle.

OG’s received another PC, Forest dubious as advantage was played and the strike at goal kicked away by second half keeper Laura Kendall. Taking their chances the OG’s converted, scoring their third PC. Forest again made to feel uncomfortable with the scoreline.

Not disheartened and sticking to their style of play Forest attacked en masse. Sally Evans in midfield played the ball to Hartley, who slipped to Catherine Kilgallon who went one-on-one with the keeper.

In what can only be described as the most selfless act of the match, Kilgallon taped the ball left to an advancing Hartley who slotted into an empty net.

Feeling the match was theirs with a two-goal advantage and five minutes remaining, Hartley pushed the ball to Steph Bedford on the left wing. Bedford drove into the D and shaped to pass the ball to Wignall. Wignall drawing the defender created the opening Bedford needed, she took it, and fired past a wrong footed keeper. Pendle Forest 6-3 to the good.

As the whistle went for full time the roars from players and spectators alike reflected the passion and commitment of all involved in Pendle Forest Hockey Club and how much hockey and the achievement in this tournament means.