Then and now: Batchelor recalls the glory days

Batchelor

By Sarah Juggins

The energetic, cheery forward was one of the poster boys of the 1988 squad. As he admits himself, when people reel off the names of the team, his is usually up there with Sean Kerly, Imran Sherwin and Ian Taylor, but these days Batchelor is happiest when he is coaching kids of all ages and abilities at hockey and tennis.

“I have no aspirations to be a Great Britain coach or anything like that,” he says. “I love watching hockey, I love watching all sports, but I’m not an avid follower. I couldn’t tell you the names of all the players although I do keep in touch with a few of them.”

Batchelor has always been seen as the joker of the side. He says: “I was known as the one who had a bit more fun and enjoyed all aspects. But I definitely took it seriously when it was big match time. The team also used to joke that I was always off finding food because the food in the Olympic village was 24/7. It wasn’t totally true but it made a good story.”

On the pitch, Bachelor was best known for his assists. His bustling style of play, closing down players and creating space, allowed the other forwards to capitalise and his relationship with Sean Kerly was almost telepathic.

The self-deprecating Batchelor laughingly says that he was so effective because even he never knew what he was going to do on the pitch, so how could the opposition read his game? In the next sentence however, we learn that he and Kerly spent hours practicing, with Batchelor firing in the crosses and Kerly putting them in the goal.

A lot of Batchelor’s style of play is linked to his other great sporting love – tennis. Before he became an international hockey player, Batchelor had been a decent tennis player, competing on the national circuit and running his own tennis coaching school. The sport set him up brilliantly for a hockey career, both physically and mentally.

“My tennis really helped with my footwork, the two sports are so similar in the way you move – closing down and changing direction in particular. It definitely helped my mental state on the pitch. Tennis is really tough because it is an individual sport, as a tennis player you have to be mentally so strong. On the hockey pitch, the team gives you such a good support.”

Mental strength and fortitude was something that seemed to be inbuilt in the team of 1988. As Batchelor says, “Training for Seoul was tough but we didn’t really discuss it. The Irish boys used to come over for the week and we would all start training after work each weekday from Tuesday to Thursday or Friday.

“I was self-employed so I could arrange my time to get there but for some of them it must have been unbelievably difficult. I didn’t really think about it but take Richard Dodds for example, he was training to be a surgeon. Just imagine, training all day to be a surgeon and training all night to be an Olympian. But he just got on with it.”

Batchelor’s admiration for Dodds extended to his leadership skills. “It will probably surprise him that I say it, but I think the biggest influence on the team was Richard Dodds. He was great, I had some highs and lows and he was brilliant with me. If you ask the public, they will name me, Sean Kerly, Imran Sherwin, Ian Taylor but Dodds, will hardly ever get mention. But he was amazing. He was a great leader.”

Looking back at the 1988 Olympics, Batchelor says the best bits, aside from the actual hockey, was the Olympic Village. Wandering around and meeting athletes from different sports and from around the world was an amazing experience. He also enjoyed the opening and closing ceremonies – and 1988 was particularly special because he was wearing a gold medal at the time. However, the final few days were slightly tinged with sadness.

“I had no family there so I had no-one to celebrate with afterwards. It was lonely walking around the Olympic Village and waiting to fly home. My girlfriend of the time, Jackie, who is now my wife, was watching from a hotel bedroom in Scotland because she was working up there. It was difficult to even speak on the phone.

“That wasn’t a downside but it was a dampener. There was a massive party and lots of wives and girlfriends were there and, yes, I loved it, but it’s not the same as celebrating with your own family.”

Batchelor is on his way to his next coaching session, so the interview draws to an end. I asked if he saw similarities between the 1988 gold medal and the 2016 women’s achievements.

“Well, we weren’t necessarily the best team but we won anyway. A lot of people would say the Dutch were the best team in Rio but our girls found a way to win. And it was a win that, like ours, really captured the public’s imagination. Watching it brought the memories flooding back.”

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