Faulkner recalls British hockey's finest hour at the 1988 Seoul Olympics
Saturday, 12 October 2013
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the British men's victory in the Seoul Olympic hockey tournament, and the players who achieved that historic result will gather again tonight at Midlands hotel to recall and reminisce. Among them will be David Faulkner, left back on that glorious day in Korea, now director of sport at Millfield School having stepped down from his role as performance director for hockey, a role he filled from 2005 until the end of the London 2012 Games, where Britain's men finished fourth and the women won bronze.
By the time he retired from playing, Faulkner, now 50, had won 225 caps for England and Great Britain. He is looking forward to his latest get-together with the Boys of 88.
"We played hockey at our 20 year reunion - but I don't think we'll be doing that this time round!" he told insidethegames. "We will just enjoy each others' company. That was one of the best things about the group. We had so much fun off the pitch. And we all share something now that was a lifetime achievement.
"By the time we got to Seoul we had learned a lot from our experiences in the previous two big tournaments, when we reached the final of the 1986 World Cup, which was staged at Willesden, and got to the European final the year after. We were beaten 2-1 by Australia in the World Cup, and lost on penalties to the Netherlands in the Europeans.
"But we clicked as a team during these two years. So we went into the Olympics ranked second and feeling pretty confident in our ability. We knew we could perform under pressure.
"We'd been representing England in 1986 and 1987, but of course we travelled to Seoul as Great Britain, which meant our squad was supplemented by Jimmy Kirkwood and Stephen Martin from Northern Ireland and keeper Veryan Pappin from Scotland.
"Our goalkeeper, Ian Taylor, was one of the best in the world, always very calm under pressure and a clear decision maker. And if anything needed to be said, he said it.
"Our full backs were Paul Barber and myself. I had previously played in midfield and only went to full back relatively late in 1985. Paul guided me through. He was a huge presence on and off the pitch, and a fantastic tackler and distributor of the ball.
"At right half we had Jon Potter. He was the best half back for a period of about 10 years. He could do everything - defending, attacking. He never missed a penalty stroke.
"Richard Dodds was our centre half and captain. He always stayed in the middle, and he led by example. He had a massive influence on the team. Richard was also a very efficient go-between with our staff.
"Our manager was Roger Self, David Whittaker was the coach, assisted by Bernie Cotton and Kevin Walters - who is the brother of Julie Walters, the actress.
"Our left half was Martyn Grimley, who was converted from a forward. He was very athletic. At that time not many international teams had attacking left halfs - traditionally they stayed put. So Martin added a new dimension to the team. He used to arrive in attack just like Martin Peters did for the England football team.
"Stephen Batchelor was our right winger. He was a technically gifted player, and his mobility really stood out. I always found him one of the easiest players to pass to - he always wanted the ball. He made me look like a very good passer!
"At inside right we had Richard Leman, who was very smart, very steady and extremely good at manoeuvring the ball in very tight situations.
"Centre forward, of course, was Sean Kerly. I have seen him score goals in so many ways. I still don't think I have ever seen a hockey player who could do what he could do in the D. He was physically robust, and so determined to score. We used to play attack versus defence in training, and I felt that if I could play defensively against Sean I could handle anyone else who might come along.
"So in Taylor, Dodds and Kerly we had a very strong backbone to the team. At inside left we had Robert Clift, who I always think of as the players' player. He was someone who kept moves going, kept linking the play. You would look back at videos of matches and think 'Crikey! How many times has he touched the ball!' When the final whistle went in the Olympic final, he was in possession.
"Robert linked particularly well with Imran Sherwani, our left winger, who probably played his best hockey for us during those Olympic matches. Although the main focus was on Sean, Imran scored some vital goals for us in the tournament, including two in the final, of course.
"Our five reserves all played their parts in the tournament - Veryan, Stephen, Jimmy, Russell Garcia, who was only 18, and Kulbir Bhaura, who came on in a few games and added a different dimension as a forward.
"The big guns in world hockey at the time were West Germany and Australia. We only beat Australia three times. Every game with them was so physically arduous. You never had a moment's respite against them. Mark Hagar, the Australian centre forward, was a difficult opponent, and the Germans had Stefan Blöcher up front, who was quite a handful. But then we had Sean Kerly.
"We marched in the Opening Ceremony in Seoul in the middle of the day. It was bloody hot! For the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, most of the 1988 guys were gathered in the stadium along with other British Olympians.
"Our Olympic semi-final against Australia was a huge match. When we had met them in the World Cup final two years earlier we had not played well in the first half. But this time we got off to a really good start and went 2-0 up. Towards the end of the second half, though, we got a little bit sloppy and they came back to equalise. Their second goal deflected off my stick into the roof of the net - I nearly got it. I remember lying there on the floor for a moment thinking 'have we missed our chance here?'
"But then we came back to score the winning goal with a move involving seven players that took the ball the length of pitch without the Australians touching it before Sean knocked it in for his hat-trick. I think we recognised that was one of the crucial moments of the tournament.
"So when we went into the final against West Germany, I don't think this is being arrogant, we felt so confident, knowing what we had produced to beat the Australians, even though we had lost 2-1 to the Germans in the qualifying pool.
"I actually felt it was one of the best matches I had ever personally played. We had an absolutely clear purpose as a group. Before the game, Richard Dodds and Paul Barber had spoken, emphasising that this must not be an opportunity lost.
"The final came on the last day of the Olympics, and so a lot of the British team were able to come down and support us. We had a lot of the track and field athletes there, and even Steve Redgrave got down to watch.
"It was 1-0 at half-time and then we went 3-0 up with two quick goals before letting them get one back at the end, but it was too late to matter. The game felt like it was always in our control. On the day, everyone played to the top of their ability.
"For the third goal, I chipped the ball up the wing to Steven Batchelor, who knocked it across for Imran to score. That was the moment when Barry Davies uttered his famous line in the BBC commentary: 'Where were the Germans? And, frankly, who cares?'
"Barry came to our 20th anniversary celebration - he's very much part of the group. I hope he'll be there tonight.
"At the end it was quite overwhelming thinking that this was the first Olympic gold medal won by us since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, when England were the representatives. Princess Anne, who was there in her British Olympic Association role, came down to the pitch side to see us. Imran and I missed out on about 20 minutes of the celebrations because we had to go to doping.
"We had no DVDs then of course. But back in the village they had a room where you could go two hours after your event and order a VHS recording of it, so we did that.
"There were a dozen of us there waiting for the tape to come back after the final. We waited and waited. And then we kept rewinding it, replaying the last five minutes of the game and the award ceremony over and over again.
"I just about squeezed on to the BBC highlights, you see the ball just leaving my stick right at the start.
"I've only watched the match through once since, with my two boys when they were four and eight (this clearly had some effect, as both have since taken up the game and represented England under 21s)."
"I was giving a talk at a local school the other day and I was asked if I had rung people on my mobile after the final. For us at the time there were no mobiles. We had no internet. We had no feel of what a stir our win had caused back home. There was only terrestrial TV then - no Sky channels.
"Three days later when we flew back home we were met by a BBC camera and we were live on TV as we came off the plane. We had interviews everywhere. We went to Buckingham Palace. We were voted Access Men of the Year. Our team won the BBC Sports Personality award. For three months our feet didn't touch the ground.
"Out in Seoul we didn't know how much of an impact we were making. But we were one of only five gold medal winners for Britain at the Games. Golds were rare things then. Five in Seoul - and now we've won 29 in London.
"I find it quite funny that when I was in charge of operations for London 2012 one of our biggest challenges was managing social media.
"We had a bit of a dip after 1988. In 2005, when London got the 2012 Games, our men and women were ranked 11th in the world, so it was a pretty significant journey to arrive at London 2012 with both teams ranked fourth.
"Our target was a medal in London. The women won bronze, the men missed out by one place. It is very hard to break into the top three. Since 1996 in the men's game no country ranked outside the top three in the world game has ever medalled in either the World Cup or the Olympics.
"We make it particularly difficult for ourselves having to compete as England for three years of the Olympic cycle before becoming Team GB during the Games. I have always felt it would be better to be playing for Team GB all of the time - but the chances of that happening are remote.
"The women centralised their resources in the last Olympiad, and going into Rio 2016 the men are going to commit to doing the same thing from the start, which will be a good move.
"Other GB sports such as cycling and rowing have already demonstrated the benefits of working from a centralised unit. If you don't do it now you will fall behind other nations. But what GB need to keep an eye on now is other nations currently below them who have seen how they operate and starting to do it for themselves.
"I never thought in my lifetime that I would see a hockey stadium full all day as I did at London 2012. It was packed for games at 8.30 in the morning, with 17-18,000 people. I think it was also a very smart move to put in the blue pitch, which made it easier to follow play for the spectators. The Games gave hockey the opportunity to demonstrate its skills and speed to a new audience.
"I made a point of walking to all our games through the Olympic Park, which was full of spectators going to different events or watching action on the big screens. I thought it was wonderful - absolutely glorious."
Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. To follow him on Twitter click here.