Max Pemberton was part of the U16 Cheltenham team that won the National Cup! Head of Hockey, Mr Gwyn Williams, commented “Max has a passion for hockey and this competition has certainly provided him with an avenue to fulfil a dream and play at the Olympic stadium. In becoming a national champion, he has certainly created a memory he will cherish for years to come, a marvellous achievement for him and also Cheltenham Hockey Club who we continue to support and have a strong link with for both our girl and boy players.”
Read Max’s account of the tournament below:
I arrived at Lee Valley Hockey pitch, the same pitch where Olympians set foot in 2012 and tried to compose my nerves; it was only now that I realised I was actually participating in the National Finals!
I was in the starting line-up against our first opponents, Litchfield, playing at left half. It was an amazing experience to hear my name announced, as the teams prepared to start. There was no room for error and we were totally prepared for the start. Our nerves were settled quickly with an early goal. We dominated the first half ending 4-0. 25 minutes later, the second half was over and we had won 8-1; our first job completed.
We had a few hours to relax and prepare for our next match and biggest test yet… Surbiton: the defending champions. Again, I was in the starting line-up and although we were prepared, the nerves were definitely present. The final hooter went and the score was 0-0. We felt a little deflated as we all wanted this so much and we had given it everything. We had our final pool game in the morning, which was against Harrogate at 9.00am. We were exhausted as the weather was so warm so we had an early evening meal then it was an early night in preparation for the day ahead.
The next day, I walked onto the pitch, on my own, gathering my thoughts, knowing that later today I would either be a national champion or not. We began our warm up positively and the vibes in the team were good. Again, I started and we settled very quickly with great pressure and were rewarded with an early goal. We were able to build on this astonishing start and produced a fantastic performance finishing the game 6-0. We were in the final having won the group by scoring an enormous total of 14 goals; something which has not been heard of in National Final history!
At last the final had arrived. Our coach gave a fantastic motivational speech and just before we lined up in the tunnel our coach came around to every player individually, giving encouragement and confidence to all. Whilst walking out from the tunnel, onto the pitch, the hairs on my neck were standing on end, as I knew I had to give the best performance of my life. This was an even harder task knowing I was man marking an England forward. The game was extremely tense, but the support from our friends and parents motivated us to pursue our victory. In 24-degree heat, the sweat was pouring off our faces. At half time it was 2-1 to Cheltenham, but the job was only half done. We knew that any unforced errors from us would be capitalised on by Beeston. With 2 minutes to play, we were winning 5-4. Beeston, replaced their goalkeeper with a player, putting us under more pressure. 30 seconds to go and I had to make a crucial challenge and clear the ball. 5…4…3…2…1. Our persistent shouts were echoing around the whole of Lee Valley. Cheltenham Hockey Club and I had been crowned U16 National Champions! Our dream had become a reality. With a gold medal hanging around my neck, I reflected on the long and challenging journey we had been through as a squad. An experience that will remain with me forever.