A personal view by Pat Ward
The name Nancy Tomkins has been synonymous with Women’s Hockey and journalism for the majority of her long life – all 98 years of it. Perhaps I can best summarise her journey by quoting the appreciation (below) about her that I wrote for the book we jointly produced “The Century Makers” – A History of All England Women’s Hockey Association 1895-1995, for the AEWHA 100th anniversary; 90 per cent of the text, was written most meticulously by her, with large portions of it from her own personal experiences of playing and meeting hockey folks all around the world.
“Hockey and journalism figure prominently in Nancy Tomkins’ life; an octogenarian during the writing of her major contribution to The Century Makers.
From Librarian to respected women’s hockey correspondent, succeeding the legendary Marjorie Pollard at The Guardian, later for The Daily Telegraph to over 40 years as scribe for Hockey Field magazine.
Knowledge comes from personal experience; Middlesex Junior reserves (1930/31) through Leicestershire and Berkshire seniors, to founding Thatcham W.H.C., later merged with Newbury men to become Newbury H.C.
As 'Advanced Coach', she coached in Ireland and extensively in the USA; at home proudly taking Hampshire to a South County Championship.
Briefly South Secretary, until appointed AEWHA Development Officer (1965/66), she served on South Sports Council and other committees.
Away from hockey her passion is ‘politics’, her swan song as Liberal-Democrats Constituency Press Officer (Hereford) at the 1992 Election. Leisurely interests include reading, travel, cricket, tennis and gardening – her Herefordshire home testament to another talent."
Nancy’s early years as a librarian were probably responsible for her having a brain able to store and organise facts and figures. Her reports were always true, accurate and easy to read, she could say a lot in just a few words, such was her command of the English language. She was a tower of strength and encouragement to me as editor of Hockey Field, and I believe the readers of the magazine appreciated her comments and sometimes forthright views just as much as I did. I do not recall having to question any detail of any report she sent me regularly during the 1980’s, such was the command of her knowledge.
Her personal knowledge of the game was deep; having been player, coach, umpire and administrator she had a complete grasp of all aspects of the game, which she readily shared with others either on a one-to-one basis or in her writings. She travelled the globe following tours and tournaments of international interest – remember that at first there was no ‘air’ travel as we know it today, nor any computers or emails – just pens, paper and telephones (non-mobile), and probably a boat, train or dodgy motor car. Along with her valuable experiences Nancy also had this superb grasp of English vocabulary and attention to detail which she used to great purpose first in The Guardian and later in The Daily Telegraph – where she had a great following of readers. Her contribution to hockey journalism has been enormous and I personally do not think she ever received the public regard of her talents, which she so richly deserved – especially in the writing of the text for "The Century Makers" - which I know was, for her, a real labour of love. I believe it should have been more fully recognised and acknowledged by the powers that be at the time – it was a wonderful script combining the national social history of the early years with the people in the sport(s) she loved and of knowing first-hand the personalities who brought women’s hockey and cricket to the fore. I shall always appreciate the time and effort she put into the publication. Mine was a minor part in the production, just finding the photographs to illustrate her story as best I could. It was originally planned as a fifty-fifty job, but it was very quickly obvious to me that she knew much more than I did, so the emphasis of involvement changed and I became the editor whilst Nancy did the writing.
In my own travels for hockey I was frequently given a truly warm welcome and cosy B&B either at the Berkshire or Walterstone Common homes of the Tomkins’ and even with the latter being miles (four I seem to remember) way up high in the Black Mountains of Herefordshire. Seeing her new garden begin to emerge was truly inspiring, her landscaping talent must have been dormant for years, it was a real work of art, framing a magnificent view over the valley to the Hills beyond, with upright conifers and finding shrubs that would at times have to withstand the wild winds that ripped over those mountains behind them. Why though she wanted to choose to live so far away from civilisation I am not sure, but both she and husband Les loved the place, even if they had to go five miles or so to collect their ‘daily’ paper (The Guardian). I know Nancy, like many of us, rued the days that saw hockey reports grow smaller and smaller and then disappear altogether, a sad reflection on earlier years when reports of Women’s Hockey were two columns long in a broadsheet paper.
Her work as Press Officer for the Hereford Liberal Democrats (and earlier) has been a special pleasure, enabling her to release her strong and well thought out political views – a writer of many LibDem speeches, she could let her feelings flow – she really enjoyed the privilege.
In the passing of Nancy we have lost one of the all-time greats of hockey journalism and indeed of hockey itself. I hope she was able to watch the 2012 Olympics – for I feel it would have given her a great deal of pleasure and hope for the future of the game of Hockey, of which she had played such a valuable part both in creating and leaving such a valuable archive.
I shall remember Nancy with great respect and appreciation.
– Pat Ward
Editor of ‘Hockey Field’ (1980 -1991)
09.10.1914 - 30.12.2012.
Nancy Tomkins, in her heyday a well known and respected hockey correspondent for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the magazine Hockey Field for many years, died at the age of 98.
She had a stroke just before Christmas 2012, rallied, but passed away on December 30.
While few of the modern generation were aware of the great contribution she made to the sport of hockey, tributes to one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet came from all over the world.
Pat Ward, former Editor of the Hockey Field magazine, had particular reason to remember her colleague with great affection and admiration. They got together to write “The Century Makers – A History of All England Women’s Hockey Association 1895 – 1995”, produced to mark the AEWHA 100th anniversary. It was a more than fitting tribute and insight into the development of women’s hockey in England.
According to Pat, Nancy (already an octogenarian) wrote “the majority of the text most meticulously, from her personal experiences of playing and meeting hockey folk all around the world."
When Nancy was reporting hockey, she was fortunate that it was in the days when top journalists like her were able to command plenty of space in the national newspapers. Her lengthy reports were eagerly devoured by hockey followers. She had a great following and the admiration of her fellow scribes.
Biddy Burgum, a former England international, writes “Nancy was able to create a vivid picture of a hockey match by her gift for words; her deep knowledge and love of the game; and her real interest in each player”.
When England lost to New Zealand by 1-0 at Wembley on March 7th 1977, Nancy wrote, “The lingering myth from a receding golden age that there is no divine advantage in the ladylike English game, was buried unceremoniously in the Wembley bowl on Saturday”. The headline on the story, “Golden age is past”. Throughout her journalistic career the headlines on her articles reflected her insightful reports.
The former England international and coach Brenda Read reminds us that “Her knowledge and love of the game informed her analysis. Her reports were well written, accurate and fair. As a player I always valued her comments."
Nancy was first noticed playing for Middlesex Junior reserves in 1930/31. She played county for Leicestershire and Berkshire and later founded Thatcham Women’s HC. That club later merged with Newbury men to become the Newbury H.C of today.
Berkshire team-mate Brenda Coleshill recalls Nancy’s immaculate playing style and skills which she described as “a mirror image of her personality: neat, precise, understanding, encouraging, patient and kind”.
She progressed from playing to become an AEWHA Advanced Coach, her first success being to take Hampshire to the South County Championship.
Her abilities were quickly recognised and soon appointments came to coach abroad, first in Ireland and then regularly in the USA where she was extremely popular.
Her journalism took her all over the world and she was not content just to report the major hockey tournaments but invariably took the opportunity to meet up with the long standing friends and travel widely with them in the countries she visited.
She was briefly secretary to the South WHA but quickly moved on to become AEWHA Development Officer in 1965 though she continued to serve on the South Sports Council and other committees.
Nancy was a founder member of the Hockey Writers' Club in 1972, its second Chairman (1978-1982) and the first person to be elected an HWC Life Member (1991). She played a vital role in achieving a closer relationship between the ruling bodies of hockey and the media.
Few today will know just how big a role she played in the development of the game of hockey.
After retiring as a hockey correspondent, Nancy and her equally popular husband Les moved from Berkshire to a remote corner of Herefordshire, to a house called Woodhay in a tiny place called Walterstone Common.
She was involved in many aspects of life. One of her passions was politics. Pat Ward reveals that her work as Press Officer for the Hereford Liberal Democrats “was a special pleasure, enabling her to release her strong and well thought out political views. A writer of many LibDem. speeches, she could let her feelings flow and really enjoyed the privilege”.
Sadly her husband did not survive the move to Walterstone very long but Nancy elected to remain there. She loved the peace, tranquillity and beauty around her home high up in the Black Mountains of Herefordshire. She was a brilliant gardener and her garden was the envy of many.
She stayed at Walterstone even when her health deteriorated and needed a wheel-chair. Sadly she did have to spend the last two years in a care home at Abergavenny.
She was loved by all who came into contact with her – simply a wonderful person to have known.
– Patrick Rowley
Footnote: Her funeral service took place at Hereford Crematorium on 16 January 2013 which was to be followed by a Memorial Service at Walterstone Church, near Abergavenny in February.
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