We few, we happy few, we hockey brothers
Sir Derek Day KCMG (St Catharine’s 1948)
For Olympic bronze medallist Sir Derek Day, sport is about more than just competition. “Our 1952 Olympic hockey team (those that are left) still meets for lunch annually, 60 years on!” he says. “Any sportsman or woman likes to win, but the friendships you make last far beyond your playing days.”
His love of sport began during his school days at Hurstpierpoint College in West Sussex, and over the years, he has played tennis, squash, golf, cricket and hockey. “Generally, putting bat to ball,” he says.
“Hockey was then a totally different game, played on grass, often muddy and uneven,” Sir Derek remembers. He played both hockey and cricket for St Catharine’s, and was awarded a Blue in his first year. Along with two schoolmates from Hurstpierpoint, he also began playing hockey for England in the early 1950s – though he did not need to travel far, as “international matches were primarily between the four Home Countries.”
Sir Derek was selected as goalkeeper for the 1952 Olympics at Helsinki. Preparation for the competition involved “remarkably little training – just two weekends at the National Sports Centre at Lilleshall and a bit of running around the Barclays sports ground in south London. How times change – but we were genuine amateurs!”
These “genuine amateurs” won a bronze medal for Great Britain, but there were only enough medals to give to the 11 players on the field at the end of the final match. “I had stood down to allow the other British goalkeeper the chance to play in an Olympic match, and missed out on a medal.” In 2011, the British Hockey Board, the British Olympic Committee and the Finnish authorities corrected this oversight, and Sir Derek finally received his medal. “The 59-year wait was well worthwhile!” he says.
Following his Olympic success, Sir Derek joined the Foreign Service in 1953 and had many postings across North America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. He played his last game of hockey – a mixed six-a-side – in Addis Ababa in 1976, while serving as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Ethiopia.
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