Happy and glorious without fortune and fame: The life of a top-level hockey player

We’ve all imagined it. Every sport-obsessed boy and girl has once stood in their bedroom, hand on heart, bellowing out the national anthem pretending they are lining up for England.

Oli Clements is no different. Except – unlike the vast majority – he’s lived it for real.

The 22-year old midfielder doesn’t hesitate when asked for his career highlight – lining up for England, singing those famous words against the old enemy Germany, in their back yard. Just like we all imagined it.

In most other sports, Clements would be a paid professional, earning shed loads of cash, eating out at Michelin star restaurants and spending his nights out in Kensington rather than Kingston.

But Clements plies his trade in the comparatively unknown world of domestic hockey.

Although of course he wouldn’t turn down the big money deals his football counterparts rake in, he is used to the work-play lifestyle of the amateur sportsman.

“With hockey no one gets into it to be a millionaire,” he says.

“Everyone who plays it does so because they love the sport. I’ve never at any point thought playing hockey is going to be my career.”

Clements began playing at an early age, taking up the sport after joining Kingston Grammar School.

“I started playing at school when I was 10. They did trials around who could run the furthest and then they did a football match.

“They picked out the best footballers and told them to play hockey ironically. From then on it was hockey, hockey, hockey.”

It was from then that Clements fell in love with the game and started playing for Surbiton’s second team while still at school.

After moving north to study at Manchester University four years ago, Clements is now a regular starter for Brooklands MU, playing in the NOW:Pensions Premier Division – the country’s top tier – alongside his old club Surbiton.

“In hockey you’re just a mediocre bloke going about his day job but then on the weekend you are playing against people who’ve won Commonwealth Games medals and been to the Olympics,” he adds.

“It’s always great to play at the top level of your sport and to challenge yourself against the best players in the world. For me to be able to do that on a weekly basis is pretty cool.”

But playing at the top level does of course have its downside, in Clements’ case the required commitment is significant.

“My social life tends to be very much dictated by matches on the weekend – that’s part and parcel of being a sportsman at the top level, you have to accept it.

“There were certainly times when I was at university where it was difficult. The difficulty with it being an amateur sport is that you have to make those sacrifices.”

The cost to players isn’t just the odd night out. Clements estimated he spends more than £1,500 a year playing hockey once you’ve factored in petrol money, accommodation, equipment, membership fees, match fees and of course the obligatory pre-season tour.

But of course it’s all worth it when you taste success on the field. Clements netted his first goal of the season in the last match before the winter break, a 2-1 defeat to Cannock. It was no goal-of-the-season contender, but it is evidence that the long drives and missed nights-out are worth it.

So what now? What does Clements want from the sport he gives so much to?

“I don’t have a plan, it’s just about enjoying it,” he says.

“As soon as you stop enjoying it there is no point playing, I think that’s true with any sport.”

As for his international aspirations, Clements remain resolutely realistic.

“I’m not going to be making any claims to go to the Olympics in two years’ time. I won’t be sitting by the phone!”

Maybe he won’t be gracing the hockey pitches of Rio in 2016, but no doubt he’ll give a passionate rendition of God Save the Queen from his living room, for old times’ sake.

Feature image of Oli Clements courtesy of Andy Smith, with thanks

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