by Mike Vimpany

Local sport has been saddened by the loss of Southampton hockey stalwart Roger Merry, long term ladies team coach and one of the area’s most influential and dedicated figures in the juniors’ game.

Roger, who died recently after a brave battle against a long illness, had been involved with Old Tauntonians’ and Southampton hockey throughout his adult life, putting a massive and amazing amount of time and energy into the game he loved. He would have been 70 today (WED).

He was Director of Coaching at Southampton and was one half of a wonderful hockey loving partnership with his wife Sue, the club’s ladies captain and still a prolific goal-scoring member of the women’s team which won the Hampshire League championship last season.

Roger was never happier than with a stick in his hand and his infectious enthusiasm for the game made him one of the region’s best known coaches.

A right-half in his playing days initially with Adastrians and later with OTs, he became a qualified hockey coach in the mid-1980s and spent the next 30 years or more promoting his passion for the game into local schools and the community.

Soon after his playing career ended through injury, Roger (in 1987) set up the Southampton juniors club.

A champion of youth hockey, he dedicated his life to coaching juniors and adults, besides taking on responsibility for boys County teams in the early nineties and later becoming Chair of Hampshire Hockey Schools and Youth until 2000.

He ran the Southampton ‘minis’ tournament at the Sports Centre for over 25 years – a hugely popular regional event that will perpetuate and encapsulate his name on future occasions.

Among the youngsters Roger Merry inspired was Great Britain Olympian Alex Danson, who played much of her formative junior hockey locally.

“Only recently Alex brought her Gold medal from the Rio Olympics to show Roger,” said Sue.

“Alex told him how his enthusiasm for the game had inspired her as a youngster.

“It was such a wonderful and fitting touch.”

In a moving tribute, Southampton chairman and long term club colleague Paul Meacher reflected: “Roger had a fantastic ability to adapt his teaching style and complexity to match the skill level of each individual player, even within a group of 10-15.

“There was always a ‘buzz’ about his junior training sessions, an activity that swept children up and pulled them in. At the centre of all this was Roger.

“Quite how many children received the benefit of Roger’s tutelage is difficult to estimate, but it must run to many hundreds if not thousands.”

“From a six year old picking up a stick for the first time, to a ladies team who were playing National League hockey for a time, these were all within his compass.

“The coaching of juniors on a Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, the training of adults on a Tuesday and Thursday, managing the Ladies 1’s on a Saturday: these were massive time commitments in themselves - but were just the tip of the iceberg.

“Roger would always be looking for ways to raise money or get equipment donated to the club.

“He promoted the club within the local schools and community, organised the ladies summer league hockey and represented the club at a multitude of county events and at committee level.

“Where Roger came into his own was watching a team during a match. I could only marvel at his ability to read the whole game and to make minor tweaks and adjustments to either improve the effectiveness of his side or to restrict the opportunities of the opponents.

“Where most coaches were drawn and focussed into one area, Roger had the whole game replaying in his head in real time, truly amazing to observe and something that could only be understood by spending time at his side.”

Roger Merry’s involvement in hockey stretched beyond Southampton, whose ladies team he coached from 2003/4 into the Women’s National League.

He coached numerous South and later England Masters sides, of which wife Sue was a prominent member, enjoying triple successes in three recent and separate women’s World Cup tournaments.

Roger Merry was one of a kind, someone who will be missed in so many ways.

In Southampton Hockey Club and beyond he has left a legacy that will endure.

The Celebration of Roger Merry’s life is at the Wessex Vale Crematorium, Bubb Lane, West End, Southampton, on Friday week, October 7 at 3.15pm.