83-year-old hockey player Colin Birtles didn’t let an attack of gallstones keep him from taking the field for the Christchurch Casino Golden Oldies Sports Celebration, held at Christchurch’s Nunweek Park this week.
As the oldest member of Ireland-based hockey team, The Irish Gamesters, Mr Birtles has never missed a Golden Oldies sports tournament – except for one year when a gallstones operation kept him from joining his team in Cape Town, South Africa.
“We’re all crossing our fingers that he can keep those gallstones at bay until after the Christchurch tournament,” says team manager Nick West.
Originally a footballer in his youth, Mr Birtles says he first picked up a hockey stick during his national service in the Royal Navy, a “long, long time ago,” before joining the Wilmslow Hockey Club in northern England.
“I played for the North of England over 70s team until a knee operation stopped my late regional career,” Mr Birtles told ChristchurchNZ.
Mr Birtles has been part of the Irish Gamesters, a group of hockey enthusiasts from England, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand, in 2009 and the team get together every couple of years to tour the world playing Golden Oldies Hockey Festivals.
“We’ve attended all of the Golden Oldies Hockey Festivals bar one,” Mr Birtles says.
The Gamesters joined around 5,000 mature sports enthusiasts and their supporters for the 2018 Christchurch Casino Golden Oldies Sports Celebration, organised by Vintage Sport and Leisure and supported by city promotions agency ChristchurchNZ.
ChristchurchNZ general manager of attraction Linda Falwasser says Christchurch is thrilled to be host the Golden Oldies. “This event is a fantastic opportunity for Christchurch to showcase our new city and welcome international visitors to our region,” she says.
Renowned for their festive atmosphere, Golden Oldies Sport Festivals are open to men and women aged 35 and beyond who want to play their chosen sport in friendly international competition, giving players an opportunity to and socialise with friends and fellow sports lover in remarkable locations all over the world.
Mr Birtles says he made the 18,000km pilgrimage to meet up with old friends and team mates and take in the sights and sounds of Christchurch for the Golden Oldies World Hockey Festival week, which is running from April 15 – 22.
“Hockey festivals are great social events, because you don’t just play the hockey but have a beer afterwards with the opposition,” he says.
This year’s Golden Oldies celebration marks the first time in history multiple Golden Oldies sports are held in the same city, resulting in a month-long celebration of fun, friendship and fraternity where the food, drink and storytelling will flow on from the sports fields and into the after-parties.
Players must be aged over 35 to compete, but upwards of that there are no limits, with this year’s Golden Oldies festival in Christchurch welcoming an 86-year-old rugby player from Japan and an 82-year-old netball player from Australia.