She powered Zim to Olympics glory

HARARE - Amid the raucous cheers of a sparse Queens Sports Club crowd saluting Sean Williams’ half-century for Zimbabwe against Bangladesh back in 2009 is the distinctive voice of a middle-aged lady sitting in the vicinity of the VIP enclosure.  

It’s immediately brought to this writer’s attention that the lady is not only Williams’ mother but, in fact, a Golden Girl from Zimbabwe’s famous 1980 Moscow Olympics women’s hockey team.

Pat Buckle was Zimbabwe’s top scorer at the Moscow Olympics as the new African nation of Zimbabwe, powered by the 27-year-old Bulawayo bank worker’s six goals, claimed a historic gold medal to send shockwaves throughout the sporting world.

It didn’t at all take the shine off Zimbabwe’s success in Moscow that it was achieved after the United States and some western countries boycotted the Games to protest the late 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as the courageous ladies from Zimbabwe fought gallantly to put their country on the world sporting map.

“We went there on the last minute and pulled off a famous victory,” Buckle nostalgically tells the Daily News.

“It’s one of the best sporting sides Zimbabwe will ever assemble in any discipline. We had not played together as a team in a very long time, but then, Zimbabweans have very big hearts, we adapted to the turf easily, played good hockey and scored goals.

“It’s amazing, to be up there on the podium with the best athletes in the world. I think a lot of the other countries, especially South Africa, felt it was a soft gold medal because the top teams were not there.

“But we played Germany after the Olympics and they could only beat us 4-2, and they were one of the top sides in the world.

“We travelled to the United States again and lost narrowly to Australia. I feel it was just sour grapes on the part of the other countries.”

Patricia Jean Buckle (nee Fraser) was born in Bulawayo on July 15, 1953, and has lived there her whole life.

Hockey was everything to the Frasers, it was their lifeblood.

“Yes, the whole family played hockey, both my father and mother played hockey. My father was a provincial player. My brothers Grant Fraser and Derek Fraser also played for Zimbabwe.

“Grant is still actually quite involved with coaching while Derek was as a top umpire. So automatically I played hockey.”

In an unparalleled single largest contribution to a sport in Zimbabwe by one family, Pat’s son from her first marriage, Michael McKillop, born in 1981, would go on to play and captain the Zimbabwe men’s hockey side in recent years.

It was through the hockey connection, while playing for Bulawayo Athletic Club, that Pat met and later married another hockey enthusiast, Colin “Porge” Williams.

Colin, father of Sean and Matthew Williams, is a former Zimbabwe hockey coach.

So the two Williams boys and Michael McKillop grew up together as brothers, learning different sports at the family house in Bulawayo.

While Michael and young Matthew pursued hockey and went on to represent Zimbabwe, Sean chose cricket.

The talented Matabeleland Tuskers batsman is however, not very different breed in the family dynasty, having been named in a Zimbabwe national hockey team provisional squad, only failing to win caps after a tournament was cancelled. When his schedule permits, he plays hockey for fun.

This interview was done this week during the African Cup of Club Champions at Bulawayo’s Khumalo Stadium, where Michael and Matthew are turning out for local for Lowveld outfit Hippo Valley.  

“I am actually watching my kids play right now, Michael and Matthew. Sean is not playing because of his cricket,” says Buckle.

“I love all sports. I support my children in all sports they play,” she adds on.

Pat has been an inspirational figure to Sean in his cricket career too. The 26-year-old last played for Zimbabwe at the 2011 World Cup in India against Canada, before falling out with authorities over a payment dispute, but is now tipped to reclaim his place in the team following glut of runs for Tuskers this season.

“My mum has been an inspiration to me since I was a little boy at Whitestone School,” says Williams.

“I always went with my mother and father to their hockey training and played with them right up until I was in the same team as my father and all my brothers.

“My mum’s gold medal was a massive achievement; it is pretty tough for me to achieve something as great as that.

“She pushes me to play cricket all the time and is always on the sidelines or watching on TV no matter where we are. She still continues to inspire me and always giving up everything for her three boys.”

Besides supporting her three boys in their chosen careers, Buckle plays golf and tennis.

Such is her versatility that she went on to captain the Zimbabwe women’s golf team for a year.

“Look, obviously hockey I am not involved now other than watching, I have played and coached at schools level, provincial level and national level.

“After my playing career I went into coaching, I coached the Under-21s and the national side and I also coached schools in Matabeleland, both girls and boys.

“I am now playing tennis and golf. For golf, I captained Zimbabwe for one year, and my tennis is just social.”

Her heart though bleeds for her first love, hockey.

“You know, I think obviously with no money in the sport, it died, and a lot of people left the country. The standard is getting better again. I am a bit worried about the women’s game though. It’s weaker. Schools hockey is not bad though.

“We obviously need sponsorship to resuscitate the sport. You have to pay yourself to play the sport. It’s tough for guys.

“To start with I think we need to get sponsorship. We need top coaching and opposition to come down here. That way you can only improve. Currently, we have few teams to play against. There is nothing to push you.
“I think Matabeleland hockey has been quite stronger that Harare for a while, even when I was playing.

“Maybe it’s because we have more opponents. A lot of national team players come from Matabeleland.”

At 59, Pat is still an active sportswoman, an epitome of the 16 sprightly young ladies who conquered the world 32 years ago and brought glory to Zimbabwe.

“A few people are still around,” she says of her teammates. “Sarah English, who was the goalkeeper, Linda Fraser (nee Watson), Trish Davies is in Harare, Chris Prinsloo too, and I think Sarah Chick is around too.

“In fact, we were invited by the British Embassy when the (2012 London) Olympics started, so I got to see a few of the girls.”

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