End of an era?
Dave Wright plots the career of Richard Mantell, who may – or may not – be planning to hang up his stick
Reading’s Richard Mantell is ready to hang up his stick – or is he?
If Richard Mantell does decide to retire at the end of the season – and there are strong suggestions it’s going to happen – he will be a great loss not only to Reading, but hockey as a whole.
Ask any long-standing follower of the game to describe some memorable moments from the past decade then 35-year-old Mantell would surely deserve his place alongside the England greats.
There’s been the magical Ashley Jackson with his outstanding goalscoring record, Nick Catlin with his lung-bursting runs to turn defence into attack, Barry Middleton with his all-round professionalism and incredibly consistent performances for club and country to name just three.
And then there’s Mantell, deservedly right up alongside them. What made him such a stand-out performer was his breath-taking, even jaw-dropping aerial passes that saw the central defender transfer play from one end of the pitch to another in the blink of an eye.
Just one lift of his stick could see attacking opponents seriously caught out at the back, with the ball flying high back over their heads as they looked to attack the Reading goal.
He’s been doing it for years, during which very few other players have been able to match him.
He was also razor sharp at penalty corners, unleashing accurate flicks into the net, beating the keeper for speed and accuracy.
All his qualities are going to be very sadly missed when Mantell takes off his No. 6 blue shirt for the final time.
Unlike many others, he has stayed loyal to Reading, refusing to be tempted away by financial offers from one of their rivals, although he could step straight into any other side in the country.
A young family and work commitments are taking up more of his time are valid reasons behind his reasons for thinking of stepping away from the demands of Premier Division hockey.
Yes, grey hairs are showing and he may have lost a bit of a yard of pace, but his enthusiasm and determination have seen him keep up with the younger generation.
While his days as a Premier Division player may be numbered, he hasn’t ruled out playing at a lower level. He would be a huge asset for any smaller club, both on and off the field.
Last year Reading’s ‘King’ Richard earned his place in England Hockey’s Team of the Season alongside many current internationals. Surely, he must come under consideration for a similar accolade this season as well.
During his illustrious career, he has won numerous honours at club and international level.
But along the way there have been a number of ups and downs – and, as sport can be so cruel at times, one can quickly follow another.
The Somerset-born player was on a high when helping England win the European Championships in 2009.
But the following the former Millfield School pupil suffered a serious injury, dislocating and fracturing his right ankle in the World Cup encounter with Pakistan in New Delhi.
He bounced back but there was further heartbreak when he was only named as a reserve for the 2012 Olympics in London.
Mantell said at the time: “Having played in all major tournaments for which I have been picked for the last eight years it was a big disappointment to be left out.
“I did expect to be in the 16 for London, but the coach (Jason Lee) went for a different combination and that didn’t include me.”
In all, he made 115 outdoor appearances for England and 50 for in a Great Britain shirt, scoring a total of 68 goals for both.
Since then, Mantell has continued to play consistently well for Reading, regularly earning man-of-the-match awards.
He won’t want to be reminded, but Richard has twice played against younger brother Simon this season and failed to stop him scoring in both games for Wimbledon.
Unlike the Londoners, Reading have failed to make the play-offs this term and it hasn't been the best of league campaigns for them, having been seventh for virtually the whole of the campaign.
But the cup is another story, with the Blues facing a tough semi-final tie with Brooklands MU at Sonning Lane this season as they bid to lift the trophy for the second time in three seasons.
There would be no better way to sign off a career with a cup winner’s medal, and there are a lot of people in the game hoping that another will go Mantell’s way.
He lists tennis superstar Roger Federer as his sporting idol. And, watching a Reading game without Mantell producing his long lobs from the deep will be like going to Wimbledon and finding there is no cream to plonk on top of the bowl of strawberries.
While Mantell, who has scored more than 130 goals for Reading since the 2002-03 season, has yet to confirm his intentions, his former club and England team-mate Jonty Clarke and player-coach Andy Watts have confirmed to The Hockey Paper they will definitely be retiring at the end of the season.
Their last appearances at Sonning Lane will be Sunday’s cup tie, Win or lose, it is going to be a rather sad day for the club. It’s the end of an era.
Glittering career: Richard Mantell has enjoyed some memorable moments in the shirt of both England, left, and Reading, right PICTURE: PA