End of an era?

Dave Wright plots the ca­reer of Richard Man­tell, who may – or may not – be plan­ning to hang up his stick

The Hockey Paper - - NEWS -

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

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