Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Gerald Edward Peckover

They called HIM the 'little Indian'. The nickname was partly due to the fact that he had long, flowing locks, but for the most part, it was used in admiration for a youthful hockey player who was rated among the world's best strikers.

 Seven international caps by the age of nineteen were ample testimony to the outstanding ability of Gerald Edward Peckover, who was first selected to represent Rhodesia at hockey in 1972 when he was only sixteen.

 The Churchill schoolboy sat on the bench for both Tests against Malawi that year, but the occasion marked the start of a long and successful career in the international arena. Earlier, in 1972, he had played for the Rhodesian under-23 team and was given the captaincy of the Rhodesian Schools side.

 He did not have to wait long before actually playing his first Test for Rhodesia. In 1973 West Germany accepted an invitation to send their 1972 Olympic Gold Medal team to Rhodesia for a three-Test tour and Peckover made his international debut against the Germans at Salisbury Sports Club on 18 March — about two and a half months before his eighteenth birthday.

 Rhodesia was handed a 5-0 drubbing by the Olympic champions. While the result was considered disappointing, the seventeen-year-old Peckover had plenty to be pleased about He was rated the best Rhodesian forward and was hailed by the critics as a star of the future. Glen Byrom, who covered the match for the Herald, wrote of Peckover: "Churchill schoolboy Peckover is a star of the future. He has unequalled tenacity and has already developed his stickwork to a pleasing stage.

 "He also showed great enterprise, even under pressure, and was by far the best Rhodesian forward."

 Further internationals followed in 1973 — against Ireland at Old Hararians at Salisbury and at BAC at Bulawayo. Peckover also accompanied the Rhodesian team down to the South African Games at Pretoria where the young striker recorded another milestone — his first international goal, which he scored against Malawi in a 7-0 victory.

 Since then he has hardly looked back. At school he was a prolific goal-scorer and half-way through the 1973 season he had scored 35 goals for Churchill, easily breaking the record of 28 goals for a whole season.

 Later that year he led the Rhodesian Schools side on a nine-match tour of South Africa in which he showed his prowess by scoring 18 goals — exactly half of the team's total of 36. That season he scored a total of 139 goals; 2 at national level, 7 at provincial level, 31 in league. 21 for Rhodesian Schools, 8 for Mashonaland schools and 70 for the Churchill first team.

 Peckover really blossomed in 1974 when the Rhodesian team had a busy season and took part in an eight nations tournament at Johannesburg. Test experience had matured him as a player and his goal-scoring ability had been confirmed, as several world-class teams were to find out to their cost.

 As a left-hander, Peckover could catch defenders off-guard and his speed (he was a top sprinter and hurdler at school) and reflexes enabled him to turn the slightest of chances into goals.

 Spain, the European Cup champions, were seeded number one for the South African tournament and Rhodesia were seeded fifth. As luck would have it. the Rhodesians were drawn against Spain in the opening match of the tournament and the Spaniards quickly found out just how dangerous Peckover could be.

 The match set a pattern that would affect Peckover for the rest of his playing career. His class became so immediately obvious that the highly experienced Fabregas brothers, Jorge and Francisco (87 and 75 internationals respectively) were detailed to tight mark the young Rhodesian striker out of the game.

 Hard as they tried the Fabregas brothers could not bottle him up completely, but in every international since then, Peckover has had to contend with defenders briefed to keep him out at all costs.

 He has been deliberately fouled and often badly hurt but it says much for his tenacity that nothing short of a broken leg has stopped him going for goals at every opportunity.

 Peckover scored a brilliant goal which beat Spain in that first match at Johannesburg. Spain had in their goal Alberto Carrera, then without question the finest and most spectacular goalkeeper in the world. He made a fatal mistake in underestimating Peckover s capabilities. With the scores level at one goal each, Carrera was a little nonchalant in clearing a high ball pushed into the circle. His
 action was understandable in that there were no Rhodesian forwards close enough to present any real danger.

 But the Spaniard reckoned without the tenacity of Peckover, who covered the ground at an amazing rate to pick up the ball from Carrera's pads and send it screaming into the empty goal.

 It was the start of an outstanding tournament for Peckover. He scored Rhodesia's solitary goal to defeat Ireland, bagged another in a 6-0 thrashing of Malawi, and scored an extra-time goal when Rhodesia beat Spain for the second time to take the Bronze Medal behind South Africa and West Germany.

 A five-week tour of Europe followed in 1975. Peckover was the outstanding Rhodesian forward and invariably drew praise from the opposition for his dashing, imaginative and attacking play.

 He scored both the Rhodesian goals in two Tests against Belgium at Brussels, and laid on another in the match against France before scoring two in a 5-0 victory over the French under 21 combination. In the last international of the tour, this time against Austria, he scored one of the three Rhodesian goals and then scored the final goal in a 4-1 victory over the Austrian under-23 side.

 Peckover is without doubt the best striker Rhodesia has fielded, but all too often he has been a lone forager up front for the simple reason that no other Rhodesian striker could match his speed, stamina and determination.

 He has drawn high praise from other world-class players. German sweepers Michael Krause and Michael Peter both rated him among the best forwards they had played against. German official Werner Delmes said Peckover would walk into the West German team — high praise indeed, but very deserved.

 Rhodesian national hockey coach Mark Manolios, who has had a very close association with Peckover since 1972, says of the young striker: "Gerald has scored 70 to 80 per cent of Rhodesia's goals in the last five years. He is an extraordinary sportsman, possessing world-class talent... the type of player you only get once in a decade."

 It was such a pity that a player like Peckover was deprived of regular international competition because of the sporting isolation which stemmed from Rhodesia's political problems.

 Fortunately the twenty-four-year-old Peckover still has a lot of hockey left in him and in 1980, with the promise of renewed international contact becoming a reality, is bound to pass further milestones.

 Up until August 1980 — on the eve of a six-week European tour by the country — he had played in 37 Tests for Rhodesia and Zimbabwe and had scored 11 goals. But hockey is not his only forte. On 5 November 1977, Peckover made his debut for the Rhodesian cricket team in a Currie Cup match against Eastern Province at the Queens Ground at Bulawayo.

 And what a debut it was, with Peckover pushed into the role of night watchman when Rhodesia were struggling at 49-2. He played a completely responsible innings which ended just before lunch the following day, when he was out just seven runs short of a century.

 That season he batted 14 times for Rhodesia to score 289 runs at an average of 22,23. An accomplished wicket-keeper, he also took 17 catches and 2 stumpings.

 Hockey and cricket were his outstanding sports at school, and he was a member of the highly successful 1971 Rhodesian Nuffield team. To Peckover goes the rare honour of making the Rhodesian Schools cricket side for three successive seasons.

 His cricket fortunes dimmed in the 1978-79 season when after poor scores in the first two matches of the season, he was dropped but returned for the last Currie Cup game against Western Province at Salisbury. Thereafter cricket took a back seat and he played only one match in the 1979-80 season against Eastern Province at Bulawayo — Rhodesia's final fixture.

 But for Peckover, cricket was always a secondary sport, for his first love was hockey, at which he became a great Rhodesian sportsman.



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