A long concrete lane under the shadow of the television transmitter at Blaris, on the outskirts of the City of Lisburn, today provides the only evidence of the former home of one of Ireland's top hockey clubs - Lisnagarvey.

In 1977, a team was formed affiliated to the club called the Gamesters and it was to this team that Tom Herron, by now a major star on the world motorcycle-racing scene, came to play his hockey. 
In their inaugural 1977-78 season the team won the league and cup without losing a single game.

'An expansion of the club's youth policy' was how the team saw themselves and in October 1977 Tom made his debut in the 6-2 win against Annadale, his first game since his playing days in the nearby Friends School First XI. 
That debut saw Tom almost score on numerous occasions, with some of the large crowd on the touchline pointing out that Tom's accuracy would be sharpened if there were straw bales on the goal posts! 

Stories of the team's exploits have gone down in hockey folklore, 'social hockey at its best' quipped one team member. 

In November 2007, we visited the team founder and captain, Tom's good friend Roy McNeill in his home on the outskirts of Lisburn to chat about
 those bygone, but never forgotten days.

"The club was formed to get rid of the older players in the top Garvey teams and make room for the younger players," explained Roy with more than a hint of tongue-in-cheek. 
"The name came from the Lisburn Borough crest, which has a cockerel on the top. The cockerel is a game bird, hence the name Gamesters." 
(Lisburn was formerly known as Lisnagarvey before it was burned to the ground in the 1641 Rebellion)
"We would go to the matches in the back of Tom's old van" said Roy, "there we were, travelling along, and Tom would pull out to pass a vehicle. Oncoming traffic bore down on us as we chugged along level with the back of the vehicle we were passing, all we could do was cover our eyes. However, Tom's judgement was always spot on, but many of the team eventually refused to set foot in the van, it was more than their nerves could take!"

Later, the team were going to an away game in Portrush and Tom again offered to provide the transport to the game.
"I explained to Tom that most of the lads refused to get into the van with him" said Roy, "but Tom was having none of it and suggested that he would get his mechanic Peter (Kelly) to strip the new race van and also act as chauffeur, so we agreed. Well, Tom and Peter turned up at Blaris and sure enough the van was completely stripped inside, however I pointed out to Tom that we had nowhere to sit." 
'No problem' replied Tom, "and he promptly set off in the direction of the clubhouse for some furniture. The team went to Portrush sitting in comfort around tables in the back of the van!"

When asked for his memories of Tom as a sportsperson, Roy had a few more stories to tell. 
"On the hockey pitch, Tom was a real wee terrier, he would be right in there 'ducking and diving' and generally harassing his opponents.
In 1978, we were playing in a tournament on the Isle of Man during TT fortnight and despite the pressures of competing in the TT, Tom insisted on playing for us. He asked me where the games were taking place and, as promised he turned up for the first game. 
At that same TT, members of the team took up position at Creg-ny-Baa for first official practice and Tom told us beforehand to watch closely as he would be the first rider on the road. 
That particular day the place was packed and as the siren sounded to warn spectators of riders on the circuit, we watched carefully and on the long run down to the 'Creg' we could see a lone rider and sure enough it was Tom. 
As he rounded the bend he took one hand off the bars, looked over to where he knew we were sitting, and gave us the two-fingered salute, we in turn rose to our feet and returned the compliment and I'll never forget the reaction of some German spectators sitting next to us! 

Another example of how important playing for the Gamesters was to Tom, which kept him fit in the close season, was the fact that he had to travel all over Europe attending trade shows, testing bikes etc and his over-riding condition for accepting such invitations was that he would, where possible, be back in time for the Saturday afternoon hockey match. On several occasions he came straight from the airport to the ground!"

Roy was now in full flow. 
"I also remember that year 1978, Tom asked me if I had ever been around the TT course, I replied no and he said he would take me around the following day. Well, you can imagine the look on my face when Tom turned up on his bike and told me to hop on, I just couldn't believe it!!" 

It was during that lap, that Roy realised the level of perception for speed and detail that Tom possessed.
"He would be riding along pointing out little differences from the previous year such as manholes being moved around, a single tree being removed or a road surface being changed, it was quite remarkable. Meanwhile at the back, I was just hanging on as best I could with my eyes closed and at the end of the lap I had to be almost helped off the bike." 

Roy, by his own admission wasn't really a race fan as such, but it was during the aforementioned Gamesters trip to Portrush and also at a fund raising evening, that he got a very real glimpse of just how popular Tom was and the esteem in which he was held.
"We were driving through the various towns and you could actually see people stop and look at the van with 'Tom Herron Racing' emblazoned on the side of it and when we stopped for the evening at a local pub in Portrush the crowd around us was so large that the owner asked us if we could return the following weekend! 
On another occasion we were looking for fundraising ideas for the team and Tom offered to organise a chat show at Blaris involving Ray McCullough and a few other riders. The evening was due to start at 7.30pm but by 5pm the place was practically filled to capacity, it really was incredible. People were standing outside and some were even standing in the toilets. I remember one person saying he didn't care if he couldn't see what was going on, he was happy just to be able to hear Tom speak. During the evening Tom actually went outside for a chat with those people braving the cold.

Socially, Lisnagarvey Hockey Club on a Saturday afternoon is a family occasion and Tom's wife Andrea with their daughters Kim and Zoe joined in the after match banter between teams and players.
There is absolutely no doubt Tom was a real 'people person' and airs and graces simply weren't a part of his vocabulary. As they say around these parts 'there were no back doors in him', what you saw was what you got and he was all the more likeable for it. 

Tom stayed at our home here on occasions and in the morning he would be sitting playing with our kids - they absolutely adored him.

Tom Herron reached the very pinnacle in his chosen sport, but his modesty and taking the time to play with the lads for Lisnagarvey Sixth eleven endeared him to all who had the privilege of knowing him. The dashing outside left with the mop of black hair, hunched up shoulders and bandy legs was a real larger than life Gamester.
Tom played hard but he also worked hard. 
His spirit and determination to win when on the field of play and his character and personality off it, contributed in no small way to the success of the Gamesters." 

With obvious and heartfelt affection for a true friend, Roy concluded: 
"Tom was kind, considerate and one of the most genuine people I've ever had the privilege of knowing and I still miss him dearly......" 

With thanks to Roy McNeill and Eddie Mateer for their kind assistance when compiling this feature.

December 2007

The concrete lane leading to the site of the former home of Lisnagarvey Hockey Club at Blaris.
Photo: � Tom'TW'Herron.com

Main Photos
Tom in his 'factory wheelbarrow' and the Garvey Gamesters line up for the camera before their match against Annadale on Saturday 8th October 1977.
Back Row L-R: Bobby Richardson, Brian Hunter, Billy Lowry, Alan McNeill, Stanley Howard, Alan Green, Bertie Poots, Ronnie Black, Tommy Leathem, Wally Mercer.
Front Row L-R: Roy McNeill, Tom Herron, Jim Clarke.
Photo Courtesy: Roy McNeill
By Kind Permission

Tom takes a break from the pressures of the 1978 NW200 to come on as substitute for the Gamesters against Portrush in a midweek game at the Antrim Forum.
Photo: Herron Family Archive  
By Kind Permission

The chat show at Blaris which included Ray McCullough, Jon Ekerold, Charlie Williams and Tom.
Photo: Herron Family Archive
By Kind Permission