The University of Bristol hockey team, who recently won the England Hockey Mixed Tier 2 Championships, paid tribute to their late coach, Ben Dudley (SmifSports/University of Bristol/PA)
A grieving hockey team have celebrated their title win with the name of their beloved late coach worn proudly on their shirts.
Ben Dudley, who died in April at the age of 36, was described as a “legend” and “inspirational” by the students he coached as head of hockey at the University of Bristol.
His devotion to the game and his generosity to players is writ large in his achievements.
Ben Dudley in his University of Bristol coaching gear (SmifSports/University of Bristol/PA)
As a goalkeeper he played for England and competed in the top European club league, and as a coach he took his teams to success at the highest level.
But he is best remembered for his personal approach.
One student recalled the father-of-one travelling to Belgium and back in 24 hours to watch her play in the Under-21s European Championships, and another remembered daily phone calls to discuss tactics and share laughs.
Throughout all this, Mr Dudley was suffering from Hodgkin lymphoma. He was diagnosed in 2017, not long after he started coaching at the university, and died in April 2023.
His students vowed to continue his legacy and recently won the England Hockey Mixed Tier 2 Championships.
The back of each University of Bristol shirt bore the name “Dudley” and the number 13.
The No 13 shirt has now been retired in his honour and will only be used again if his son, Ruben, decides to join the university.
The University of Bristol hockey players celebrate winning the England Hockey Mixed Tier 2 Championships (SmifSports/University of Bristol/PA)
Team co-captain Amy Salmon said: “Winning that game and wearing those T-shirts is something I will never forget and I am so grateful that I was able to not only be a part of it but co-captain the team.
“It was a very special day.”
She added: “Ben is without a doubt the best coach I have ever had. He was an inspiration to me, and I feel lucky to call him my coach, my mentor and my friend.
“He is the reason I came to Bristol and his loyalty and willingness to help was unwavering.”
Bristol beat Lichfield 2-1 in an emotional display at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre in London.
The team played Mr Dudley’s famous 4-2-3-1 formation and never forgot his constant mantra: “Defence wins titles.”
On the touchline were some of his family, who continue to support the club.
Paul Dudley, Mr Dudley’s father, described the win as a “final fitting tribute” to a “rare talent” whose “drive, passion and coaching talent shone through”.
“He will be so sadly missed as a son, dad, husband, brother, coach and mentor. Long may his legacy be a positive one,” he added.
Mr Dudley is survived by his wife, Sally Dudley, and Ruben, now five.