By Roya Shahidi, Co-Editor-in-Chief
The University of Bristol Hockey Club (UBHC) mixed team made a heartfelt tribute to their late coach, Ben Dudley, in their winning match against Lichfield Hockey in the England Hockey Mixed Tier 2 Final.
Just 10 days before he passed away, Ben Dudley's parting words at his last match as coach were 'Boys, don’t be sad it’s over, smile because it happened.'
In an Instagram statement, UBHC describes this as a testament to 'the incredible person' that Ben was.
Prior to his tenure as Head of Hockey, Ben played for England as goalkeeper and competed in the top European club league. As a coach, he led his teams to the highest level of success.
But it's in Ben's personal approach to coaching that he is perhaps best remembered. The Bristol students coached by Ben describe him as a 'legend' and 'inspirational'. 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.
Not long after starting as a coach at the University, Ben was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, an aggressive cancer. Sadly, Ben passed away in April 2023, at the age of 36.
In a touching tribute to their late coach, the UBHC mixed team won their match against Lichfield Hockey wearing the name ‘Dudley’ and ‘13’ on their backs. The University’s number 13 shirt has now been retired in honour of Ben and will only be used again if his son, Ruben, decides to join the University.
Amy Salmon, team co-captain, said: 'Everyone was encouraged by the idea of winning that trophy for Ben.'
'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.'
'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.'
Archie Sansome, team co-captain, added that the final was 'one of the most special days of my life' and one he wished 'could've been shared with Ben over a Corona or two.'
'I honestly could not explain in words what he has done for me. Ben pushed me to be a better player and more importantly, made me believe in myself as a man.'
'I considered him not only a coach but a friend and someone who made me laugh even in his darkest days. I don't think a team has ever wanted to win the England Hockey Mixed Tier 2 Championships as much as this one.'
Ben’s father, Paul Dudley, described the win as a 'final fitting tribute' to a 'rare talent' whose 'drive, passion and coaching talent shone through.'
'Ben’s time at Bristol was his favourite time. He was brilliantly supported by the Bristol performance senior management, even during his darkest times battling illness.'
'He will be so sadly missed as a son, dad, husband, brother, coach and mentor. Long may his legacy be a positive one.'
Ben is survived by his wife, Sally Dudley, and Ruben, five.
On the 2nd July at 10am, England Hockey will hold a memorial game in memory of Ben. Across the country, he is remembered by the students, alumni and staff whose lives he deeply touched.