Hockey pitches were largely empty in 2020 PIC: SIPPA

By Howard Green, Deeside Ramblers HC chairman

All looks quiet on the surface but underneath the Bisham Abbey spin master feet are paddling furiously pushing the story that the hockey community is all in favour of the proposals to be put to the EH AGM in March.

As for the contrarian view? Well, we care about the quality of the product which in this case is the quality of league hockey. Quality games attract and keep people engaged in the sport. They provide a perspective of where development can take them, and it is a major factor in player retention.
If you weaken key leagues – which the EH proposals says is the case – then hockey needs to be prepared to pay the consequences.

Of course the view being peddled is a somewhat patronising ‘take the long view’ or an even more ostrich like ‘it will all be okay’.

But there are those that say no and we would like our voices to be heard. We would like to avoid the unintended consequences for our game that comes from the proposals as currently presented.

Consider the following questions:

The new four division conference is clearly a dilution on the quality of the current structure – any league that goes from 30 to 40 teams and where there is no change in the tiers above clearly weakens overall quality. The proof of quality dilution is already evident from the creation of the Premier, Division 1 North & South, and three regional conferences.

Then look at the plans in the North where currently the quality of the game is supported by cross-Pennine games at the Premier and Division 1 levels. With the artificial division of Northwest and Northeast we will get:

• A Northwest Premier Division that consists of teams currently playing in North Premier, North 1, and North 2 West – so three current levels of hockey compressed into a single league

• A Northeast Premier with six teams each from the North Premier and North 1

Howard Green, Deeside Ramblers HC chairman

And why would we do this? Well it can’t be to improve the overall quality of the game as the reality is that it is being done as an artificial construct to suit a neat arithmetic progression.

Do you think you will hold on to your better players in such a structure or, in our case, will they all be migrating off along the M56?

And the dilution of quality doesn’t end there. The lower leagues are too small, they will result in a boring fixture list probably with multiple teams from the same clubs in the same division, and as an example we lose fixtures against longstanding traditional opponents – no matches against Bowdon, Brooklands, Alderley Edge, Timperley, Macclesfield, and Wilmslow. We would be left with a marginal set of fixtures and where is the fun in that? I’d rather find something else to do with my time.

Why do EH think this will grow participation, enhance retention, and improve development? They seem incapable of answering this question – or at least unwilling.

We need clubs to understand what the proposals actually mean, assess their position and vote at the AGM with all relevant facts at their disposal.

But let us also step back a bit. If this is about ‘A Structure Fit for the Future’ where is the evidence that EH have considered other models? Where is the evidence that they have bench marked against other countries who are far more successful than the current mediocrity we are demonstrating at International level. Where is the evidence that EH really care about clubs and those that are actually paying their salaries?

It is true that there is some really good material in the proposal to be put to the AGM. By the way, does anybody understand how voting takes place and how a majority is won?

We get all the governance, administration, single set of rules etc. It is really good – so get on with that, use existing bodies to execute that part of the plan which will immediately reduce the execution risk inherent in any change-management programme, and use some more time to really engage with clubs on a league structure that genuinely will help deliver EH’s performance objectives and which will increase participation and improve retention in our game.

So come on England Hockey be brave.

Split the proposal to be put to the AGM into two parts; get on with the genuine governance tasks as quickly as you can and agree to the setting up of a working group who will look into how league structures should be changed. Give the latter 18 months to come up with a set of recommendations and an implementation plan to be put to the AGM in March 2022 for implementation in September 2022.

Or if you proceed as you are we will be voting against the proposal.

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This originally featured in a previous Hockey Paper edition. Don’t miss out. Subscribe in print or in digital format.