Teams in the West Premiership have always been pushing evening and weekend games. For my club Taunton Vale HC, as well as Clifton Robinsons, Plymouth Marjons, Bath Buccs and Exeter Uni (before they became good) playing under the lights home and away has become a regular occurrence.
Despite strict rules on start time of a two-hour play by window between 12 and 2 (unless agreed by both sides), the league this year has had a huge number of highly entertaining and spectated evening games, with Westbury and Plymouth Uni joining the evening party as part of the Vedre Recreo League.
The West window is far smaller by four hours compared to the South League which boasts an impressive six-hour window. When raised at committee, reasons stated were for travel and making sure juniors are not all travelling so late.
Obviously it is okay for our kids playing lower down to do the travelling later on instead. Likewise if we can make it work with two Plymouth sides on a Friday evening after work I personally don’t see why there is an issue on a Saturday!
There are three major reasons I feel not only this window, but the governance of the leagues, should be more joined up across the country.
Reduction in quality – It has created a huge barrier for some high quality players to join the league and play the sport with Saturday working commitments and also with a large number of independent schools in the area it creates an issue for pupils and staff alike to get involved and play or even watch top hockey.
We regularly take money behind the bar on an evening, and hats off to Plymouth Marjons who run a match day programme, commentator and a full club function, one of my favourite places to go and play.
Having games in the middle of the day has a huge affect on who can come and watch. It makes building a fan base hard and means the clubs’ flagship teams can’t be seen by new fans or club members. We are fortunate enough to have a covered grand stand at the Sandra Wickham Stadium thanks to England Hockey and lottery funding. This has seen lots of first-timer hockey watchers and helped us grow fans and show off a good level of hockey.
These games create a great atmosphere, they are excellent to play in, fantastic to watch and are real adverts for our sport. I would like to point out that we all have a responsibility to grow our game. We are stuck in the dark ages in many ways compared to our rival sports. Slow committees and ‘traditional’ rules that are detached from the top level of our game are crippling the growth of our sport in England. If the amateur players and our volunteer umpires are able to implement the regular changes the FIH are pushing to develop our game, why can’t our league rules and structure match this.
Unfortunately with multiple stake holders in multiple counties and regions pushing different agendas this leaves England Hockey powerless to help and make changes. So I urge you as players and clubs to do your bit and voice your opinions to help grow your game.
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The Hockey Paper’s #watchyour1s campaign, which launched in 2019, returns this season