Monday, June 24, 2024

A stick down summer, domestic league hockey is back

Editor’s note

We saw garages converting to gyms, gardens turned into skill zones. An array of viral hockey trick postings – keepy ups on waterskis come to mind – and a masters collective recreating GB’s winning Rio shoot out moment from kitchen confines. Meanwhile a pub, returning from lockdown, purchased some hockey turf to cater for outdoor drinking in the establishment’s car park.

These were some of the sights and sounds of the lockdown summer of 2020 in hockey. 

Divided spaces for households to finally hit on the turf, slowly turned into non-contact training and then, finally, friendly matches. 

Now, after six months since league hockey, we return. The English top flight resumes this weekend outdoors as other main sports still await their return to play.

Hockey’s amateur nature has seen to that. Despite the international game able to bring 12,000 to watch matches, thousands play every week recreationally and the sport is classed as a grassroots sport over an elite one, meaning that league from top to bottom can resume and spectators, at each clubs’ disgression, watching the action.

Hockey did once have dreams of turning into a professional sport, England Hockey officials revealing back in 2014 that it harboured ambitions to follow rugby’s endeavours. Imagine the sport’s financial outlook post-coronavirus if that had come to fruition. 

And so the sport remains amateur, but this season will start with the best of British playing league hockey.

Olympians, most of whom should be taking international breaks or departing for the continent this season, as well as other Tokyo and beyond hopefuls, will all be on domestic show throughout England each weekend until the only home international of 2020 in November, when GB entertain Germany behind closed doors.

On paper, it looks set to be one of the most competitive set of (rejigged) Premier Divisions for a long time too – even if there is a sense of another top heavy season featuring the usual protagonists, judging by the signings made over the summer

There are stories abound. What was behind the Holcombe exodus of players? There’s the astute recruitment of Swansea women signing four US collegiate players. Oxted’s rise to the Premier Division we have yet to hear. Can Brooklands maintain elite status for a northern team? We hope to cover it all.

Further down the leagues, this season – however the 2020/21 campaign plays out – will be the last before a huge restructure following this week’s AGM vote.

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But with regional lockdowns raising the prospect of further disruption to daily life, it remains to be seen how this will affect grassroots sport without the covid secure bubble we’ve seen in other elite sports.

For now, Sport England has sought to clarify confusion. On Friday, the government quango said: “Grassroots sport and organised physical activity can currently continue in areas where there are local lockdowns, as long as those activities abide by the stringent plans put in place to ensure they were given the green light to go ahead in the first place.”

This edict was laid out earlier this week by England Hockey who called for this season to start with “a sense of responsibility” as well as the excitement which has been awash on social media in recent weeks.

Training sessions can now be put to one side and age old local tussles can reconvene. Even if we all have to depart the scene soon afterwards, instead of enjoying the clubhouse laughs which bond community sport together.

But the sport is back and for that we should thank league and competition administrators and club volunteers aplenty.

Enjoy pushbacks one and all.

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Total Hockey


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