In a normal, pre-Covid week, 17-year-old goalkeeper Izzy Gardiner would have a training session before preparing for match day with Broxbourne HC. But as an English state school pupil in lockdown 2.0 she currently has no hockey provision and so Izzy took to Twitter to express her feelings for what she perceives as a lack of diversity and inclusion for all in her sport. She was soon thrust to the forefront of one of the most debated issues in hockey.
“The voice of state school hockey players needs to be heard,” she wrote. A few hours later young Izzy had become the voice. As she published her post, she originally thought she may get a few comments. Instead, her post resonated and went viral. “It has been madness and overwhelming,” Izzy tells The Hockey Paper. “It was nothing like I imagined, especially with some of my idols retweeting and commenting – it has been insane!”
England Hockey have been in touch, while she has conversed with Mikey Hoare, the GB international who was also state school educated and has started a coaching business to help those without access to hockey facilities.
The hundreds of comments and likes on the topic have also underlined that this is a very emotive subject – and a difficult one to untangle due to hockey’s infrastructure. This is certainly not just a governing body issue.
“It has been so positive and getting people to talk about it, that’s the main thing I wanted to happen,” says Izzy, who attends Presdales School in Hertfordshire. “I want state school students to have hopes and dreams – that’s what I want to change.”
Izzy’s story is likely shared by hundreds of hockey players; one where she believes she is singled out for being at a state school, her lack of facilities and opportunities leaving her on uneven footing.
“I would go to trials and girls would be like ‘I get all this extra training’ and I would be thinking I haven’t trained all week apart from this. It made me feel quite down about it. Luckily I am motivated and determined so I can get past that but it’s not the same for many young players who are thinking they won’t be able to achieve as they don’t have the same opportunities.
“I’m not against private schools – two of my best friends are privately educated – but state school children need to be able to compete with everyone else.”
Naturally, the debate only widens the gap when viewing our sport as a whole. Izzy adds: “There is a stigma around hockey and being classed as a private school sport. I agree it is but the stigma puts people off playing hockey, or only being able to play it if you have a lot of money.”
So what does the sport need to do to bridge the gap, The Hockey Paper asks.
Hockey’s young campaigner firstly believes that more money needs to be put into secondary schools to have pitches (she says that her school raised money but failed to get the required funding for their own pitch). Secondly, that clubs should play more of a part in the community, with access for state school provision.
Izzy’s own hockey career started at primary school on a Friday afternoon where she would play at her local secondary school. After starting out at Broxbourne, she moved to Southgate at under-13 level for a few seasons before getting the opportunity to play national league back at her first club. She swiftly took up the offer.
As a goalkeeper she’s clearly not afraid to raise her voice both on and off the pitch. “A lot of people maybe don’t want to talk,” she continues passionately, “maybe they are embarrassed or don’t want to face the fact that they are disadvantaged in some way.
“But let’s say I was going for a trial now, I would feel threatened. I would have missed loads of sessions in four weeks. Like Sam Quek said ‘practice does make perfect’ and without practice you aren’t going to get anywhere.
“I love it, hockey is the best thing in the world. But hundreds of people could be lost to the game. That really upsets me. If you don’t start on an even playing field, you have no chance.”
One thing’s certain; Izzy won’t just let her viral Tweet remain a lockdown post which briefly caught the attention.
“I really want to push it,” she says breezily. “Now I have the support and people telling me the stories, it makes me want it more and I won’t give up!”
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