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Back to Hockey: How returning ragtag bunch has lifted progressive club

Back to Hockey: How returning ragtag bunch has lifted progressive club
Marnie Butters revs up for hockey ALL PICS: Robert Pearson

North Staffs HC bill themselves as a “progressive” club. And they saw the possibilities thrown up by England Hockey’s Back 2 Hockey scheme, which encourages clubs to coax parents or ex-players out of retirement or to try the sport for the first time.

The Newcastle-under-Lyme-based club used B2H to coincide with its Monday night junior training sessions. “It makes a lot of sense – if you’re standing zombified at the side of a hockey pitch, cold and miserable watching your beloved off-spring making their way in the sport, then you might as well be 30 yards away running round and tearing it up with some other grizzled old hockey warriors,” says the club’s Seb Lewis.

North Staffs say the initiative has paid off. “The ragtag bunch of bulging lycra, antiquated knee-supports and bobble hats has spawned a ladies 3rd XI and mens 6th XI, along with providing support for the numerous badgers and junior teams that are the lifeblood of any club. Not a bad result at all,” adds Lewis.

“The programme has been essential in the development and expansion of the club, allowing us to field 10 senior sides this season for the first time ever,” said club official David Washington.

Furthermore, the club has put resource into the scheme by way of charting some of the stories with some fantastic imagery, which other clubs should look at by way of promoting themselves.

Before the pandemic hit, the club’s B2H programme saw two full teams conceived in 18 months. and added a new dimension to a thriving club. Here, players tell their own story of why the scheme has made such a difference in their lives before the Covid outbreak.

Marnie Butters
Occupation: Play therapist

Marnie chose to diversify when she moved to the North Staffs area and Keele University. Post graduation she stayed in the area but shunned the local ladies clubs and decided to infiltrate the lower ranks of one of the men-only clubs. Within a few years she had taken over the 3s and turned it pretty much into a mixed side with a number of her Keele alumni friends.

The resulting handful of marriages between Marnie’s gang and the unsuspecting men were a fairly predictable side-effect of the infiltration, with Ms Butters bagging the 1st XI captain.

She captained the 3rd XI for a decade but it all came to an abrupt end in the mid-2000s on the ski-slopes of darkest Bulgaria with an ACL injury. Parenthood beckoned.

Her dodgy knee held up at her first B2H and she’s now in the fledgling ladies 3rd XI and regularly manages her daughters U14 and U12 tournament sides.

Another common theme is the chance to share a field with your offspring. Marnie has recently made her first joint appearance with her daughter in the 3s. “It doesn’t get any better than playing for the same team as your kids does it?”

Karen Latham
Occupation: Senior clinical coder

Another B2H story borne out of a desire not to lose fingers to frostbite on the sidelines at junior training. She is now a regular 3rd team member alongside her daughter, Macy.

She spends her weekdays working at a GP practise before the hockey. “Everyone is extremely friendly and it doesn’t matter what skill level you are – if you turn up you’re part of the team!”

“Before I knew it, not only had I joined the ladies 3s team I had signed up to be the fixtures secretary for the team and also help Annie, our team captain, to make sure the team runs smoothly each week and have absolutely loved it.”

She has developed quite a partnership in the centre of the 3s defence with Marnie. They appear to have developed a two-woman threshing machine defencive technique which so far is keeping wary opposition attackers at bay.

Liz Baldock
Occupation: Educator

Liz played hockey in school and was determined to get her kids into the sport she’d enjoyed so much. She was tempted into joining the B2H sessions and by 2020 was an integral member of the ladies 3s.

She’s successfully indoctrinated two of her three offspring into the hockey world and is working on the third.

If she pulls this off it would technically mean a full house of family members as husband Mike has also been drawn into the B2H clutches, albeit temporarily.

Liz is currently attempting the world record for ‘time spent at hockey in one weekend’.

Playing for the 3s, watching the badgers (kid A), making a very impressive pavlova for teas, running the U8s tournament (kid B) and spectating the U10s (kid A) very nearly got her the record. If she could just get kid C involved she’d have it sewn up.

Lee Croxon
Occupation: owns a van

Lee was one of the first B2H’ers in 2018 and has seen it build up from a handful of frozen parents to become a valuable asset which has helped expand the club. He has become a 5th team regular and has also offered to skipper the 6th XI in its start up year.

He generally has his hands full herding his four boys to school and to assorted clubs, but he devotes a few hours on Monday night to B2H. He claims to be as fit as he was in his footballing pomp, but then again he also claimed to have a tidy van.

Lee’s enthusiasm has recently seen him expand his hockey repertoire to include net minding. Hockey goalies generally have some amount of rocks in their head and Lee has taken to the position like a natural. He’s already discovered the first great truth of goalkeeping – you can’t have pads everywhere – but seems willing, keen even, to continue with the discipline.

Maggie Babb
Occupation: Physician

Maggie was a new starter when she first turned out at B2H having been a keen basketballer in her younger days. Long hours at work and five kids don’t leave much party-time but she is able, along with husband, to get along to Monday hockey while some of her brood are at junior sessions.

B2H gives her the chance to share a pastime with the kids and also meet and spend some time with some bigger boys and girls. “It’s been brilliant to join in with something some of our children do rather than just watch,” she says.
“Seeing others progress to club teams is good to see too, and obviously brilliant for growing the club and sometimes letting kids graduating from badgers play alongside parents”.

She missed the B2H tournament in 2019 but hopes to play future events. If it’s anything like the cauldron of last year’s melee at the excellent Alderley Edge tournoi, then her medical skills may be more valuable than her stick skills.

David Herbert
Occupation: Motor vehicle finance

Prior to stumbling across B2H, Dave spent a year achieving the admirable feat of shedding four stone in weight. Dave was a beginner not even possessing a stick when he first turned out, but quickly fell into the embrace of the B2H fold and cites the feeling of community as an important benefit of taking up the sport.

Many members reside in the Newcastle area which Dave sees as a big positive. He now turns out regularly for the men’s 5s. Despite his new trim figure, he says he has still retained enough power to chastise any youth foolish enough to come within barging range of him on the battlegrounds of the T3: North West Division 4.

Jo Royal
Occupation: Teacher & director of Eighteen Hockey

Jo took a 10-year sabbatical from her hockey career during which time she produced two potential GB Olympians. She was another of the ‘freezing on the sidelines at Junior training’ gang and decided to have another bash. Within a couple of weeks she was bossing the ladies 2s. Not much longer after that she was running the B2H sessions.

“Realising the importance of B2H I volunteered in September 2018 to coach the players. The sessions were fun and numbers began to grow. Instead of it being a six-week course, I continued the sessions throughout the season; everyone enjoyed the fitness, fun and banter! This led us to entering two teams into a tournament at Alderley edge in June 2019 – which we were joint winners with Repton!”

Jo, in partnership with her sister, has created Eighteen Hockey, a start-up hockey equipment design and supply company. She’s been a regular in the high-flying ladies 1s for a few seasons and has just been called into the Midlands over-45s squad. All this on the back of B2H.

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