In recent weeks in Scotland, hockey has made rare inroads with saving pitches for its own use. HANNAH MADDEN reports
There seems to be an unspoken rule (among men especially) that showing an interest in football is mandatory if you want to fit in. It’s discussed in playgrounds, in pubs, and can be so overwhelmingly dominant, that the voices of other sports end up getting drowned out.
And hockey is one of them.
In Renfrewshire, Paisley, hockey is the second-most popular sport around. Kelburne, the local hockey club, has been running since 1969, and their men’s team has earned the title of being the best in Scotland 22 times since 1990.
Yet the hockey pitch available in Renfrewshire is sub-standard, forcing members of the club to make a nine-mile commute across the M8 into Glasgow just to play the game they love.
For around 15 years, Kelburne has been trying to persuade their local council to either upgrade the local hockey pitch or build a new one. The last attempt to do so was in 2019. It involved a £3 million plan to upgrade the existing hockey pitch for Kelburne. This ended up falling through around the time COVID hit. It was then the club decided it had had enough.
As the saying goes, if you want something done, do it yourself.
Late last month, the Paisley club revealed a £600,000 plan to secure Ralston Sports Centre, build a hockey pitch and give Kelburne a proper home in its local community.
However, the sports centre has a football pitch, which the club plans to replace with a pitch suitable for hockey. And in a nation inexplicably obsessed with football, making a move on these “sacred” grounds has caused some upset.
Tory Councillor, Neill Graham, reacted particularly strongly to the news. “The SNP council should not be selling off community crown jewels such as this and this land grab needs to be red-carded,” he said. “I have nothing against the ambitions of the hockey club behind this proposal, but these pitches give local kids the chance to play football.”
Kelburne have since talked to Graham, and are currently in discussions with the local community (including football clubs), in the hope that they can find solutions that can protect every sport. But that’s not to say that the club’s secretary, Billy Anderson, wasn’t somewhat annoyed with Graham’s knee-jerk reaction.
“He should understand that the people he’s talking about in Kelburne are just as equal as any other football person in our region,” he said. “So, because we can’t play hockey in Paisley, he should be fighting for us as well as fighting for footballers.”
Kelburne aren’t the only ones fighting for their own pitch. Irvine Ladies HC managed to successfully convince their local sports club to turn their football pitch in Marress into a hockey pitch, a major victory for hockey and women’s sport.
Irvine Ladies, founded in 1945, used to play at Marress until the 1990s. In many ways, they’re reclaiming their old home. The local football teams were understandably unhappy at being told to play somewhere else, but Irvine Community Sports Club chiefs have stood by the Ladies.
The Sports Club secretary, Andy Rennie, said the decision was based on “hockey club’s long association with the club, the passion which they demonstrated for ‘coming home’ and the sports club’s policy of trying to create dedicated development areas for each of its six outdoor sports, archery, cricket, girls football, hockey, rugby and running.”
All this is wonderful for both Kelburne and Irvine Ladies, but it has to be said that these are exceptional cases. You’re more likely to see a hockey pitch being turned into a football pitch rather than a football pitch being turned into a hockey one. This all circles back to football’s extreme popularity in Scotland.
“Councils don’t have money,” Anderson told The Hockey Paper. “The council in their literature say this an area of sport for all areas, but that’s all just soundbites… They focus on the areas that make them money, and they don’t do sport for all, so they squeeze out all the minority sports.”
From a business perspective, it does make some sense; football will simply make the most money. Therefore, there is reason for councils to invest in it and use it to balance the books. Given that hockey doesn’t make as much money because it’s popularity isn’t as widespread, why should councils throw their weight behind it and other minority sports?
Tokyo 2020 is arguably one of the most anticipated ever, especially given that the pandemic put the Games on hold last year. Everyone wants to see their country win a medal, no matter what the sport is. Incidentally, Anderson does have hopes for Team GB winning a bronze or silver in hockey.
However, if all the minority sports get completely crowded out by football, then what of all that? How will GB compete and win medals in those sports? Where will the talent come from?
This might be taking things a bit far, but picture it for a second: Great Britain not even being able to compete in Olympic events because local councils have decided that football is the only sport worth investing in. Sad, isn’t it?
Let’s hope this won’t happen and local councils realise that football isn’t the only sport worth investing in. But most of all, let’s hope that the success of Kelburne and Irvine Ladies will continue for a long time to come.
And who knows? Maybe those pitches they’ve fought so hard for will produce a player who wins Olympic hockey gold someday.
If your hockey club is threatened by a lack of provision or closure due to council decisions, please get in touch with us so we can raise your concern.