Friday, June 14, 2024

Loughborough Town aim to make hay with underdog hockey tag

Loughborough Town HC will celebrate the 125th anniversary of its formation in 2022 by becoming the very first non-university Leicestershire men’s club to compete in the National League  

With its traditional local club mantra, Loughborough Town’s message to all their new men’s rivals is a simple one as it looks to maintain its national league status. “We want them all to know that when they play us, they’re going to know they’re in a game,” says head coach Paul Willars.

And who doesn’t love a fairy-tale story, and an underdog? 

“Clubs such as Loughborough cannot buy success, the low profile of club hockey makes meaningful investment an unachievable dream,” says Willars.

The club says that if the goal of maintaining their National League status is to be met, it will be due to “the combined values of smart recruitment, strong coaching and bucket loads of commitment, determination and good old-fashioned hard work.”

With almost 200 members, Loughborough Town is one of the largest hockey clubs in Leicestershire, sharing the facilities of Loughborough University and playing all first team home fixtures on a premium water-based pitch. 

But shared facilities are not the only links between the two organisations; the LTHC men’s and women’s teams provide competitive playing opportunities for students who either fail to make the university squads or choose to play their hockey outside the University. 

The club has also been successful in attracting graduates who remain living in the area and still wish to play a good standard of hockey. In recent years this has included David Ralph, former Scottish international and current GB women’s coach, as well as Jerome Goudie, current university head coach. 

It is only in the last 15 years that the club has steadily moved up the leagues to achieve their status as Leicestershire’s top-ranked men’s non-university team. 

Despite playing in the ‘A’ Division of the County Championships in recent years, Leicestershire is one of very few hockey playing counties without a Men’s National League team in its ranks. In Leicester Ladies, it does possess a successful club, winners of several national titles and provider of numerous international players.  

“Having achieved National League status, it is now imperative that Loughborough Town does all it can to retain that status, and lay foundations for the further development of the club,” a club spokesperson said.  

Historically, the best local players have had to ‘cross the border’ to Beeston to play at an elite level. Players such as Sam Ward, Ollie Willars – who first played in the sixth team at Loughborough Town as a 10-year-old – and David Condon all started out as juniors at clubs in Leicestershire, before going on to enjoy years as England and Great Britain internationals. 

Ollie’s father, Paul, returned to the club three seasons ago as head coach and guided the first team to this success. First team captain in the late 1980’s and most of the 90’s, he understands the challenge ahead. 

“My toughest task is attracting quality players,” he said. “In recent years, the gap between ourselves and other Leicestershire clubs has widened, and there are far fewer talented youngsters across the county who can make the necessary step up. 

“And of course it is still the case that many of our best juniors will travel to Beeston to play their hockey. So, whilst we quietly try to recruit new players that I believe can succeed at this new level, it remains a difficult task, albeit one that we are determined to achieve.” 

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