There is a “dark cloud” hanging over Tiverton White Eagles Juniors. The Devon-based side claim to be already losing junior players – and with it, much-needed volunteers – to a club earmarked as an accredited Talent Centre under England Hockey’s new talent development framework.
Playing in the heart of Tiverton – population around 20,000 – at the Exe Valley Leisure Centre, the club was unable to get out an under-14 side in recent weeks after losing three players to Exeter-based Isca.
“The biggest issue is that we are losing parents,” says Grant Horan, co-junior coordinator for Tiverton White Eagles Juniors.
“One of them was an under-14 coach and another fundraiser and co-ordinator for the age groups.
“The issue isn’t just about the drain of talent, it’s actually the drain of resources and manpower which is probably more serious to be honest.”
Horan says he understands the pathway and aspiration route set out by England Hockey but already realises there is a “bigger picture” facing smaller clubs before the framework has even been rolled out.
“That’s when it really hit home and it’s a faulty model basically,” he admits. “It’s already started to happen and we have physically lost players to Isca.”
Horan was recently asked by one parent whether this will be the death of White Eagles, a club founded in 1950. “My reply was that it will come close,” he adds.
“I can see England Hockey’s perspective but it’s a false economy. It seems like they are doing what other sports are doing. If they take the cream off the top, theoretically there is room to fill gaps underneath who might not have the opportunity.”
Pre-Covid, the club was full to the rafters with over 100 kids. That has seemingly all changed, with the club now needing to advertise and keep serving the sport in the community.
“Already, there are rumours across the region that White Eagles is shutting because of the Talent Centre emergence,” says Horan.
“There is undoubtedly an air of depression and inevitably. No aspiring player will come to Tiverton now and Isca will scoop up everybody but they won’t be able to cope with the amount of players.”
Grant, an events organiser who runs the Great British Sports Show, says that senior and junior teams are shutting down due to a lack of getting sides out. The talent framework, adds Grant, is an accelerator to the death of junior domestic hockey in North Devon.
“Clubs are scooping up players and kids will be spat out at the other end and there will be nowhere for them to go,” he added. “It’s all happening too quickly and too disorganised for it to work in any shape or form.”
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