If just one team is promoted or relegated there is potential for a side to spend several seasons languishing in an unsuitable league
The England Hockey league restructure has already been a source of controversy for a smorgasbord of administrational and logistical reasons, but how has it impacted the hockey that we are playing week in week out?
Overall, the restructure has meant more local fixtures for many clubs, although not all, and has brought the lower teams from the larger clubs in line with the rest of the country.
Unsurprisingly in the first season, not all teams have been placed in the correct tier. All over the country we are seeing sides winning in double figures and others who are struggling to earn a point.
One club’s 4th XI had gone two months without having a shot on goal! Which is certainly not beneficial for the young forwards that they are trying to develop.
Take North West Women’s Division 2 North, which has Lancaster University riding high on 46 points and Preston close behind on 42 (with two games in hand). Both teams are nearing the century in the goals for column.
In stark contrast, at the other end of the table Lytham St. Anne’s 2nd team have just three points and a goal difference of -109, while 11th place Ulverston have seven points and have scored just 11 goals. Examples like this can be taken from several leagues across the length and breadth of the country.
One-sided games and seasons are of absolutely no benefit to any sides in the league. Inevitably this was going to be an unwanted side effect of the changes. However, the key issue is how England Hockey address the problem.
The simplest solution is having two or three teams relegated and promoted each season. This will have several benefits. It will quickly iron out the unsatisfactory hockey generated by teams of vastly contrasting ability competing against each other.
If just one team is promoted or relegated there is the potential for a side to spend several seasons in a league that isn’t suitable for their level.
We are also entering the point in the season, in particular for ill-balanced divisions, where there is little to play for in the remaining games. Larger pools of promotion and relegation would maintain the interest of many more teams later into the year.
Another option that presents itself to England Hockey is a play-off situation. This has been used successfully in the past where different regions are merging and creates for an exciting end to the season as several spots potentially yield success.
Hockey could perhaps learn from the English Football league and promote two sides, then have a play-off between third and fourth to see who claims the final promotion spot. The same thinking could also be applied to the bottom of the league, where two go down and ninth and 10th have a play-off game for safety. Not only would this create tension and involvement throughout the season but also create more balanced leagues in one or two seasons.
In addition, this may encourage spectators to come and watch these decisive fixtures. Dividing the leagues in half at Christmas, then only playing teams in your half also creates more balanced matches, although it can make the second half of the season feel slightly repetitive.
The lines have still not been drawn on the league tables and we are still unaware of how many teams are going up or down. My understanding of Rule 4.5 (promotion and relegation) is that it’s for the England Hockey league and not the regional ones, as it refers to leagues having 10 teams and not the regions where most teams are.
Thus, there are several routes that the governing body can take to address some of the issues caused by the restructure. Will England Hockey have the confidence to take the necessary steps to balance the level in each division and create more anticipation in the final weeks of the season?
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