Monday, June 24, 2024

Lop-sided leagues? No play-offs? The side effects of England Hockey restructure

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.

Horsham and Guildford battle in the South East Premier Division PIC: UK Hockey Photos

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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  1. It has been a lot loser in a lot of leagues in the South although we have a few leagues with runaway leaders and teams cast adrift. It will settle down a bit but generally in favour of less dead games through more promotions /relegations.
    Only issue can be relegation from conferences increasing relegations in some leagues. At the moment no teams from conferences returning to South Central where I am.
    Big issue of restructure has been major impact on umpiring in terms of number/quality of appointed umpires as a result of restructure. EH were warned but it was not given any priority. Lots of issues have arisen including complaints on standards and increased discipline problems. Not to mention overstretched umpires doing double headers to fill gaps.
    This is worth a wider debate.

  2. England Hockey MUST do something. Watton men are in too low a division, despite requests before the season started to have it reviewed. They have won all their games leaving the teams they have played demoralised. This in turn has lead to 7 games so far being conceded to Watton in preference to playing them. How is it fair that they don’t get to play hockey? No help from league managers either

  3. Full support for Vicky and Watton , have raised the this issue with league management in the past with no support ,Roger Hibbins Norfolk Nomads . Also agree on the huge problems now of finding umpires .

  4. The issue is not the reorganisation of the leagues, but a failure of common sense in dealing with new entrants

    Nottingham Trent University M2s were made to enter the Midlands League at the bottom, when a glance at the BUCS results made obvious that they were a seriously good hockey team.

    I’ve no idea what the thought process was by the League, making 10th tier teams of 60 somethings, 13 year olds & new starters, play competitive matches against a squad of 18-22 year old, very fit, very talented hockey players.

    The same applies to several other new teams – Kingswinford M1 have scored 211 goals in 18 games, that’s even more than NTU.

    What compounds the error is that it was not corrected after the first season. The mismatch was clear and detrimental to all concerned. There are always opportunities to move teams up the pyramid as other clubs drop teams out of the league, or request a team be moved down, or refuse a promotion. It could and should have been done.

    Players in the bottom tiers pay their subs and are entitled to a fair game, what’s the point of turning out to be thrashed 21-1 (fair play to Nottingham Players for getting one of only two goals against NTU)? No wonder teams concede rather than play, but that robs them of a game

    In fairness to Midlands Hockey they are now consulting on a proposed solution to this issue, which I think is a good idea.

    But crucially, they need a permanent mechanism to assess the strength of new entrants to the league and place them at an appropriate level. It’s no good making adjustments for the current crop, but repeating the same mistakes in future

  5. Kingswinford can always mix it up with some new talented players coming.

    Remember Cannock wanting their 2s in the Midlands 1st team league set up and never happened although the Club have dropped down severely due too their situation.

    Yes a bit unfortunate for NTU but we are aware on how Uni teams go plus depends on the catchment area as you be aware of Beeston, Notts players plus other teams in the area.

    Repton have had to start and work their way up.

    Yes a choker some games you get demolished but how often does this happen.

  6. The North was split into West and East Pennines the season before the EH restructure, so mention of Lancaster University, Preston, Ulverston and Lytham St Anne’s i feel is irrelevant as they were already in those leagues (previous North Div3NW). They weren’t placed in NW Div2 North due to the restructure they earned their place through promotions. What has happened in the NW is Clubs struggling with player numbers and recovering from Covid. Many players have chosen not to come back and play after being used to free weekends. I have never known a season of so many walkovers or teams struggling to fulfil fixtures each week and that is despite the league trying to help grade 4 and 5 clubs get matches played.

    That said there are certainly results on the NW men’s leagues that have teams placed incorrectly. This has been caused by the previous North league placings and the team geograpghy issue in Cumbria

  7. I can only agree with comments above that the League have many lop-sided results. At Isca in the West League, our 2’s and 4’s are both streets ahead with plenty of double figure wins and goal differences that would befit a rugby club!!

    The slow rate of promotion to the correct levels must be corrected to avoid too many younger players missing out on their development.

    We have already made representations to the new West League and await comments which I hope are sympathetic.


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