The Torbay Easter Hockey Festival returns for the 72nd time from March 28-April 1 2024, with entries now being taken.
Easter hockey festivals were first held at the turn of the 20th Century, and at their peak in the late 1970s attracted teams to over 40 locations, largely seaside towns, in the UK.
In 2024, that number will stand at three: Torbay the oldest, founded in 1951; Skegness (1973), and Breanfields (around 2012).
Whilst the latter is a 7-a-side event, Torbay and Skegness are both 11-a-side with the east coast festival based on the grass pitches of the town’s cricket club.
The Torbay Festival has historically been a men’s event, but for many years most teams field both junior players as well as females. And whilst women’s only teams and matches are not catered for currently, Torbay is essentially a mixed festival teams with a men’s bias.
Over the decades, hockey has been played all over the borough and, indeed, county, with a total of 48 different pitches used (85% grass).
But since 2001, all hockey has been played on all-weather pitches and a minimum of two will be in use in 2024: Torbay Leisure Centre, ‘Clennon Valley’ (Paignton), and Torbay Girls Grammar School (Shiphay, Torquay).
Both surfaces were re-laid in 2019 and remain in excellent condition. Teams can have up to seven games over the weekend – their choice: depending on stamina, bravery and off-field non-hockey antics.
At its peak, Torbay played host to over 40 teams from across the UK (and the Netherlands) but with the aforementioned decline of Easter Festivals nationwide, numbers have been around 10-12 for the past decade or so.
The Festival survived the pandemic, despite the total cancellation of the event in 2020 and 2021, with the entry for 2024 already sitting at nine teams. Many of these nine are longstanding attendees with over 50 years’ service each, but the Torbay Festival needs and wants more.
The 2024 Festival will involve some significant changes, as the Festival Headquarters will move from the Redcliffe Hotel to the Palace Hotel, further along the Paignton seafront. The Redcliffe Hotel has had a connection with the Festival since 1964, when the ‘Oddfellows’ (the only team with a 100% attendance record) first used it as their preferred rehydration choice and AGM venue.
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In 1983 the Oddfellows adopted the Redcliffe as their Easter ‘home’, bringing the Festival HQ with them. And after many late nights/early mornings, thousands raised for charity due to ‘Fines Sessions’, one too many Green Chartreuse, adults stuck in kids high chairs and midnight raids on the kitchen, it is time for a change. Nothing lasts for ever, and the Festival and the Oddfellows are looking forward to new adventures at The Palace hotel in 2024.
In terms of the competitive side of the Torbay Festival, this has never been a cash prize event. At its core, the Festival values friendship, fun and hockey played to win but to win in the right way – in a friendly and fun way.
As such, the two trophies reflect these values: trophies for both fair play and top goalscoring team are awarded on Easter Monday. Since 2007 the Redcliffe Cup was awarded for the former, but in 2024 this will be replaced with the Tony Forward Shield in memory of Tony who had been Festival Chairman for 40 years when he passed away in 2019.
The team who scores the most goals receive the Bill Stickells Cup, named in honour of the long serving goalkeeper for the Avengers club and donated in his memory by the Stickells family in 1979. The 2023 winners were the Midwives from the Croydon and Old Mid Whitgiftians Hockey Club, who romped away from the field with an impressive 46 goals over the weekend.
If you are looking for an Easter Festival, choices are slim. Skegness offers East Coast hospitality and traditional grass hockey; Breanfields offers the fun of Hockey 7s; Torbay offers all-weather pitches, the English Riviera and guaranteed ‘good’ weather. It also offers fun, friendly and competitive hockey for men, women and teen players. Off the pitch, the borough offers something for everyone, especially families: zoos, arcades, beaches, model villages, piers, steam railways and the beautiful and wild expanse of Dartmoor for the more adventurous. Or you can simply play hockey and hit the bar.