Saturday, May 25, 2024

Holcombe great Barry Middleton to depart as player-coach

Barry Middleton has left his role as Men’s 1s player-head coach at Holcombe Hockey Club after 11 years.

The England and GB great initially signed as a player in 2013 before taking up the role of Director of Hockey and then, latterly, player-head coach in 2022.

Middleton joined Holcs with the club having spent seven seasons in the Conference East division, the then-second-tier of English Hockey, helping the side gain promotion to the top-flight for the first time in the club’s history. The news follows the decision by Kwan Browne to leave Southgate as men’s coach on Tuesday, while Surbiton also have an opening after Mark Pearn left his role.

Middleton was England and Great Britain captain when he first joined the club with David South telling the Kent Messenger in 2013: “It’s a pretty good signing really!”

Great Britain and England’s most-capped player of all-time has helped to develop a vast umber of players in his more than decade-long Holcombe career and his overall impact will have a long-lasting effect. 

In his 11-year stint, he has transformed from an all-action midfielder to an incredibly tactically-astute coach, leading Holcombe to consecutive top-four regular season finishes while also helping coach in England and Great Britain’s junior set-up.

He has also played in a vast number of Super 6s Premier Division campaigns for Holcs, after promotion from Division One in the 2016/17 campaign. 

The best of those was in January 2020 as Holcombe qualified for the Super 6s Finals for the only time in the club’s history, finishing as runners-up to Surbiton as Mark Pearn’s side ran out 3-2 winners at the Copperbox Arena. 

Middleton said: “I would like to say thank you to everyone at Holcombe for making me feel such a big part of the club over the last 11 years. 

“It has been amazing to be part of the journey to where the club is now and I hope that it will continue to go from strength to strength. 

“Unfortunately, I won’t be back next season as priorities in my life have shifted and being closer to home is a major factor in my decision.

“Best of luck for the future and I look forward to seeing lots of friendly faces again when I return next season.”

Barry Middleton receives his honour from the Duke Of Cambridge PIC: Twitter

Club President South added: “Barry has been a key part of Holcombe’s progress and initially alongside Julian Halls enabled us to play competitively at the top level.

“The Club and myself offer our thanks to Barry for all his time at Holcombe.”

In his first season at the club, Holcs finished top of the Conference East with 110 goals in 19 games but missed out in the promotion play-offs before winning a Premier Division spot in the 2014/15 play-offs, beating Team Bath Buccaneers 5-1 to seal Premier Division hockey for the first time at Holcombe Park. 

In the 2015/16 season, a Holcombe side featuring the likes of George Pinner, Iain Lewers and Middleton finished top of the Premier Division table at the first attempt with 13 wins and five draws in 18 matches but were beaten in the semi-final by Wimbledon at League Finals weekend despite a brace from Ashley Jackson. 

That did, though, secure a spot in the Euro Hockey League for the following season where Holcs racked up their biggest ever European win in a first-ever EHL match.

Having been placed in a Round One group alongside Dutch giants and 2015/16 EHL champions Kampong and Polish side AZS AWF Poznan. Hat-tricks from Harry Trusler and Sam Ward alongside goals from Nick Bandurak and Rob Field, both of whom would later serve as captain and vice-captain under Middleton, saw Holcs beat the Poles 8-1 before narrowly losing 2-1 to Kampong having taken the lead through Ward. 

It was a second-placed finish in the Premier Division the following season before Surbiton ran out 3-2 winners in the semi-final but Holcombe did qualify for the Euro Hockey League (EHL) once more following a 7-3 win over Hampstead & Westminster in the third/fourth-place play-off.

Middleton missed part of the 2017/18 season courtesy of an Hockey India League stint alongside Jackson at Ranchi Rays, with Holcombe finishing seventh in the Premier Division.

A familiar European opponent in Real Club de Polo de Barcelona also knocked Holcs out of the EHL at the KO16 stage, with Nick Bandurak scoring twice.

Holcs finished sixth and fifth in back-to-back campaigns following that and were fifth at the time of the league cancellation in the 2020/21 season due to the covid pandemic.

It was another fifth-placed finish in 2021/22 before Middleton officially took over as head coach, finishing fourth in his first season at the end of Phase Two before finishing second in Pool A of Phase Three to set up a semi-final clash with hosts Surbiton. 

A 2-1 win at Sugden Road secured EHL qualification once more for Holcombe for the 2023/24 season, with Old Georgians having won the other semi. 

Holcs finished fourth again this season before just missing out on League Finals weekend having been eliminated in the KO8 of the EHL by Real Club de Polo.

Middleton’s competitive record as player-head coach is as follows:
Played: 42
Won: 25
Drawn: 3
Lost: 14
Goals for: 135
Goals against: 74
Goal difference: 61
Win %: 60%

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