It’s about to time that the British celebrated our history within the sport of field hockey. It is about time that we highlighted our hockey pedigree within the game. It’s about time that we showed the non hockey fans what they are missing. Other sports talk endlessly about what has happened in their respective codes and games. Football, for example, has many books, magazine articles and television programmes dedicated to it’s progress and development. In North America, in particular the USA, they discuss very little else apart from the sports which they invented. Baseball, American football and basketball, seem to have a special place in many an American sports fans imagination and memories of occasions both big and small seem to be sentimentalised during one’s lifetime. In Britain, the birthplace of what we now know as field hockey, yet there is very little pride in what we have done, what we have achieved thus far. Between the men’s and women’s national teams we have won three EuroHockey Nations Championships, two Olympic Games, a number of minor
international tournaments as well as medals at Commonwealth Games and World Championships.
I think that part of the issue is that many of our successes have been overseas and away from
home, out of the public eye. Until recently there has been very little for the British hockey fans to sink their teeth into. Compared to other sports such as rugby and football, in the UK, the elite level hockey leagues within the home nations don’t offer much in the way of a spectacle. Primarily the entertainment comes from the international scene, which has been by and large hosted in other parts of the world. Only recently has an interest been spiked in the English/British hockey national teams. I think that the turning point in the mainstream sporting consciousness was when the ladies XI won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. A euphoria of sporting patriotism during a home games gave the sport a platform. The public awareness of hockey has increased slightly in the time since, partly helped with further success at major tournaments, but six years is a comparatively short time for sports fans to get sentimental about the game. Additionally, somebody who is not already involved in hockey is unlikely to attend a game as a spectator.
As a fan of English football, I have a perhaps rose tinted viewpoint of Wembley stadium. It is a
temple of sport. It is the temple of English football. A place of historical significance, that draws a broad spectrum of people through it’s gates. Wembley has hosted both the finals of the 1966 World Cup and the 1996 European Championships, plus countless domestic and continental cup
competitions, including the Stanley Matthews Cup Final. It was also the stadium where FC
Barcelona won their first European Cup, and where many Auld Enemy games have been played. I
have never actually watched a game of football at Wembley, even still, it is undoubtedly a
cherished and important part of sporting life within the UK, because of what has happened on that turf. Other sports have similar sporting temples. Rugby has Twickenham, Basketball has Maddison Square Gardens, Baseball has Yankee Stadium, Tennis has Wimbledon, where a certain Andrew Murray has had the occasional success. The English hockey equivalent of these wonderful places is the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre. It is a new venue that was built as part of the London Olympic legacy, as such it is still quite a new facility and hasn’t had the time to build up the legacy that there stadiums have. It has hosted a few tournaments thus far. The most significant was when England won the EuroHockey Nations Championships that was held there in 2015. This is exactly the sort thing we need in order to boost the sports public image of the sport. What we need more of are the major events that stay in the consciousness and memories of the fans. This would give greater emphasis of the importance of hockey. It’s the fans and spectators that provides value with regards the standing of sports in the public consciousness. The way to get fans to think fondly about hockey is to give them opportunities to have a good time at events that are based locally to them.
Additionally, the hockey unions within the home nations need to be more pro-active in creating fans at club level. Recently, I was watching a streamed feed of the England Play-Off Semi-Final, at Lee Valley Hockey Centre. The attendance was pretty low for such a high level game at this point of the season. When I was coaching girls football in Edinburgh, the Scottish Football Association would provide tickets for women’s international matches to local female clubs so that coaches and players were more likely to attend, thus promoting the women’s game. If the England Hockey Board can foresee that attendances are going to be low, that they aren’t going to be selling the tickets anyway, then what’s the harm in sending tickets to local schools, to hockey clubs based in London, provide spare tickets for the players involved in the game itself for family and close friends. By raising the attendances pro bono in the short term, then the hockey authorities can create a larger fan base that is invested in the sport, creating better atmospheres at games and potentially increasing the pool of players and potentially creating positive gains in the long term. By giving people the opportunity to spend time at hockey events, both large and small, with their friends and family, then those spectators will value the sport in greater depth. They will remember what happened in particular games that they were not directly involved in as players and help to create a living memory of the sport itself. This is how we both celebrate and create pedigree within hockey, so that it can be seen on a par with the more mainstream sports played and watched in the UK.