How do we improve club hockey in Great Britain? 1

How do we improve club hockey in Great Britain?

Hockey is gaining momentum in the world of British sport. There has been an increase in both participation and media coverage, within the UK (it has, of course been a fairly popular sport in other parts of the world, India, Holland and Germany for example). This is in large part due to the success of the England and Great Britain women’s squad over the last six years, or so. The focus has been largely on the national sides though. There has been little to no coverage on club sides. The only domestic games that I have seen have been online streams from the National Governing Bodies (NGB’s) of the Home Nations, for their own cup finals and national league play offs. Although the standard of the games are ok, it isn’t as good as it could be. This is because there is a mixed standard of professionalism with England. The top players within the home nations all have central contracts and are attached to Great Britain Hockey, rather than their clubs. These players train and play full time and this process has provided some strong national teams, having had international success over the past decade. This has been important for the development of British hockey at the Olympic level, but I force it having a short term effect. If we really want to consistently producing world class teams and players on a larger scale, then we need to invest more time in now developing our domestic hockey clubs.

Wimbledon has represented England in the European Hockey League for the past few years. The best they did was in 2016/17, where they reached a credible semi-final, but lost 8-2 to HC Oranje-Rood. In this season’s tournament Cardiff & Met HC went out in the first round, without winning a game. They lost one of their matches 11-2 to Dinamo Elektrostal. Scotland’s Grange Hockey Club also went out in the first round. few years ago. These within themselves are above the average accomplishments of most hockey players within the UK, but there is still work to be done. The question is – How do we raise the standard of our club teams? How can we compete with the Dutch and the Germans, not just on the international stage, but on the continental stage as well?

One way of improving the standard of club hockey within the home nations, is to increase the number of professionals playing week in and week out. Why is it that we have a handful of professional players, but not professional clubs in Britain?

There are a number of ways that those with a certain mind set can help to lead the way in bringing further professionalism to gorgeous game. We can look at what is currently happening, as well as what has happened already in the world of football and business.

1. Public Liability Companies (PLC’s) – the method used predominately in men’s football
2. Co-operative. Fan based ownership
3. Social Enterprise/Community Interest Company (CIC).

Men’s football got on board with professionalism and business early doors. Public Liability Companies where created, or were used to take over football clubs so that board members and directors were able to make some money for the first time and to also re-invest money back into the business and the club itself, in order to make the club more profitable. This was unheard of at the time. Up until the 1960’s and 1970’s football clubs were meant to hobbies for local businessmen to lose money, gain prestige and bolster their egos, by being the neighbourhood ‘Billy Big Bucks’. This turn to PLC’s helped to move the game forward, in only a few years. This turn to big business helped to improve stadium design (at the behest of the British Court system), created a huge number of new jobs in an ever growing section of the sports industry, used marketing to open the game to a wider new audience, provided players with bigger salaries, thus attracting higher quality players over to the English leagues, as well as giving a method for working class players to make a living above the national average, and generally making British football all the more enjoyable – a better spectacle, a stronger product. This would take a bit of effort and would be of high risk for certain individuals, who are wanting to copy this method in field hockey but could, in theory, provide high gains. There is definitely an untapped market in British hockey for businesses to invest into an entrepreneurs vision, although, I believe that there would need to be a number of similarly funded clubs within the league to make it work.

Co-operative run, fan owned clubs have started to crop up in the football industry. Supporter based groups have been buying into and/or taking over their local clubs all over the United Kingdom, as well as other countries. In the men’s game Brentford FC, Wycombe Wanderers FC, Exeter City FC, AFC Wimbledon, FC United of Manchester have all shown that the community can run clubs for the community they are based in. Depending on how much investment into the club that the fans have made, this can allow the supporters to have varying degrees of control. FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon were both set up in protest in after what the larger local club had done in terms of big business. They have been largely acclaimed at putting a friendly face back on the game of football in England. Football fans no longer have to put up with large co-corporations
when engaging with their local football club. This is similar to the system already in place, where fee paying members of amateur hockey clubs have a vote on the ruling of the club at Annual General Meetings and elect committee members to run the club in their spare time. It wouldn’t take a huge leap of imagination to direction of these sort of collectively run set up’s to a part/full-time professionalism.

Community Interest Companies (CICs), or social enterprises, are businesses that looks to make money, but all of the profits are re-invested into the communities that they are based in and serve. CICs have been described as businesses with a conscience. Employees are paid a salary and can be paid a competitive wage, but no money is given to shareholders, because there aren’t any shareholders, therefore the ethos of the company can be that of what is best for the local area, the staff, the relevant industry and is able to generally conduct positive work practices, without worrying about pleasing profit driven shareholders. It is run at the behest of the local community and even makes money for that community, but is run like a business, in terms of sustainability.
This is something that I don’t believe has been introduced into sports business at the top end. I am not aware of any sports club that is set up in this manner, apart from Spartans Football Club.

Spartans, is a Scottish football club, that field a number of semi-professional, amateur and junior sides in the Scottish Capital of Edinburgh. Although, I believe that their men’s first team is run like a regular semi professional side, the club also organises a social enterprise that deals with issues that are relevant within the local community of Granton. They run youth projects, programmes and initiatives that benefit people from all walks of life, as well as providing valuable healthy activities through sport. This is funded through a variety of sources, from donations, to sponsorship, to other revenue sources within the business side of the club. In terms of hockey, this model can be copied by clubs, that have registered players, who can become professional coaches, thus gaining another source of income to help finance their playing and keep them linked to the club itself.

I would highly recommended these concepts for hockey clubs. It means that business can get involved, professionalism can improve the standard of the organisation and the sport it self, without forgetting about it’s roots and the needs of the local community.