Is the North of England becoming a hockey wilderness?

When it comes to northern representation in English hockey’s top flight, Beeston and Nottingham University stand alone.   

There is a glaring talent concentration in the south of the country. And there are fears it could get worse.   

John Dixon, who sits on the committee of Brooklands, one of Manchester’s top hockey clubs said: ‘’If any player wants to take part in top-flight hockey … they will be encouraged by England Hockey to play at the highest level possible with one of the top teams. All of these teams are based south of the M25.

‘’(A Northern side) wouldn’t be able to do a ‘Leicester’ in football terms; you couldn’t go up and win the league, you will very much be competing at the bottom end.’’

‘’They need to level the financial playing field.’’

It is clear to see that Dixon’s thoughts are not unfounded – if you look at Great Britain’s men’s squad at the recent Olympic Qualifiers the talent vacuum in the north of the country could not be more obvious.

The squad was made up of 18 players. Three of these players ply their trade abroad – turning out for Dutch Hoofdklasse sides Bloemendaal, Pinoké and, Hertogenbosch.

The remaining 15 players play their club hockey in the south of England.

The most northerly based England player competes for Hampstead and Westminster – in North London!

Manchester’s top two sides, Bowdon Hockey and Brooklands Hockey, currently sit first and second in the northern section of hockey’s second tier. Over recent years, promotion has normally resulted in a swift return to Division One North.

Holcombe and GB midfielder, Phil Roper (formerly of Chester Hockey Club) said: ‘’Bisham Abbey is where you are required to full-time train and so lots of aspiring players, and those that have got a contract need to come near Bisham Abbey unless they want to commute for over three hours. That’s the practicality of it.

‘’The only real way of changing it is if they relocated to somewhere else, or the sport goes big enough that the clubs could fund players so that it wasn’t a centralised Great Britain program.

‘’Anyone who wants to play for Great Britain generally moves down to London.’’

England and Great Britain Hockey are currently UK sport funded, and the sport does not create enough of an income to fully fund their GB program themselves. This means that for the foreseeable future, international hockey will remain at Bisham Abbey.

The system is intrinsically biased toward southern clubs attaining the top players. In last year’s National Premier Division play-offs (both men’s and women’s competitions), all four sides were based in-and-around the London area.

The dire state of northern hockey is reflected further by the fact that Cardiff – a club that currently compete in the top flight – were previously competing in the northern league due to the lack of competitive sides in the region.

Until the system is resolved, Manchester’s clubs will continue to struggle to compete with hockey’s southern elite.

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