BORIS MUST LET US FINISH THE JOB, BUT WHAT ARE WE ACTUALLY PLAYING FOR, ENGLAND HOCKEY?
By Edd Thorogood
Ahead of the 2021/22 restructure, England Hockey should be celebrated for the way in which they have brough hockey back safely once, they must now implore the government to allow us to finish the 2020/21 season properly as we aim to ‘return to play’ once more. However they must also get their house in order, clubs must have a clear directive as to what they are playing for this season.
It was with great disappointment that the announcement had to be made that the 2020/21 season would take a hiatus. When Boris Johnson made his umpteenth U-turn on policy and his own tier system, there was little doubt in everyone’s mind that the season would have to take a break. This disappointment was magnified by the ‘kick in the teeth’ to England Hockey who have gone to great lengths to ensure that our sport is as COVID safe as it could possibly be, without testing every player at every club. There was a tangible air of frustration as the ‘last games before Christmas’ came to an end on Saturday, but a renewed hope that we would be back sooner than the 14 weeks we had to endure last time around. England Hockey must now out do themselves once more and not only work with the government to get us back out there, but also ‘think outside the box’ in order to make finishing this season the priority with the restructure just round the corner.
Aside from the obvious benefits of league and community hockey, we have to give clear consideration to the health and mental health benefits that the playing of sport ensure. Its not just the building of a season, extensive high-quality coaching, improving squad depth, boosting club ethos and vital individual and team development that come with successful seasons, but the simple activity, camaraderie and social aspect of playing hockey that is vital to the wellbeing of all our players at every age and level. We simply cannot be kept in captivity for months to come. Every club has forgone the social aspect of the hockey world to ensure the playing side of things has gone smoothly. Countless volunteers have acted as our wonderful COVID officers to ensure social distancing, facility crossovers, training registers, hand sanitisation and match day rosters have been 100% in check, all to enable us to return to the pitch, the only bonus this time around is we have done it all before so we will be ready to step back out there as soon as we get the green light.
England hockey and our five sub regions and county regions need to work together to make sure clubs are given the very best chance to complete the league season. It has not yet been made clear by England Hockey how the new structure will be implemented just yet and what implication league placings may have from this season. In this period of enforced rest, it might be an idea for Ed Barnard and his team to produce a clear guide as to how this season may impact the restructure, this alone might settle some nerves surrounding the current interval. Just on that, there is a real sense of ‘no direction’ from the top as clubs aim to understand what their final standings will mean for next year, what are we actually playing for? It is also widely known that clubs are still in limbo as to which region they may end up in. With everything else in the world creating so much uncertainty, could we see a bit more of the assured leadership from the team at the top that so brilliantly mapped out our return to play after last lock down.
Given that the season started on time and the overall belief and desire was to fit in a ‘normal’ season, it was with great pride and desire that our league and cup structure was firmly put in place for 2020/21. Yes, we all knew there was potential for a few bumps in the road, but we lived in hope that the glory of league titles alongside cup success was possible. However, the break for lockdown #2 and the likelihood of further tier restrictions coming into play, organisers must now be proactive in the road map ahead for the remainder of the season and lighten the burden on clubs to get games in before the summer.
Regions that have so far avoided the tier system will have a minimum of four games to catch up on, some, particularly north of the midlands will have many more to fit in. It would be a sensible option for the powers that be to cancel the cup competitions before they even get started. Free clubs up from that commitment and take the pressure off facilities to fit in a plethora of Sunday cup games. With the lock down set to finish on the 2nd of December, clubs should be given guidance for an immediate return to play, with the period before Christmas used effectively to lighten the impact of the current recess, but not on their own terms, regional and county leagues should take a lead to give clear structure to this period. Clubs should be given between the 2nd and 12th to get back to hockey, even utilise the 5th of December as a preparation date, then the 12th and 19th should be used to catch up on league games with the previously planned 7th and 14th November fixtures played then. The fixtures during lockdown should be delayed, not postponed or rearranged. Then after Christmas we would see another prep week up to the 9th of January when league games would restart for the following 14 weeks, allowing a week off for Easter, with the season finishing on the 17th April. This would not only limit the impact on the 2021 cricket season but would mean clubs all over the country not having to fit in Sunday or midweek double headers. Essentially this would mean extending the season by 4 weeks, something we should have expected as a minimum, given the potential for further disruption from when we returned in September. Any further games that are postponed for weather or isolation can be caught up on the Sunday’s or midweek. Given that there appears to be no impending playoffs, remove the cups and we are then clear to finalise the league set up with few or minimal distractions, we hope. It would prompt a chaotic post-Christmas period if clubs were left to figure out themselves how to fit in the fixtures missed for lock down.
All in all, we must be incredibly grateful to all at England Hockey for getting us back out there last time around, it must not be underestimated just how important it is to have hockey for peoples mental and physical wellbeing. To have been able to play for as long as we did, just over two months of COVID secure friendly and league hockey, shows the world that we are ready to go again. With some strong leadership from England hockey and the regional/county reps, the return to play #2 and the resumption and completion of the league campaign can be done smoothly and effectively with the removal of the cups and extending the season to allow for the current remaining games to, not only be completed on Saturday’s, but also for us to pick up exactly where we left off. Bisham Abbey must decide and communicate how the 2021/22 season will look, clubs are desperate to know what their future holds and clear directives as to how this season may impact the restructure would be most welcome, nationwide. Only time will tell if the government and the powers that be will make the right calls to allow our wonderful sport to lead the way once more in this strange and disrupted world we now live in. Stay positive, stay strong, we will get back out there and we will finish the season.