HISTORY MAKING SEASON IN THE WOMEN’S HOCKEY LEAGUE
For the first time since the Women’s Hockey League was formed in 1989-90, Bowdon Hightown will be missing from the Premier Division in the 2020-21 season after their automatic relegation last season. As a result, there will be no northern clubs in the Women’s top flight with teams clustered in the South, West and Midlands.
Surbiton, looking for an eighth successive title, host Buckingham on opening day. Jo Hunter moved to Stowe School during the summer and is in line for an immediate return to her old club. Buckingham have finished fourth in the last three seasons and will want to finish higher after qualifying for Europe by winning the Jaffa Super 6s indoors.
It will also be an historic day for Swansea as they visit Wimbledon for their first ever match in the Premier Division after finishing top of Division One North following the cancellation of the last round of matches. Under normal circumstances the teams would have met in a one-off promotion playoff for the first place in the Premier, Wimbledon winning Division One South to return to the top flight for the first time since 1992-93.
The losers of the playoff would have met the University of Birmingham, ninth place finishers in the Premier last season. Birmingham kept their place in an expanded eleven team division as the playoffs could not take place. Birmingham have to wait until week 2 to start their campaign as they have a bye in week 1.
East Grinstead will have felt that they could have won last season’s title, going 15 games unbeaten after losing their first three games, but had to settle for runners-up spot and a place in Europe. They start their season at Clifton Robinsons, beaten 3-2 by Beeston in the England Hockey Tier One Championship final a fortnight ago.
Beeston themselves have a repeat of last season’s opening fixture when they welcome Hampstead & Westminster to Nottingham. They should go into the match with confidence after their cup win, whilst Hampstead will miss Joyce Esser but welcome Nicola White.
Holcombe had a disappointing season in 2019-20 after challenging for league honours in previous seasons and with a changed squad host Loughborough Students, newly promoted last season and successful in avoiding relegation.
In the Men’s Hockey League, Oxted play their debut Premier Division match at East Grinstead on Sunday after working their way up the leagues over the years and being ever-present members of the Conference East. The restructuring to Division One South saw Oxted finish top and promoted to the Premier, again because the playoffs could not be held. They were promoted with the University of Durham, who will make their debut in the top flight in week 2 as they have a bye in week 1. East Grinstead finished closer to the relegation places than they would have liked and new Head Coach Tim Deakin and Assistant Coach Dave Beckett will want to take the first steps towards bringing back the glory days to Saint Hill.
Surbiton start their title defence at home to Brooklands Manchester University, a fixture which has provided plenty of goals over the years. Unfortunately for Brooklands, last season, Surbiton scored 19 across both fixtures with Brooklands unable to score, a very unusual occurrence as Brooklands rarely fail to score in league games.
Last season’s runners-up, Hampstead & Westminster, make the long trip to the University of Exeter. The playoffs cancellation enabled Exeter to keep their place after finishing ninth and Exeter will be hoping to finish higher after finishing ninth in the last two seasons. Hampstead will want to regain the championship they won in 2019.
Wimbledon are at home to Beeston, who joined their women’s team as Tier One champions after a comprehensive 9-1 win over plucky Fareham last weekend. Wimbledon have lost prolific scorer, Ed Horler, but brought in David Condon and Liam Ansell as they aim to challenge the top two in their quest for a Championship title.
Old Georgians finished fourth in their first ever season in the Premier Division and begin their second with a visit to Holcombe where they just came out on top in a 5-4 thriller after going behind in the first minute. Holcombe finished fifth last season, eleven points behind Old Georgians and will be hoping to close the gap in 2020-21.
There will be two phases to each Premier Division season. Phase 1 will see the eleven teams play their ten opponents once. Phase 2 will see the top six teams after Phase 1 play their five opponents once with the top three teams at the end of Phase 1 earning the third home game. The team finishing top of the top six table will be champions with the other five teams ranked in order.
The lower five teams will play the other four teams home and away (eight matches) with two bye dates as there will be ten rounds of matches in total. The teams in the lower six table will be ranked from seventh to eleventh.
It is planned that the Premier Division will revert back to ten teams for 2021-22 but this will be reviewed in 2021. If the reversion goes ahead, the teams ranked tenth and eleventh will be relegated and the ninth placed team will play the loser of the Division One North/ South playoff. The winner of the Division One North/ South playoff will be promoted.