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Winning a real Olympic legacy for hockey in York

21st August 2012

York has the north of England’s biggest hockey club, but without new facilities it risks being left behind as the sport develops following the London 2012 Olympics. The club’s Nigel Herd outlines his vision for the future - York as a regional centre of excellence

The new Community Stadium promises to be an excellent sporting asset for York. It has been great to see the council putting its weight behind the move to deliver the facilities which will benefit so many sports in the city. But it is not the fulfillment of every sporting dream.

Playing hockey at top level requires a special surface – a water based astro-turf pitch (ATP) which provides a faster but safer playing surface to bring out the very best in good players. All the leading clubs in the sport have one, and many have similar training pitches too. However, the Community Stadium doesn’t, and neither does anywhere else in York.

City of York Hockey Club is an ambitious organisation with over 600 active members aged from six to 70-plus, including an especially successful 300-strong junior section. It has nurtured some of the UK’s leading players over the years – the likes of international players; Ann Robinson, Dave Rowlands, Andy Humphrey, Paul Bolland and more latterly, Beth Worrall. But hockey is a fast-moving game in more ways than one. In the past decade or more, the switch from grass to ATPs has rendered the club’s existing facilities in Heworth obsolete, literally. No one plays on grass anymore.

Even if the club could afford to install its own state-of-the-art ATP on the club’s grounds, planning restrictions would prevent it from doing so. For now, the club trains and plays home games on lower grade ATPs which it hires from schools, the universities and elsewhere, both inside and outside the City boundaries, but never on the faster water-based pitches that other clubs enjoy. That puts our players at a severe disadvantage in competitions and inevitably has seen, and continues to see, star players moving to other clubs in the county and more widely with better facilities to develop their talent.

Hiring all these pitches also comes at significant expense and, as well as maintaining an aging, remote and underused clubhouse, combines to place financial burdens on the club, including a financial loss for each of its last four years. It also brings logistical challenges and affects the social aspects of the club’s development.

York deserves better but finding the funding, the location and the permission to create the bright hockey future which the city desires is a real challenge. To deliver it requires a monumental team effort but one which I believe the city is ready to embrace.

Put simply, to keep and nurture the talent we have, and to bring new people into the game, young and old, we must do a number of things:

We need to raise the funds to pay for new facilities
By realising our own assets
From our own resources
By accessing other funding sources

That means ensuring that we can get the best value out of our existing facilities, and then finding a new location – to create a facility which provides a resource, not only for our club members, but for schools, colleges and the two universities.

We need to seek out potential partners, other sports and community groups. We are not alone with these problems. For instance, we have been working together with York Vikings Basketball club who are in a similar position, share similar constraints on their development and vision for their future, and are very keen to support this much needed development.

Now we need the wholehearted support of the city council and its officers to move forward.

Previous bids for grants to improve facilities have failed as sports funding at national level has either been diverted to the 2012 games or simply axed through cutbacks. We and others must now put pressure on central government and sports bodies to support our ambition.

The council has been hugely sympathetic, recognising the benefit to the whole city which a thriving hockey community will deliver. We in turn recognise that they aren’t in a position to provide financial support, but they can facilitate the development of the current ground to release funds, and help in our search for a new home for community hockey facilities.

We hope that they will also help to put pressure on public funding to release the financial support we will inevitably need to create a state-of-the-art facility and make York a world-class hockey centre.

We’ve had excellent support too from the universities and local schools who see the real benefits which a teamwork approach will deliver. Nationally, there are 170 formal hockey Club-School Links - we have two of them, way above the average. This is testament to our club’s status and involvement in developing sport within the wider community and particularly with young people.

However, we are at saturation point. We cannot do any more as our resources, both facilities and human (volunteers, coaches, etc…) have peaked and our financial resources are dwindling. Despite all this, we are ready to ready to surge ahead with recruiting new young people to the sport. Already the Olympics have generated new player enquiries for the coming season and whilst we will do our very best to accommodate these, we sincerely hope that we can meet their expectations and keep these people interested in the sport for a long time to come.

We don’t have a stunning blue water-based pitch with pink surround but we do have a desire to take our club further, both in terms of participation and performance.

If the Olympics has taught us anything, it is that there is more to sport than just football and that GB is capable of excelling on a world stage. Team GB’s women’s hockey squad managed to take the bronze medal at this Olympics, the only team sport that succeeded in medalling, and here in York we are ready to play our part in delivering more Yorkshire medals in future games, if we have the facilities and the support to back our drive and ambition.

Together with club members and others, Nigel chairs a task force to implement the city’s hockey vision. The club is looking to speak to other sports clubs and community groups who may be interested in being part of this potential new development. To find out more or to get in touch, visit the club’s website section on future plans and email Nigel at [email protected] © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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