ABSENT STARS ARE MISSING SKILL THRILLS
The road to Wembley is a short one. To reach Indoor Hockey’s glittering showbiz finale at the SSE Arena teams need to gain one of four semi-final spots on offer over two weekends either side of the Christmas and New Year festivities.
There is no shortage of enthusiasm among the competing squads but those squads look a bit thinner than perhaps they once did with so many star names opting out of the indoor game in favour of either a mid-winter break and Christmas shopping or, for some, the lure of the big money on offer in the Indian Hockey League.
For those of us brought up on the excitement of Finals Night and, more recently, the all day Wembley extravaganza, it’s a crying shame that so many of the big stars are missing out but what an opportunity for others to step into the Wembley spotlight just as Ashley Jackson’s talents were first made public at the start of East Grinstead’s incredible run of eight straight titles.
Among the faithful who travelled in search of a star (and Bromsgrove in December is no Bethlehem!) there was still the same passion that the fast-paced, high-scoring version of hockey has always inculcated.
Richard Organ, for so long a leading exponent of the indoor craft and artistry as a player is now passing on his expertise as coach to the hugely successful East Grinstead club as they look to continue their streak. Richard also has the unenviable task of chairing the England Hockey Indoor Committee against a backdrop of a structure that fails to buy into the benefits of the indoor core skills to the outdoor game.
“For me it’s simple. I use indoors in my coaching throughout the year. If you’ve got good skills: the ability to stop and pass the ball, to make space for yourself and your teammates, you will be a really good hockey player. The required skill set is magnified indoors where the intensity is greater and you have to make good decisions under pressure. I think it should be an integral part of our coaching – particularly for young players.”
England’s head coach for both Men and Women’s Indoor squads, Andy Halliday, is uniquely placed to see and perhaps unravel the dilemma. Halliday in his playing days was something of an Indoor specialist in a St Albans side who were as dominant then as East Grinstead are today.
“The advent of 3D skills in the outdoor game has changed things,” he told me. “The tight marking and low defending skills that used to be so vital can look very planted and flat footed today.”
Another former indoor star, Mark Pearn, is now player-coach with the ambitious Surbiton Club sees it slightly differently;
“For me it’s about the improved understanding of space, where you move to, finding the channels. A good indoor player takes those skills outdoors where there is more time to make decisions. First touch is key, then it’s knowing where the space is, being disciplined and working as a team – all transferable skills. Great sides pool all the experiences. At EG we had Richard (Leman) and Scott (Ashdown) but once we got on the court each player had to make their own decisions. It’s not about great individuals so much as creating fantastic teams.”
But what to the current players think? Simon Faulkner captains East Grinstead and hopes to be lifting the trophy again at Wembley:
“We are aware of the pressure on us as we look to create an indoor dynasty at the club. I joined when the likes of Mark (Pearn ) and Glen Kirkham were coming towards the end of their playing careers at EG. Now with a new squad there is a willingness to continue winning.
“I have benefitted from playing indoors in Germany with Blau Weiss and I would love to see a longer indoor season in England too. The German conveyor belt of success is built on developing great core skills via the indoor game.”
Another who has benefitted from the German league experience is former Harvestehuder and now Surbiton high scorer Brendan Creed. He said: “The big difference is the junior set up. In my club we had four or five teams per age group playing indoors all with great core skills. I’d love to see more of an indoor season as its pretty much a different game.”
But what of Wembley? Can Surbiton end East Grinstead’s incredible run of titles?
“Well it would be naive to get too far ahead of ourselves. We are a new team but we just want to put ourselves in a position where we have the chance,” added Brendan.
Pearn added: “My heart and head are with Surbiton now and indoor hockey needs a new champion. If we can give ourselves the opportunity we won’t miss it.”
The indoor game and its future continues to divide opinion but those who are its keenest proponents have lost none of their passion for the competition.
The German conveyor belt of success is built on developing great core skills via the indoor game
All about space: Mark Pearn is player-coach at Surbiton