Three-way part­ner­ship earns Leeds high sta­tus

Claire Mid­dle­ton sees how a plan to reach the Na­tional League has come to fruition

The Hockey Paper - - CLUB SPOTLIGHT -

LEEDS Hockey Club are toast­ing their el­e­va­tion to the men’s Na­tional League – clinched this week fol­low­ing their run­away ex­ploits in the North­ern Premier.

It’s a three-pronged cel­e­bra­tion thanks to a ground-break­ing part­ner­ship be­tween a lo­cal club and two aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, a coali­tion which they hope can now help them chal­lenge on a na­tional level.

Re­mark­ably, it has all come about in only five years.

The part­ners in this suc­cess­ful en­ter­prise, which has brought Na­tional League hockey to Leeds for the first time, are Leeds Hockey Club, Leeds Univer­sity and Leeds Beck­ett Univer­sity. “Leeds Univer­sity had a team in the North­ern Premier League but they strug­gled to get above mid-ta­ble and for such a big city it was a shame there was no Na­tional League side,” says Carl Smith, the Head of Hockey at Leeds Univer­sity. “We started plan­ning to gain Na­tional League sta­tus five years ago and three years ago we merged the two uni­ver­si­ties and Leeds Hockey Club, bas­ing our­selves at Sports Park Weet­wood. More than a mil­lion pounds have been spent on the out­stand­ing hockey fa­cil­i­ties over the last three years, in­clud­ing a new wa­ter-based pitch last year.

“Pre­vi­ously, the univer­sity teams were not able to call on ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers and they also had no com­mu­nity in­volve­ment so there was no junior set-up.

“The merger has al­lowed us to field a first team which is around one-third stu­dents from Leeds Uni, one-third Leeds Beck­ett stu­dents and one-third lo­cal play­ers or alumni who have stayed around the city, led by for­mer junior in­ter­na­tional coach Lewis Butcher.” he says.

“We are able to pro­vide po­ten­tial stu­dents to ei­ther univer­sity with a hockey out­put, as the likes of Not­ting­ham, Durham and Birm­ing­ham have been able to do for a while, and the uni­ver­si­ties can use hockey to drive their re­cruit­ment.

“We’ve gone from run­ning five men’s and three ladies’ teams three years ago to sup­port­ing eight men’s and five women’s sides now. We also have a thriv­ing junior sec­tion with around 180 kids aged un­der 16 bring­ing suc­cess at that level.”

The club are also chuffed to have at­tained Eng­land Hockey’s Big Club Sta­tus (for clubs with more than 500 mem­bers) and hav­ing achieved their first ob­jec­tive with the men’s side, are now plan­ning the same for the women.

The men won the North­ern Premier League at a canter, se­cur­ing pro­mo­tion with five games to go.

The women are in a tight race for pro­mo­tion them­selves and are al­ready build­ing and strength­en­ing for the 2017-18 sea­son.

The suc­cess of this has been pre­dom­i­nately cre­ated through the strong part­ner­ship be­tween the club and Leeds Beck­ett Univer­sity.

Key driv­ers in the merger have been Carl, Oliver Lum­ley, the head of hockey at Leeds Beck­ett and David Bond, per­for­mance sport man­ager at Leeds Univer­sity and Gawaine Macken­zie-Hogg, per­for­mance direc­tor at Leeds Hockey Club and op­er­a­tions man­ager at Sports Park Weet­wood.

Carl said: “All the in­sti­tu­tions have a say on the man­age­ment com­mit­tee and our mem­ber­ship is prob­a­bly 50 per cent stu­dents. Our junior sec­tion is go­ing through the roof and are now chal­leng­ing for hon­ours on a lo­cal, York­shire level.”

Leeds is a ma­jor city and it now has the Na­tional League side it de­serves. The North­ern Con­fer­ence had bet­ter watch out.

Pitch per­fect: Leeds have reached Eng­land Hockey’s Big Club sta­tus

Fields of dreams: Sports Park Weet­wood, home of Leeds Hockey Club

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