RUTLAND Hockey Club’s men’s and women’s teams begin their league season tomorrow with the ladies aiming for promotion but the men, after several successful years, fighting for survival.
The men’s side, which only two years ago fielded five sides at various levels of the East League has been reduced to single side, and although two women’s sides will compete, head coach Dave Richardson warns men’s hockey faces an uncertain future in the county.
The core of the Rutland side was built around young talent but Richardson’s squad has been decimated by departures in recent years.
“The seconds have folded,” he said. “The problem is that we have a few who have gone to university and others to play at private schools, and that fewer and fewer people between 25 and 35 participate in team sport.”
The withdrawal of players being offered scholarships to play for school sides has had a major impact on his sides and he says: “In total we lost five or six boys.
“They play for schools on Saturdays and I will soon lose three or four to university, and more to gap years. We can get a first team through this season but we can’t continue like this.
“We could be one of the strongest counties in the country. Our U18s beat the national champions last year.”
Despite the men’s first team dropping to a lower division at the end of last season, he added: “Due to the fall in numbers we shall not be challenging for promotion but I think we should be safely in mid-table.”
Fortunately it’s a different situation at the ladies’ wing of the club, where captain Kim Cooil says they have enough players to field more than the current two teams.
She said: “In terms of the first team, we are looking to get promoted, and I think we have a very god chance of getting in the top three.
“Our second team went up last year so their aim is to consolidate that position.”
She predicts Newmarket and Spalding will provide Rutland’s biggest test this season, adding: “We lost a friendly on Saturday but it was encouraging because we had a lot of youngsters, and we tried a few different things out.
“What has also been pleasing is that we have had four or five new players come in. There was a couple who have been on our radar for years, and a couple that have been at the club’s academy.”
Training for the men’s and ladies teams takes place on Mondays and Fridays at Stamford School’s artificial pitches in Kettering Road, with the mixed teams training at Oakham School’s Kilburn Road pitches.
For details, see www.pitchero.com/clubs/rutland.