The game of Hockey is played widely across the world. In England it is a popular family orientated sport, played mainly in clubs by both men and women. The game is well-liked in many schools, particularly in the independent sector and offers a lifetime of both sporting and social opportunities for players, officials and administrators alike.
Hockey or "field hockey" as it is also known (to differentiate it from ice hockey) is an 11-a-side game played on a pitch 100 yards by 60 yards (91.4 metres x 55 metres) with a ball which has a 23cm circumference. Each player has a stick with a rounded head to play the ball with the ultimate aim of scoring goals by putting the ball in the other team’s goal. Sticks are about a metre long and weigh between 340g and 790g.
The rules of hockey are very similar to the rules of football except that players must use sticks instead of their feet to play the ball. There are 11 players on a team made up of a Goalkeeper, Defenders, Midfielders and Attackers. The only player on the field who is allowed to use their feet and hands as well as their stick is the goalkeeper.
The season in England lasts from September until May.
The history of the game
The origins of the game can be traced back to the earliest civilizations of the world, but the modern game of field hockey was developed in the British Isles. The modern game was started in England in the mid 1800's as an alternative to football for cricketers seeking a winter sport.
The first organised club was the Blackheath Football and Hockey Club, which dates back to at least 1861. Another London club, Teddington, helped refine the game by introducing a number of the modern rules and concepts, including the introduction of a sphere shaped ball, which replaced a rubber cube. Most importantly, they instituted the striking circle, which was incorporated into the rules of the newly founded Hockey Association (Men’s) in London in 1886. The All England Women’s Hockey Association was then founded in 1895, becoming the first women’s national sporting Governing Body.
The game spread throughout the British Empire, largely due to the British Army and this is one reason why India, Pakistan and Australia are so formidable (all were British colonies). Today, field hockey is played all over the world by a variety of countries and field hockey is currently recognised as the second largest team sport in the world, after football.
The international game
The first men's international match was held between England and Ireland on 16th March 1895 at Richmond Hockey Club - England finished as 5-0 victors. The women played their first official international match on 2nd March 1896 when they travelled to Dublin to contest Ireland. The Emerald Isle won the match 2-0 with both goals coming in the first half.
Men's field hockey first featured in the London Olympics of 1908 but the women's game was not introduced to the Olympics until the Moscow Games of 1980. The highlight for the British game was an Olympic Gold medal for the men in 1988 (Seoul) being the third time gold had been achieved with the other successes coming in 1908 and 1920. The British Women's team won a Bronze medal at the 1992 games (Barcelona).
The Men's World Cup was introduced in 1971. England's best success to date in the World Cup came in 1986 where the men finished with a silver medal after losing 2-1 to Australia in the final, hosted on home soil at Willesden. The women won the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations (IFWHA) tournament against Wales in Edinburgh, 1975, the tournament that preceded the World Cup which was introduced in 1979.
For many years the women played an annual international fixture at Wembley Stadium,
regularly attracting over 50,000 spectators. The first international at Wembley was held in 1951 when England beat Ireland 6-1. March 1978 saw a record breaking crowd of 65,000 pack into Wembley to watch England draw 2-2 with the USA.
Clubs in Europe
Clubs representing England in Europe have enjoyed a number of successes over the years. There are two competitions in the women's game - the EuroHockey Club Championships and the Cup Winners Cup. The men's game was also played in this format until the 2007/08 season when the Euro Hockey League was introduced. Akin to football's Champions League, the competition was introduced to make the sport 'sexier' and more attractive to television with many games being screened live on Eurosport. Cannock, Reading and Loughborough Students all represented England in the inaugral season.
Europe's elite competition for women is the EuroHockey Club Championships. No English side has ever won Gold in this competition - although Slough finished in top spot of the Trophy competition (equivelant of the 'second division' of the Championships) in 1983 in Paris. Leicester came close to Gold in 2007, but lost out to Den Bosch in the final by one goal. Canterbury also won silver in 2006 with Olton & West Warwickshire claiming a second placed finish in 2003. Slough have won silver three times in 1998, 1996 and 1991. Bronze medals have been won by Hightown (2005, 1997), Slough (2002, 1999, 1993) and Ipswich (1994).
There have been several silvers for clubs in the Women's Cup Winners Cup; Chelmsford (2005), Canterbury (2004), Leicester (2002), Ipswich (1997), Slough (1995 and Hightown (1993). Bronze medals have been achieved by Leicester (2006, 1994) and Slough (2003).
Clubs and competitions
The heartbeat of the game is within a thriving club structure, of which there are 1050 in England varying in size. A typical hockey club consists of around four to six adult teams although many are much bigger and some will consist of only one team. A lot of clubs run active youth sections offering young people the opportunity not only to play, but the chance to encourage their personal development and interest within a sport.
The majority of hockey is played in leagues with local county and regional associations offering players weekly matches throughout the season. The league structure has a successful national hockey league at the top of a pyramid, which has a strong regional and county based competition structure below it.
The game is now played almost exclusively on artificial grass pitches. They offer a greatly improved surface compared to the traditional grass pitches, which were often the winter reincarnation of cricket fields. As more artificial pitches were developed during the 1980’s, many hockey clubs moved away from grounds shared with cricket clubs and migrated to sites that offered the use of an artificial pitch. Today there are many clubs that use and often share local authority owned facilities. Several clubs have been able to develop specialist facilities often in partnership within larger sports clubs.
The evolution of the playing surface from grass to artificial pitches saw the game change dramatically, with players able to control the ball more easily. The range of skills demonstrated and the speed of the ball has made hockey a faster and more exciting game. In recent years, pitches have developed further with water being used as a shock absorber. This development has again created a new, if expensive, progression for the modern game.
Hockey is played mainly outdoors but there is a variation of the game played indoors (six a side). The indoor game is less popular in England than other parts of the world but offers an even faster version of the game and provides the country with the biggest annual domestic event in the form of the National Indoor Hockey Championships. Played every January, the Championships attracts a regular crowd of over 3,500 and the indoor game was given a big boost in 2008 as England returned to the international arena for the first time in almost 10 years. The EuroHockey Indoor Nations Challenge was hosted at Sheffield's Ponds Forge Facility and saw England men earn promotion to Europe's 'second division', but unfortunately, the women fell at the last hurdle and lost out to Denmark in the final meaning they remained in the Challenge competition.
Zone Hockey is an adapted version of hockey that can include players of all abilities. It is ideal for players with special needs, but offers opportunities for integration with the able bodied.
Zone Hockey is an adapted version of hockey developed between Nottingham Trent University, the Youth Sport Trust and England Hockey. Other supporting partners include Disability Sport, the British Wheelchair Sports Foundation and staff and pupils of the participating schools. It is a 5 a-side game and can be played both outside on a hard surface, on a quarter of an artificial turf pitch, or inside a sports hall. The combination of small-sided teams and adapted playing areas ensure a type of involvement in the game that will provide children with enjoyment and success.
Girls and boys, both disabled (suitable for electric wheelchair users, manual wheelchair users, ambulant and semi-ambulant youngsters) or non-disabled, can participate side by side in what is a high scoring, fast moving, fun game of hockey.