Togetherness drives hockey club to ever greater heights

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Hockey, for all its popularity within St Andrews – with the women’s section of the club being the single most subscribed-to sporting institution this side of Glenrothes – has never truly enjoyed the resources such interest would appear to justify.

Indeed, to paint the true picture of the club back in 2012 is to paint a picture of a club whose own members largely coached themselves; sheer enthusiasm for the sport sustaining the BUCS-competitive standards of hockey that would otherwise surely have dipped.

Talking to Mike Thompson, the president of the club,during an intense pre-season, it is clear that no-one at the club would have had it any other way.

As someone who freely admits that he would “happily talk about hockey all day” were it not for life’s natural interruptions, Mike personifies the spirit that has seen the club dramatically readjust its ambitions in recent seasons. With a distinct lack of any hint of weariness, he recites the current weekly routine of the men’s first and second teams as “two training sessions”, “two strength-and-conditioning evenings”, and – most impressively of all “up to three competitive matches a week”.

Many of these sessions are still taken by Mike himself, which again serves to highlight, in even starker terms, the continual discrepancy between enthusiasm and resources at the club. Even the addition of men’s coach Jamie Carnegie in 2012 was only a part-time appointment, even if his involvement has had a huge influence on the club.

That being said, the men’s section is increasingly attempting (as far as is possible) to adopt procedures akin to the ‘director’ system employed by other sports clubs, with Carnegie actively attempting to entice all potentially interested freshers via email before they have even joined the University.

Evidently, such hard work is paying dividends, to say the least. At the first men’s pre-season session, some 27 freshers were in attendance, a frankly phenomenal feat of advertising given the obvious accommodation difficulties faced by students who, at the time pre-season took place, were not really official students at all. Mike glowingly reports that three or four have even secured provisional places in the first teamsquad before a competitive hockey ball has been struck in anger, perhaps the ultimate testament to the club’s desire to aspire to standards at the very upper limit of its means.

Indeed, where avoiding relegation was once the aim of several teams at the club, nowadays the club is a stallwart of the league and they can set their sights even higher. Outright victory would leave a sweet taste in the mouth but promotion is more than doable. What is more, this aim is not simply borne of an “in-it-to-win-it” mentality; rather, it reflects an ability and level of success across all teams at the club that genuinely justifies promotion as a realistic target for many of them.

The women’s first team were promoted themselves last season up to the top tier of BUCS with a hugely impressive goal difference of +31. The women’s second team managed a very accomplished second in the third tier. Any talk of securing promotion this season is most certainly not hot air. The women’s third and fourth teams demonstrated the club’s strength-in-depth, consolidating their respective league positions and enjoying considerable success in the Conference Plate, the Thirdsrunners-up and the Fourthsreaching the semis.

The Men’s Firsts comfortably secured third place in BUCS 1A last year and with the addition of three or four freshers replacing leavers such as Dodes Page there is no reason the team cannot improve even further.

The return as postgraduates of James Miles and Max Schulz means the club is not lacking in the top talent to mount a serious title charge this time. Interestingly, their third place in 1A was in fact aided by a win in the cup, hard-fought against a team in a higher league, leading to a surge of victorious momentum which shows no signs of slowing into the new campaign. Beating the European Hockey League team Kelburne on penalty flicks was unprecedented for the club.

Meanwhile, the men’s secondsmaintained their status in 3A, and though promotion is perhaps not the obvious goal this year, providing in-form players to cover for the firsts is historically, what they’ve done exceedingly well. Evidently, the integrated nature of the club transcends the relative successes or failures of any individual season.

Regarding the club’s current and future prospects, therefore, it is hard to feel anything other than emboldened. Perhaps the most heartening insight Mike offers is the way the club’s on-pitch success is matched by a widespread sense of comradeship off it.

The committee contains members from all teams at the club, a state of affairs reflected in weekly socials, which are likewise attended by players of every level. Mike talks of how “everyone knows everyone else”, and that any fresher who finds the step up to university level daunting is not simply expected to make the leap seamlessly, but rather, is actively integrated into both training schedules and socials.

Accordingly, anyone facing difficulties knows help is available, and most crucially of all – feels comfortable asking for it. The women’s section even raised £760 recently for charity via their ‘Wet Wednesdays’ scheme of socials, the precise nature of which appears shrouded in mystery, at least to those in the men’s section.

The only real negative for the club stems from this very positive. For all its unity and charitable spirit, Thomas bemoans the lack of any notorious incidents between team mates; nothing sufficiently comedic or controversial to have become enshrined in St Andrews hockey legend. Of course, away days with obligatory post-match pints abound.

It is just that, as he drolly puts it, “everyone really gets on too well”. Which, with the five sessions of hockey per week (double fitness withstanding), is something no-one at the Hockey Club would have any other way.

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