As we kick off a great weekend of Club hockey with all our European Club championships taking place, we take this time to highlight our EHF Club of the Year Winner (Large), Sevenoaks HC. Our previous profile saw EHF Club of the Year Winner (Small) Uddingston HC told us about their club, their past and what lies ahead. In this edition, Sevenoaks HC President Iain Pearson tells us of his club’s family tradition, forming a strong basis for club success.
Tell us a little about the history of your club and how it has become what it is today
Sevenoaks Hockey Club started early in 1912, with fifteen members forming a mixed team. One of the first Annual General Meetings was held at half time during a game and we still have the minutes – hand written in a school exercise book!
Stability has been important at Sevenoaks Hockey Club. Several families have two or even three generations of players and this has helped the club retain the friendly atmosphere of an extended family. In 2012, we celebrated our Centenary with matches played on the grass with 1912 equipment and rules and the players arriving by horse drawn bus. Since 1963, our clubhouse has been at the Vine pavilion in partnership with the Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club – one of the oldest cricket clubs in the world. With all competitive hockey now played on artificial turf, the Club has refurbished and manages the Hollybush Lane pitch. We also play on pitches at four local schools.
Our membership has grown steadily over the years, from 5 teams in 1953, to 10 in 1983 and now reaching 19 adult sides. We run 11 regular Men’s sides, including 3 veterans’ teams and 1 youth development squad and 8 regular Ladies teams, including 1 youth development team. Our Junior Section is also thriving, with over 550 children aged from 5 – 16 being coached every Sunday by some 80 adult volunteers and coaches. In total, we now have almost 900 members.
The club prides itself on welcoming everyone. It offers hockey and development to all children or adults from those picking up a stick for the first time to established or aspiring internationals. Above all, it offers a great welcome in a sociable, family friendly atmosphere.
Our senior sides play at the top levels in the country, with both Ladies’ and Men’s 1st XIs in the National League (EHL Conference East). In the previous season (2014/15), our Men’s 1st XI went unbeaten through the league season to win promotion back to that level. In Indoor hockey, our Men play in the National Premier Division, while our women competed in Division 2. We have also enjoyed success at the other end of the age range, with our Women’s Masters winning the National Cups in 2014/15 both for O35’s and for O45’s (with both finals played on the same day!) and our Men’s O50’s winning the National Trophy. We produce a steady stream of County and Regional players and several of our players have received international honours during this period as well.
What does 2016 have in store for your club?
Our priority during 2016 will be to continue offer hockey at all levels, to all members in a family friendly, inclusive environment.
At the elite level, our aim is to strengthen the position of our 1st XIs in their current outdoor leagues, with both aiming to reach the National Premier Divisions within the next few years. This will require continued investment in training structures and focus on player development and recruitment. In the case of the Ladies, the successful identification and appointment of a new coach will be critical to this plan. Indoors, the men will be looking to repeat their recent successes in the Premier Division, whilst the women have the challenge of winning a return to the National Divisions.
At the other end of the scale, we are running “Back to Hockey” sessions for both men and women. Take up continues to be encouraging and this year we started another team in the local league composed almost entirely of players recruited via the scheme. We have also started an additional veteran’s team.
In the Junior section, we aim to offer opportunities for all children wanting to take up or improve their hockey. We will be looking to strengthen our links to local schools, both by sending our coaches to provide coaching at the schools, as well as making our home pitch available to them at reduced rates. We will continue to run hockey camps during the school holidays. For those juniors already playing hockey, we are improving the pathway for juniors making the transition to senior hockey. This would also allow early identification and development of those juniors with the potential to challenge for international honours.
We are also investing in the skills of our current coaches and umpires, as well as encouraging others to take up those roles.
All of these initiatives require funding which cannot depend only on members’ subscriptions and match fees. For that reason, we have been working hard to increase our income via sponsorship. We are also very grateful to the Club’s sponsors, especially Savills, Rencraft and our kit suppliers Grays International and Bat & Ball Sports who have done so much to make our success possible. One of our key objectives for 2016 is to improve the package for both our existing & potential sponsors which will enable them to gain exposure to the local and wider community whilst allowing the club to pursue its development opportunities.
What main targets does your club have over the next 2- 3 years?
Looking further ahead, we will be looking to develop our existing facilities as well as seeking to set up new ones. The next 2 years will see us re-lay the carpet on our existing main pitch whilst, at the same time, making improvements to the floodlights and dug-outs. The funding to cover this project is already in place, but we will be continue to work towards increasing the reserves in our facilities fund in order to support our objective of acquiring a second pitch in due course.
We believe we will continue to be successful in increasing hockey participation within the Sevenoaks area. Although this brings many benefits to all concerned, it does create its own challenges in terms of ensuring that all members feel equally at home and provided for. One of our key objectives is to ensure that we provide the infrastructure necessary to make this happen. Our 5 year development plan identifies the steps to be taken to ensure that the club retains its ethos of providing a family friendly, inclusive environment, but which also gives all, including the most talented, the chance to reach their potential and achieve their aspirations.
What does winning Club of the Year mean to your Club?
We are delighted that the European Hockey Federation recognises clubs like ours which seek to retain their character whilst also striving for excellence. We have a profound respect for what has been achieved in hockey by the great clubs in Europe and we are deeply honoured even to be considered amongst them.
This is a wonderful accolade for all our energetic volunteers, coaches and players who make Sevenoaks Hockey Club what it is today. It has been a real team effort both across the Club and over generations who have given so much to our hockey over many years.
Inspired by this award, we look forward to building an even better Club for the future – both on and off the pitch and with our local community.