Preston hockey stars win national league
PUBLISHED: 08:33 25 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:54 20 February 2013
A group of women from across Lancashire fought their way to the big time of league hockey. Roger Borrell reports
Anyone who has shivered in their shin-pads wondering where the next well-smote, rock-hard hockey ball was coming from will have rapidly realised this is not a game for a big girls blouse.
Take poor, brave Jane Wilson, who broke her nose in the cause of her team, the Springfields UCLan Hockey Club. The 31-year-old Blackpool lass made a full recovery and she has since had a baby girl.
Nevertheless, she is champing at the bit to return to the fray. And who could blame her? For Springfields distinctive yellow shirts will be the only north west team to grace the national first division of womens hockey this coming season.
They achieved this remarkable promotion after a nail-biting end-of-season when they had to win their remaining games. They did it in style, winning the last 6-1 away from home.
It was a bit of a shock, to be honest, says team captain Leanne Sharples, a PE teacher at Lancaster Grammar School for Girls. We had quite a celebration and then we realised just how daunting it was going to be playing in the top flight!
Not just daunting, but also expensive as travel costs rack up while visiting the far-flung corners of the elite league. Its massively important that we get some sponsorship, adds Leanne.
In the past, they have relied on local benefactors such as Fran Lotter-Thompson, who is club chairman and a former coach. She is so passionate about the Springfields, she even has a yellow car to match the shirts. However, members realise promotion means they need to look further afield for help.
As well as playing at weekends, the first team trains at Myerscough College on Wednesdays and builds up fitness levels at their home base, Preston Sports Arena, on Thursdays. The highly-successful, nationally accredited club started in the early 60s as the British Nuclear Fuels team but the now independent club has nine squads - two men, four women and a thriving junior section.
Martin Stringfellow, a coach for 25 years, helped guide the women through their successful season. The important thing is to get them operating as a group rather than as individuals, he says. Girls need to bond and have belief in each other as well as developing self-confidence. Men are the opposite - they think theyre supermen when theyre not.
As another ball heads in a potentially painful trajectory towards the goalkeeper, Martin adds: You do need to be brave and there is an element of danger because of the hard ball thats used. But again, it comes down to confidence. If you are scared of the ball, you are more likely to be hit.
Leanne, who was one of the leagues top goal scorers along with teammates Hannah Minto and Emma Noakes, adds: Its fast and its thrilling and its great fun for lots of different levels of abilities and ages.
Their feat is particularly striking because a couple of seasons ago they narrowly missed promotion and eight team members walked out. We had to rebuild the team, says Leanne. The girls who left might now be regretting it!