Published: 00:00, 10 May 2019
Holcombe might not have lifted the EuroHockey Club Trophy on home soil but the impact hosting the tournament had off the field has left the club with a winning feeling.
Thousands of spectators enjoyed what turned out to be four days of fantastic club hockey in spring sunshine as Holcombe ladies finished runners-up over the Easter weekend to an outstanding Spanish side from Madrid.
With their distinctive red volunteer shirts, they weren’t quite buzzing around behind the scenes unnoticed but the drive and enthusiasm the tournament created off the pitch has reconnected many facets of the club.
“The event has re-energised our club, and enthused a lot of our members – even if they were just a spectator,” beamed Holcombe chairman Jon Rye.
“It has galvanised us as a club, everyone was pulling in the right direction. We had players and volunteers all on one team making sure Holcombe Hockey Club was at the forefront of everyone’s minds and that we put on a good show to the hockey community, both countywide and across Europe.”
That’s not to say Holcs were not pulling in the same direction before, but with stellar names in both the men and ladies’ 1st elevens, it’s often been hard not to talk about GB internationals and Holcombe in the same breath.
The club are even guilty by their own admission with Rye confessing: “From the media and the social media we put out at the club there is a focus on the first XIs.
“It is an opportunity to celebrate their success and the players within that – whether that’s our Welsh internationals in the ladies’ team or Barry Middleton and his involvement with GB and England over the years, or someone like Izzy Shelley, who has come through the ranks as a 15-year-old and is now featuring in the firsts.
“There are some great stories coming from that but with 500 members there are a lot of other stories that could and should be told.”
And no story is likely to be bigger than the one that occurred at Holcombe Park as the club took on the job of hosting a European hockey tournament.
It needed a team that money couldn’t buy to succeed and Holcs found it on their own doorstep with nearly 100 volunteers stepping forward to play their part.
From driving the teams from the airport and then back and forth from Holcombe Park to hotels, looking after spectators, or working on the gate, it’s been an extension of what keeps Holcombe – and most other clubs – going.
“The outward perception looking in has been very much in the last few years about our contracted players and the success on the pitch,” added Rye.
“But we are a community club at heart, we have over 500 members – all of whom play their part at the club, whether that’s on the pitch or as a volunteer supporting the club committee.
“We’ve proven that we are a venue that can host a large European event, and we do it very well. With the team of nearly 100 volunteers giving up hours, and when we looked at the hours with Medway Sport we were close to nearly 2,000 voluntary hours just in that four-day period, the feedback that we got from those volunteers, both club members and further afield, was that this was a well-organised event.
“You can rise through the league in terms of ability but you have to maintain the standards that those players are at. When you’re at elite level competition in sport, you have to have the right surface, the right floodlights, or programmes and volunteers that England Hockey request.
“You can have as many teams as you want playing at a high level but you have to have the juniors coming through to sustain the membership, you have to have the volunteers keeping the club alive to maintain those opportunities. If you don’t have the volunteers to drive the club then you don’t have a club.”
Obvious spin-offs include improvements to Holcombe’s impressive facilities. A new water main, event-standard wifi around the ground and a new filming gallery are all obvious gains.
Faced with a 52-page event hosting document just six months before the tournament arrived in Medway, Holcombe’s big days left many outside of their comfort zone.
“It’s interesting for someone who has worked in a lot of events over a number of years, you just roll with it, you do what you need to do and understand the time commitment that’s required,” explained Rye.
“Volunteers come from all walks of life when you bring them into a community sports club and they do not have event experience from the inside. These guys now understand what it takes to run a European hockey event.
“Whether that means they were looking after the crowd for a day, or were with us for five days driving a minibus, they have all had an insight to run a tournament of this magnitude. So anything we undertake going forward means they can believe in themselves and they can believe in ourselves as a club.
“I hope that it has energised other members to put their hand up, whether that’s for one day a week or every so often, our membership will pull together and see us continue to be successful.”
There were plenty of young faces in the crowd during the four days while some members of Holcombe’s junior section got even closer to the action.
“Throughout the event we had a team of 23 ball patrollers aged between 11 and 16,” said Rye. “They were pitchside at a European competition, watching the Spanish play some terrific hockey, watching teams from Ukraine and Russia play a different style from us. They were watching and learning.
“The inspiration has been there from these four days and that will flow through the junior section.”
Sutton Valence School proved invaluable partners, with Rye hoping their success could lead others to step forward.
He added: “Sutton Valence School were a great partner for us, they supported us both financially and the fleet of vehicles they loaned to us.
“We were proud to be associated with them and we could do with more partners like that. There’s a benefit financially but the way I like to work is in partnership – what value can they bring to the membership and what value can they bring to Holcombe Park?
“I see this as a stepping stone into future partnerships with sponsors.”
That’s not the only step forward Holcombe are looking to take. Potential benefits also include ideas to host pre-season tournaments rather than find money to send teams abroad.
Members already feel a greater sense of pride in the club’s off-field progress, and their ball patrol and much-loved volunteers will be back on duty at Holcombe Park for Kent Finals’ Day later this month.
So now the dust has settled, would Holcombe do it all again?
“Not tomorrow… maybe two years!” smiled Rye. “If I said we were going to host it next year a couple of our members might throw something at me!
“But the initial feedback I’ve received from our event team, the volunteers and our members is an incredibly positive one, one I’m very proud of and one that – once the dust settles – they’d love to be involved in again.
“We’ve got two pitches, a great clubhouse and an army of volunteers to put our hand up and be part of that. I’d like to think this is the start of us hosting a series of events at Holcombe Park.”
Read more: All the latest sports news in Kent
This article first appeared in the Medway Messenger on May 2
More by this authorMatthew Panting