Could Gloucester Hockey get its own ground and club house?
In a county fixated on rugby and starved of live action through coronavirus it can be difficult to see beyond the oval ball – but there is another sport with great ambitions.
Streamlining of media coverage in recent years can give the impression only a handful of sports exist, but the game of hockey is strong in Gloucestershire.
And ambitions are afoot at one of the county’s strongest clubs to take the game to a whole new level – embrace an even wider community which would ideally include a ground and headquarters for the club.
It will not take long for chairman of Gloucester City Hockey Club, Anton de Leeuw, to convince you – perhaps unsurprisingly when you learn his day job is as an entrepreneur and turnaround specialist for Salus Group Limited tackling not just performance within business but culture change.
His enthusiasm and energy are infectious and his hockey pedigree equally robust.
But it is commercial concerns that have troubled him most coming through the lockdown, which as with all sports has torpedoed playing activity – putting on ice the lucrative summer league.
“Without it we would start the new season without a cash buffer,” said Mr De Leeuw, chairman for the last two years of the club – which can trace its history back almost as far as Gloucester Rugby.
“The club is 123 years old,” said Mr de Leeuw. “We are enjoying really good growth across a number of our teams.”
And with cash reserves at the club, no one is panicking.
Squads include a thriving junior section, three men's teams playing in the Verde Recreo Hockey League, four women's teams, three playing in the West Clubs’ Hockey League and the Ladies 1st XI playing in the Investec Women's Hockey League Conference West.
In addition, there is mixed and veterans' hockey and beginner level and walking hockey played on four pitches cross the city.
“I would like to see membership reach 500,” said Mr de Leeuw, a former international goalkeeper in his native South Africa, and then there was the recent return to international duties at veteran level after years of coaching.
He believes passionately in opening up the game to all communities and has a way non-Brits do of looking past our inherent class issues and taking you with him.
Hockey, he says, tends to be played in private schools more than state schools reinforcing a mindset he is happy to deconstruct.
“I believe in the power of sport to take people on a journey and give them purpose and friends for life,” he said, and we take a brief detour to from his early days in youth hockey and a discussion about the mindset of the South African Rugby World Cup team which beat England in Japan in 2019 (before we wrestle him away from the subject).
The 500 membership figure is also about his commercial ambitions for the club – a magic number which could see it become sustainable in a way it has never achieved before, and which brings us back to the aforementioned facilities.
“We are creating a lot of momentum. But we need to run the club more like a business and that will allow us to open up the doors to more people to enjoy the sport.
“It is 123 years old and it does not even have its own pitches or club house. I think we can achieve that,” he said, adding it was something the club could probably not achieve on its own. Conversations have apparently already been taking place about how this could become a reality.
He describes England Hockey’s relationship manager for the West, Verity Langfield, as “amazing”.
“We see eye to eye on professionalism. We have shared many healthy debates on how to improve hockey in Gloucester,” said Mr De Leeuw, adding more than once – in case we were unsure – just how much he thinks of the club he represents.
“Gloucester City Hockey Club is amazing."
To find out more visit Gloucester City Hockey Club.