What do you know about hockey?
Here’s the thing. Anyone who knows about hockey probably needs no introduction to Beeston Hockey club – aka The Bees. The Men’s and Ladies’ first teams play in the country’s top leagues including winning league titles and the national cup. The club regularly churns out international players including the likes of former Great Britain captain Adam Dixon and counts Olympic gold medallist Hollie Webb among its alumni. We’re talking serious sports here, by which I mean that if hockey had the money behind it that football does, we’d have a globally famous sports club on our doorstep. The fact is that there isn’t generally much fuss about hockey.
For most people hockey is unlikely to be a specialist subject on Mastermind. Perhaps the word conjures the classic stereotypes from “a girls’ game” to “bloody dangerous”. Perhaps you were one of the more than 10 million who tuned in to watch Great Britain’s Women’s team win the gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Perhaps you want to know what it’s like to actually play at a realistic level, an achievable level, a normal-human-not-Olympian level.
Allow me to take you by the hand and introduce you to club hockey at Beeston.
Hockey, obviously. A fast-paced, skillful, non-contact sport. To play at the top level you’ll need considerable fitness – studies show hockey players cover more ground in a game than almost any other sport, averaging around five miles a match. Of course if that’s not your kind of thing, one of the lower teams or even the club bar might be a better fit for you. Beeston has you covered.
The season runs September to March (but we don’t let that stop us playing socially in the summer). Adult league matches are every Saturday with training on various weekday evenings. Junior training and matches are on Sundays.
Beeston HC resides at Nottingham Hockey Centre on University Boulevard. Known as ‘the Highfields site’ – land gifted to the community for sports and recreation by Nottingham hero Jesse Boot – it currently houses six artificial turf pitches including those funded by Nottingham University and Nottingham High School. Whilst it is the largest hockey site in the world outside the Netherlands, the single most significant provision for some is going to be the Stick and Pitcher bar which boasts a viewing balcony, draught beers and food. Such are the delights of a post-training sausage sandwich and hot chocolate on a Sunday morning, it was years before my kids confessed that the hockey was a secondary concern to the snacks.
For youngsters from as tiny as four upwards the junior setup is a huge and thriving beast with hundreds of kids. Coaching is provided by the keener members including some of the club’s top players. First team members from when I joined Beeston twenty years ago are now training juniors (including their own children) as part of raising the next generation of players.
Juniors are incorporated in the adult league sides from age fourteen. This is the benefit of a skill-based sport; teenagers can share a pitch with adults and still contribute and develop. A number of fathers, for example, play alongside their sons – presumably doubling the joy or despair in the household depending on the results. With nine men’s teams, seven ladies’ teams, juniors, over 40s veterans and a mixed side, there’s somewhere for everyone and, with so many sides, the range of ability is huge but the passion and competition are present in every team.
What’s the vibe?
Community. The sort of community that will support you, challenge you and laugh with you and at you. This means treating you like family, including a healthy degree of mickey-taking. Nicknames abound and there is always recognition for the best player in a match and light-hearted nominations for anyone who has embarrassed themselves for any reason. These “reasons” can include obvious mistakes like passing the ball to the opposition or dafter non-hockey activities such as displaying an excessive commitment to 1980s rock music or needing a lift home from a random location after a heavy night out. The friendships within the club are enduring and close with multiple instances of teammates who end up as ushers and bridesmaids at each others’ weddings and godparents to each other’s children.
It’s not all inward-facing either: Beeston and the Nottingham Hockey Centre are also active in wider community events – hosting a charity Movember event for Nottingham University, teaming up with Belong Nottingham in their work with refugees, a Work-Train-Play scheme to help people to pursue a career path that will set them up for a life beyond hockey, a Flyerz hockey squad enabling disabled and non-disabled players to play together. It is a source of pride that Beeston not only continues to support itself as a club, but has also raised over £135,000 for charity.
What if I don’t play?
Happily there are lots of opportunities to watch high level hockey on your doorstep in Beeston including multiple international fixtures held at the Hockey Centre. And if that metaphorical doorstep is still too far, you can find live coverage of matches online on the dedicated YouTube channel Bee TV.
So, if you’re keen, competitive or simply curious, take a walk (or a tram) down to University Boulevard and see what all the fuss isn’t about.