SJA award recognises hockey’s annus mirabilis

At yesterday’s SJA British Sports Awards, Philip Kimberley (right) and David Faulkner collected the JL Manning Award for outstanding contribution to sport off the field of play, on behalf of England Hockey, after a year that included winning the European Championship and Ashley Jackson being named the world’s young player of the year.

Here BILL COLWILL details hockey’s outstanding 2009

What a year it has been.

On the pitches, it did not start very well for hockey. The summer started with the dismal performance from the men’s under-21 squad in the Junior World Cup in Malaysia and Singapore, where they finished in 16th place after losing their final game on penalty strokes to South Africa, after a 2-2 draw at the end of extra time.

Extenuating circumstances of heat and humidity, travelling to games in another country and a young squad have been offered; nevertheless it is by a long way the worst ever result of a junior squad and leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Then, in July, the women’s Champions Trophy results in Sydney were disappointing, particularly the final 7-0 defeat at the hands of China in the last game to cement a bottom place finish. England women’s junior squad then brought some relief to the gloom with a very satisfactory fourth finish in their World Cup, only going down 2-1 to Korea in their final game. They should be well pleased to finish ahead of Australia and Germany.

The busy summer finished for both senior sides in Amstelveen at the end of August on a high. England’s senior women won their third successive European bronze medal, while the men took their first ever European gold after a famous victory in the final over Germany.

Throughout the ups and downs of this on-the-field activity the aim, enthusiasm, determination and commitment of David Faulkner, the Great Britain and England performance director since April 2000, has been inspirational.

He has never flinched. Faulkner, himself a Olympic gold medallist from Seoul 21 years ago, has made it clear throughout the restructuring and development that the target was a medal for both squads in the 2012 London Games. That is beginning to look achievable.

Many will see the sixth place finish in Melbourne at the recent men’s Champions Trophy, contested by the top six teams in the world, as a disappointment. Not so Faulkner, for whom it represents a further step in the development path he had set for Britain and England.

His chief coach, Jason Lee, used it as an opportunity to give experience to several young players at the beginning of their international careers, and in that it was successful.

The achievements on the pitch have been based on some sound, long-term work behind the scenes. The year began with Philip Kimberley stepping down as executive chairman after leading the successful rebuilding of England Hockey since his appointment in May 2003, handing over after six years to new chief executive, Sally Munday.

During the period of Kimberley’s leadership, England Hockey grew from an income of £1.8 million, employing 25 staff, to now, with income at nearly £7 million and with 65 staff in 2008 including the re-establishing of the performance unit within the main framework.

Kimberley and Faulkner will both take great pride with the announcement at the end of the Champions Trophy at the weekend that 22-year-old Ashley Jackson (pictured in the white shirt, right), who plays his club hockey in the Netherlands, was named World Young Player of the Year, the first time a British player has ever won such a world hockey award. Yes, it has been a successful year.

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