By Rod Gilmour
The Hockey Writers’ Club annual awards lunch at the Royal Thames Yacht Club, Knightsbridge, on Wednesday proved a vibrant affair as Great Britain goalkeeper Maddie Hinch and defender Iain Lewers were named players of the year.
With the Rio Olympics looming, the HWC lunch was boosted by the sponsorship of Investec and Mercian, and the attendance of a wealth of international players, as well as the Great Britain’s men’s coach, Bobby Crutchley.
Graham Wilson, the HWC chairman and Daily Express hockey correspondent, was firmly in the thoughts of the attendees. Before Christmas, his son, Tom, died on the hockey field after a training ground accident.
In the following days, it was remarkable to hear the family speak on BBC radio about Tom’s decision to sign on as an organ donor, while Graham continued to oversee the awards and junior winners. But in the lead-up to the lunch, Graham suffered a suspected stroke. A moment’s standing applause was rightly sought for the Wilson family and his recovery.
Leandro Negre, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) president, attended the awards lunch and spoke of the governing body’s “hockey revolution” over the next 10 years, maintaining the sport’s Olympic status and the progression of Hockey 5s. Having inked a multi-million dollar deal with Star Sports, the Indian television broadcaster, in 2014, Negre said that hockey federations should think about the importance of mobile in how they go about promoting the game.
The Spaniard was also critical of how the Rio Olympic venue was shaping up – too few seats, lack of money and finances were all to blame – and he admitted that the 2016 Games “will be no London”.
Nick Irvine, Eurosport’s hockey commentator, then gave an eloquent and illuminating speech on the state of the game. He started off by suggesting that the HWC should offer a more international appeal, seek new members and enter a modern age.
He was less than complimentary on the British media in the aftermath of England women’s fine EuroHockey win in August. Picking up his newspaper of choice on the Monday (it can’t have been The Times or Telegraph, who both ran page leads), he found a report of barely a paragraph in length.
He called for more media exposure and a return to an era when writers offered more analysis into the game.
Hinch, who also won the award in 2014, gave a great insight into England’s superb Euro win. Wearing a helmet all game and then being engulfed by team-mates as England beat the Dutch in a memorable shoot-out, the wider public might have been hard pressed to recognise this talented goalkeeper
But the peak Sunday afternoon audience on BBC helped no end. She said she has been noticed in supermarkets, trains and standing in bank queues. There, she was tapped on the shoulder by, tellingly, a non-hockey fan who excitingly relived those Euro exploits, demonstrating the power of television coverage for the sport.
England women came from 2-0 down before overcoming the Dutch to win the championships for the first time since 1991. Hinch was the hero, saving three penalties and making a number of other superb stops.
After collecting her HWC trophy, Hinch said: “It is such a great honour and to be honest I was surprised to hear I had. It has been a fantastic year for us as a squad with a lot of strong individual performances throughout so these awards cap off a pretty surreal 2015 for me.
“Qualifying for Rio and in the fashion we did it in was a fantastic achievement for us, but the stand out highlight of the year has to be the European final and beating the Dutch to take the gold medal in front of a home crowd.”
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
- Mon Feb 22: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, sponsored by BT Sport
- Wed May 11: VIP York Race Day, sponsored by Ladbrokes