English hockey’s leading clubs will hold private talks in London next week to propose a new men’s Premier League, amid fears that the domestic game will be “completely destroyed” when a global competition for the sport begins in 2019.
According to a document seen by Telegraph Sport, the meeting will centre upon a revamped ‘England Hockey Premier League’ which suggests that “the top clubs in England should take ownership”.
It is understood that officials from 12 clubs – including Beeston, Wimbledon and champions Surbiton – will all attend the meeting at Southgate Hockey Club on Nov 2. They will convene without representatives from England Hockey, the national governing body, which has held consultation meetings over the past year with clubs to outline a plan that ‘bridges the gap’ between the international and domestic game.
The domestic shake-up follows the International Hockey Federation’s decision to set up its Hockey Pro League, which will feature nine of the world’s best men’s and women’s teams – including England and GB – playing each other home and away.
The crux of the issue centres on England Hockey and Great Britain’s centralised programme. When the global league starts in early 2019, clubs will be without their star players from January to June. With the domestic season starting in September, it means that English clubs will be devoid of key players for the second half of the season.
Some Premier Division clubs admit that the global league will impact the national game to such a degree that, with no international stars available to both play and coach younger members, the game’s long-term future will be bleak. “There will be no aspirational figures to follow and the talent pool will dry up in a generation or two,” claimed one club official.
The official added that leading Olympians could become “mercenaries” and be enticed to play abroad in Holland or Belgium, where players are well paid on top of their centralised contracts.
There are already ramifications with the indoor game, with England stars unavailable for the Super 6s, while Surbiton will travel to their European indoor campaign next year with, effectively, a second-string side because of Commonwealth Games preparations.
Officials believe that working alongside England Hockey in the future is integral to both national and international success and say next week’s meeting will not address the prospect of a “breakaway” league as such. Instead, clubs want more control over domestic fixtures and a bigger say in commercial viability, with the document stating that the league would “put hockey on television”.
England Hockey said in a statement: “We have been working with clubs and other stakeholders for the past 14 months to find the best way to align our domestic leagues with this new global landscape. We have proposed changes to enable international players to play club hockey in a meaningful way as well as give them the best chance of winning medals on the world stage.”