Belper Hockey Club

The local club celebrates its centenary

Congratulations to Belper Hockey Club which is celebrating its centenary this year. Over the past 100 years Belper Hockey Club has been very much a part of local life. One particular aspect of the town's heritage is even reflected in the Club's nickname 'The Nailers', a reference to the one time local industry of nail making. Tireless work and commitment, self belief and honest endeavour are the hallmarks of the club which was founded in 1908 by Gordon Wright, a schoolmaster at Herbert Strutt School in Belper. Since then many individuals have freely contributed through managing, coaching, playing, groundwork, fund raising and serving as officials, or even painting hockey balls! Apparently hockey balls used to be white cricket balls and as the game was played on grass the balls stained easily so several were needed for each game. Consequently each ball had to be repainted white after every game. The club today has a rare personal link with the past in the shape of President John Litchfield and his brother Roger, whose grandfather and father, Cyril Ashover and Denis Litchfield, played for the club in the 1920s. Denis tells the story from his playing days of a team member running around during a game with smoke coming out of his shorts. The ball had struck him and set alight a box of matches he had in his pocket! Well, what is sport without its lighter moments? Forty years on, in 1962, Dennis played a significant role when the men's and ladies' hockey, tennis, bowls and cricket teams came together to form the Belper Meadows Sports Club. The increased overall membership resulting from this afforded better opportunities for government and local authority grants. John Litchfield has served the club with distinction since he first played as a 14 year old. He has captained the First team, coached teams, represented Debyshire 51 times and the Midlands once. John also chaired Belper Meadows Sports Club between 1974 and 1986 and during his tenure there were considerable developments and much fund raising. Interestingly the club was consistently refused planning permission to extend the old clubhouse because of the possibility that a Belper bypass might be built. Ironically the prospect of a bypass in the near future, part of a possible new Tesco store development, has received a mixed response within the town. Should it go ahead the benefit to the hockey club could be considerable as new facilities have been included in the proposals. For most of its history the home of the club has been Christchurch Meadows, apart from a brief sojourn at Windmill Lane during the early 1920s. Through continued efforts new changing rooms were built in 1982 and the ground was purchased in 1985. Meanwhile the original pavilion, built in 1884 for £72.7.6d, continued to be used until a new one took its place in 1989. A second team was formed in 1934 but had to be shelved during the war years. It was reconstituted in 1945, since when the whole club has continued to grow and prosper with the help of additional playing facilities in Duffield. Today there are eight men's teams and a veterans' side, and junior boys' teams for under 9s, 11s, 13s, 15s and 18s. Ladies' hockey was founded in 1920 and today is prospering with six teams plus a full range of junior sides. Not only have the men's teams increased in number but they have also raised their standard of play. In the early days all games were 'friendly'. There were no leagues. The league system, which started in 1969, became the way the game was to be played so Belper adapted and grew. Meanwhile, junior hockey coaching, started by John Litchfield in 1977, grew and developed steadily. The number of youngsters who progress successfully to senior sides is testimony to the hard work and commitment of many volunteer coaches. Herein lies the future and already the success of this policy is being realised, particularly in the girls' and ladies' hockey. By the early 1990s the Club was considering installing an astro-turf pitch, the latest in modern playing surfaces. This became a reality in 1997 but the following May it had to be replaced after the Derwent flooded. The same thing happened the following year but by then pitch technology had moved on and it was decided to install the latest type of playing surface (a water-based artificial surface) with the help of the insurance money. The lure of having the latest and best playing surface brought its reward when the club hosted the National County Championship in May 2000 and a fortuitous result of this was the discovery of a new player/coach, Craig Keegan, who was playing for Hertfordshire. Belper men's First team began a roller coaster of success, moving into the National League at the end of the 2000/1 season as well as being the only non-Premiership team to appear in a National Cup Final, losing 7-0 to Cannock. Craig's immense skill, presence as a player, knowledge of the game and tactical awareness helped the other talented members of the First team squad to fulfil a potential that led to considerable success. In 2004 Craig left as coach to be replaced by another Antipodean, Alan Sinclair. Under 'Sinny's' guidance the team made history by topping National League I at the end of the 2005/6 season and in the next season played for the first time in the Club's history in the Premier League of English Hockey. Unfortunately Alan Sinclair was not able to stay for Belper's Premiership debut, having secured a job 'down under'. Craig Keegan returned as coach. The Meadows hosted many international hockey players during a challenging and demanding 2006/7 season but were sadly unable to maintain the necessary standard and were relegated. Nonetheless success during the early years of the new century has boosted confidence within the club and its ambitions are certainly not diminished. Much of the future rests on the contribution the many promising and outstanding youngsters could make. Already the Ladies' First team, under the direction of Tim Barlow, is demanding attention in its league, the Women's Conference North. The Under 18 Belper Girls' team retained its national title at the end of the 2006/7 season and the Under 15 Girls were runners up. As recently as this July four girls - Alice Sharp, Joanna Lane, Sophie Hawkins and Anna Toman - represented England Under 16 and won silver medals in the 2008 European Championships. Six Belper girls were also recently on Under 18 duty for England. Belper sees its youngsters as essential for the club's future. Indeed club stalwarts such as secretary, Nick Morris and assistant chairman Nick Fox began their association with the club as juniors. Other significant roles in the club today see Roger Carter, as chairman, bringing his own brand of management and leadership whilst enjoying a fine run of success since taking up the position in 1998. Roger succeeded Ian Lane, who has captained the first team, coached juniors and now presides over the Club's website. Paul Greensmith as team and match secretary, treasurer and fixture secretary plays a vital supporting role. The centenary celebrations culminated in a weekend of hockey at the Meadows and a ball held at the Derby Conference Centre on 21st June, organised by Nick and Wendy Morris. Members past and present came from various parts of the country to renew old acquaintances, relive past memories and celebrate a hundred years of hockey at Belper Hockey Club. It was a memorable occasion that celebrated the notable sporting history of a fine local team. As men's hockey at Belper embarks on its next hundred years let us wish the new Men's First team captain and loyal clubman Richard Kitchen, the ever-optimistic coach Ben Lamb and the rest of Belper Hockey Club all the best for the future.

A booklet telling the story of the past hundred years of hockey at Belper has been published. One humourous anecdote tells of a past member's antics leading a local newspaper to produce the headline, 'Hockey player caught in a pickle'. You need to purchase the booklet to find out why! Belper Hockey Club - 100 Years of Hockey isavailable from John Litchfield (Tel: 01773 550337), price £10 or £11 inc. postage.