British Hockey is set to capitalise on the most successful Olympics the sport has enjoyed since it won gold back in 1988 by staging the world’s biggest tournaments and increasing both playing and spectating numbers.
With the girls winning bronze on Friday and the men finishing fourth on Saturday after losing to Australia, the sport is determined to make the most of its new-found popularity and not make the same mistake that it did 24 years ago when household names such as Sean Kerly and Ian Taylor were allowed to fade away.
And with the iconic, 16,000-seater Riverbank Arena, with its striking pink and blue colouring, enjoying the third highest total attendance in the whole Games the sport’s authorities are determined to keep the high interest level going up to the 2015 European Championships and beyond.
“We’ve had 630,000 ticket holders at these Games, the third biggest in numbers, every session has been full and at least 50% have been British sports fans,” explained GB Hockey’s Chief Operating Officer, Sally Munday.
“The stadium is only being moved a few yards away from its present site and will have 3,000 permanent seats for club games, which can be raised to 15,000 with temporary seating to stage bigger events.
“We’ve already got the European Championships in 2015, when Britain can take on the likes of Holland, Germany and Spain and, having proved to the world governing body that we can stage major hockey tournaments and have a great deal of interest in them, we’ll now be bidding for every international tournament on offer.
“That means the Champions Trophy in 2016, a new world, international league in 2016-17 and the world cup. We aim to make Eton Manor the Wembley Stadium of hockey.”
Munday also wants to see the club game transformed in Britain. “We’re in talks right now with all the clubs to improve and expand spectator facilities and have been training thousands of officials and volunteers to help make a hockey game a good day out.
“We’re also staging the first round of the European Club Championships at East Grinstead in December over four days and hope, on the back of these Games, to have a significant increase in crowds.”
Hockey has also instigated a series of projects designed to encourage playing numbers in the grass roots to maximise the effect of these Games for the next five years.
Kerly is confident hockey can become the fourth team sport in Britain. “Back in 1988 I returned home and played my first league game in front of a massive crowd but within four or five games it was back to one man and a dog,” he recalled.
“But the sport is geared up to deal with it now. The watchers of today have been created by these Games and the watchers of the future will be those who are now taking up the game on the back of the Olympics. In my view the stadium is the best in Europe, with the best atmosphere too, and if we can get the top nations over here on a consistent level then I expect the crowds to be maintained.
“It’s never going to be football, or even rugby, but there’s no reason why we can’t become the third team sport if we can maintain the kind of crowds we’ve had during the Games.”