England: Didsbury Northern Continue To Grow As A Club As The Women’s 1s Set Sights On Promotion

Written by The Hockey Paper‘s Rod Gilmour

“It’s about leaving everything on the line for Didsbury Northern,” chair Rachel Peynado says of their club wide social media tag #fortheoak. And this weekend, the women’s 1s will aim to do just that in their season-opening fixture in the Vitality Women’s Conference North against big league rivals Pendle Forest.

Alongside Leeds, who were relegated from Division 1 North last season, the trio are likely title contenders this time. Didsbury will also be hoping to reverse two defeats from last season against ‘unfashionable’ Pendle, while last weekend Northern were 2-0 up in a pre-season friendly before shipping two late goals.

Peynado, 33, had retired from the women’s 1s last season after Didsbury finished third, their highest position in the club’s history. “But they were short of a full back and so I’m back!” she laughs.

The 33-year-old, who came to the club via Liverpool Sefton six years ago, had good reason to hang up her stick. As an all-encompassing club chair, she is involved in umpire development, coaching and running the pitches, fixtures and bookings at the club. “It’s like a second job,” she admits.

The club had previously been a mainstay of the North Premier Division before being promoted for the first time to National League before Covid. They hit the ground running when a full season could resume, while last season’s goal difference finish with rivals Pendle harked back memories for some of the team.

“The season before we were promoted to the National League, we came fourth on goal difference,” recalls Peynado, “we had to go away in our final fixture and score 10, but we scored nine.

“We ended up missing out to Alderley Edge and people were really dejected by that as we had a great season. But an additional season and then being outright promoted made us much stronger going to the National League.”

The maths teacher says there is an exciting young team for their 2023/24 campaign, while Didsbury Northern can call on an array of over-35s, who play in both the 1s and 2s and who also won their age-group Cup competition last year.

Talk about role models – they also have two Masters World Cup winners in their ranks. Goalkeeper Dani Tedford is their captain while Nicky Kellett, who scored over 30 goals in their promotion year to the Conference as skipper, is a vice-captain this season.

The team is made up of doctors, personal trainers, teachers, and professionals in sport and manufacturing industries. “Even though I hate it as a maths teacher myself, I wish we had more academics,” Peynado jokes. “But we are very social as a team. The dressing room is lively and serious when it needs to be.”

Didsbury are about to embark on a second season with coach Zoe Sinclair, a former Scotland under-21 international, while their week isn’t just consigned to one training night and match day. Peynado says: “We have regular meetings as a group about our philosophy, structure, how we treat each other, our expectations and we implement individual development plans.

“It makes a big difference as we can’t train twice per week. We never stop communicating. A day doesn’t go by without a message in the group and so it’s a great connection.”

On a wider level – the club was formed in 1947 as Chorlton-cum-Hardy HC before changing to its current name in 1994 – Didsbury has expanded its senior teams this season. It now has an eighth men’s side, on top of the seven women’s teams. They are also entering the England Hockey U14 league system as well as the U14 and U18 England Hockey Junior Club Championships.

Peynado says: “It’s the first time we have done this. Our juniors are joining really young and sticking around as opposed to finding other clubs. Hopefully it means we are offering something inviting and working their way up.

“Our big focus is outreach into the community and going into the local primary schools in the area. That’s what we want to fulfill in the next few years.”

The club plays at Armitage Centre, part of Manchester University, with three astro pitches. Together with a few other local clubs, the three pitches are filled every Saturday “from morning to evening”.

Peynado occasionally drives past local Sunday football matches and shudders at the level of fitness on show alongside a wide support base. Didsbury have their own support of friends and family, but even for a growing club and abundance of teams, the club chair knows that more has to be done to raise the profile.

“It would be great if more people knew about the sport outside of the Olympic year,” she adds. 

Saturday: Pendle Forest v Didsbury Northern, 11.30am

by England Hockeyl

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