England: Premier Division Hockey Returns for 2023/24

Defending champions Old Georgians, with a new-look coaching set up, head to University of Nottingham for the second successive opening weekend clash (6:30pm).

The students experienced an 8-1 defeat in their first ever Premier Division match last September, with Sam Ward netting six.

This season, the Weybridge side travel to the midlands with Ashley Jackson installed as player/coach, Brett Garrard joining in a coaching role after his highly successful tenure at Surbiton women, and Alan Forsyth returning to the UK and linking up with Ward after a spell with Dutch side HGC.

Last season’s runners-up Holcombe host Reading (6pm), with the Medway side looking for a bumper clubhouse crowd as they also bid to continue their goal-scoring exploits, which led them to a 6-0 win at home last season against the Blues.

The blue and white flares from the EG Faithful will be out in force for a double header to kick off East Grinstead’s season at Saint Hill.

East Grinstead host bitter local rivals Oxted (6pm) in what is becoming a traditional opening day fixture. Oxted played their inaugural Premier Division match at EG in 2020 when the hosts won 2-1 while this will be their third opening weekend fixture in four seasons.

Both clubs have been busy recruiting for this campaign: East Grinstead signing five University of Nottingham students, while Oxted newbies include New Zealand goalkeeper Dom Dixon and Nick Page from Old Georgians.
Wimbledon, the 2021/22 runners-up behind Old Georgians, play host to Beeston (4:30pm). The Nottingham side won on their first two visits to London in 2013 and 2014, but since then Wimbledon have been unbeaten at home.

Wimbledon coach Karl Stagno has had a busy summer in the transfer market, signing the likes of Jonathan Lankfer (Oxted), goalkeeper Ore Ogunlana (Surbiton) and Connor Greentree from Auckland club HDF.

Ten miles away, Surbiton kick off their domestic campaign with an enticing London derby against Hampstead & Westminster at Sugden Road (6pm). H&W have only won once at Surbiton, in 2021, with the hosts prevailing twice in the last two seasons. 

Surbiton may have lost Tom Sorsby to Dutch club Hertogenbosch, but have re-signed Conor Williamson, who shone for England at the EuroHockey Championships. Williamson came through the club junior programme and now looks a standout recruit under coach Mark Pearn after his time studying at Nottingham.

This season, Cardiff and Met take their place in the Premier Division for the first time in the club’s history – coach Walid Abdo having joined 15 years ago – and are joined by Southgate, who were promoted back after eight seasons.

The two Division One champions will meet each other on Saturday (6pm) in their opening fixture, with Southgate playing their first Premier Division fixture since March 2015 and bolstered by the signings of GB international Will Calnan from Hampstead & Westminster and South Africa goalkeeper Anton van Loggerenberg.

*Statistics provided by Colin Pike

East Grinstead upset the odds in thrilling style when they ended Surbiton’s run of eight successive women’s titles by clinching the league Championship last season for the first time.

East Grinstead, who have signed GB Hockey star Grace Balsdon, will kick off their campaign against Bowdon in a double header at Saint Hill (4pm), the Greater Manchester club returning to the top flight after three seasons in Division One North. 

In 2020, the 30th anniversary season of the women’s National League being formed, Bowdon had spent every year in the women’s Premier Division until relegation and Saturday will mark a welcome return for the four-time champions.

Reading were the last club to lift the women’s league title in 2013 before Surbiton’s trophy-hogging years. And the two sides open their campaign with the hosts looking to secure their first ever victory at Sonning Lane (6pm) over Saturday’s visitors – and a first goal in four games. 

Surbiton, now coached by Dave Beckett following Brett Garrard’s departure, won 1-0 on their last visit in 2017, while Alex Danson scored Reading’s only goal 10 years ago when they first met. 

Isca were only two seasons in as a National League side back then. Now Isca & University of Exeter, the debutants will mark their first ever Premier Division match with a home west country clash against Clifton Robinsons (12pm).

The Bristol side finished fourth at Finals Weekend last season and will be playing their first match of the season on the road for the first time since 2019.

Hampstead & Westminster, who beat Clifton to third place last season, travel to University of Birmingham on Saturday for a 2:30pm push back.

The Londoners have won all four of their Premier Division meetings and kept three clean sheets for good measure.

Mike Irving, who has a wealth of experience after spells with Reading women and assistant at Loughborough Students, is installed as coach with Kate Richardson-Walsh helping Canada women in their bid to qualify for Paris 2024.

Meanwhile, H&W have lost the penalty corner power of Balsdon but have recruited Sofia Martin from Southgate, the England under-21 international looking an astute summer signing by Irving.

Wimbledon have also shown their defensive prowess against Saturday’s opponents Beeston (2:15pm) in recent years. The Londoners have won all three previous home meetings against the midlands side.

Meanwhile, Beeston’s local rivals University of Nottingham open up with a home student clash against Loughborough Students (4:30pm).

Nottingham, who have lost influential captain Katie Curtis to Surbiton, hosted both matches between the sides in their first season in the top flight, drawing 4-4 last October before Loughborough Students came out 2-0 winners in February. 

*Statistics kindly provided by Colin Pike

by England Hockeyl

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