By Graham Thomas
Tim Baker knows more than anyone that enabling hockey to thrive in North Wales takes hard graft – on and off the field.
President of Eirias Hockey Club in Colwyn Bay, Tim was involved in the merger of Colwyn Bay and Llandudno hockey clubs five years ago.
Since then – despite some predictions it might prove an unhappy marriage – Eirias have thrived and now run three men’s and three women’s teams, plus successful junior sections that operate from U10 to U18.
This weekend (Sat, Nov 18), the men’s firsts travel to Macclesfield in North West Men’s Division Two, while Eirias women’s first team are also on the road to Chester in their North West Women’s Division Three West fixture.
“The distances we travel are pretty long, so that takes a lot of commitment and it’s a credit to the players who do that each weekend,” says Tim.
“It’s great to have that togetherness, especially when things might not be going well. It means the captain is not short of players and having to ring around for players from the second teams, which then has an impact on them and a knock-on impact on the thirds.”
Clwb Hoci Eirias women’s first team currently sit second in the table, while the men are finding life a bit tougher.
They sit at the bottom of North West Men’s Division Two with work to do after only one win this season, although they have drawn four of their seven games.
Read all about us here!👇👇 https://t.co/kweJA2Vqth
— Clwb Hoci Eirias Hockey Club (@EiriasHC) November 18, 2023
But despite the drop off in hockey-playing schools in North Wales, there is optimism that Eirias can continue to develop a new generation who will eventually turn out for those teams at the top of the club ladder.
With over 150 playing members, Eirias offer a first taste of hockey to children as young as four and have produced a number of age group Welsh internationals.
“Every Monday evening, you can see the juniors training for an hour and the numbers there are impressive,” adds Tim.
“We recently had two Under 10 teams competing at a tournament in Denbigh and on the same weekend, our U16s were winning all their matches, playing in Colwyn Bay.
“They are the lifeblood of the club in the future so we have to give them every opportunity we can to develop and progress.”
The challenge is to sustain the numbers flowing up through the club once young players hit student age and often move away to college or university.
The difficulties of retaining those players can sometimes be seen in the make-up up of second teams – a situation not unfamiliar to many clubs.
— Clwb Hoci Eirias Hockey Club (@EiriasHC) August 28, 2023
“It’s not easy to attract youngsters, who have other sports on offer, but we provide excellent facilities and a good grounding in a very enjoyable sport,” says Tim.
“The ladies first team is very young, which is encouraging if we can keep them together and while the men’s first team is not as young, there are no old codgers in it!
“The old codgers – as I call them – are those in their forties and sometimes their fifties and you tend to find them often playing in second teams alongside 18-year-olds.
“That’s great for the youngsters who are still learning and gaining off others’ experience but there quickly comes a time when they need to play against faster and fitter players.”
For the moment, though, those wiser, older heads in Eirias men’s seconds are not doing too badly.
They have won two of their seven matches played so far this season – enough to keep them off the bottom of North West Men’s Division 4 West.
This weekend the men’s seconds are at home to Northern 1, while the Eirias women’s seconds – currently seventh in North West Women’s Division Four West – are also at home, against Formby seconds.