Hampstead & Westminster captain eyes challenge for Men’s Hockey League title

Hampstead & Westminster hockey captain Toby Roche. Pic: Mark Clews

Hampstead & Westminster hockey captain Toby Roche. Pic: Mark Clews - Credit: Archant

Hampstead & Westminster captain Toby Roche has set his side the target of joining club hockey’s European elite after emerging as the league’s surprise package this season.

The club, who are based at Paddington Recreation Ground in Maida Vale, are one of the longest-serving Men’s Hockey League Premier Division sides in the country, but have frequently flirted with relegation in recent years.

The arrival of Trinidad and Tobago international Kwan Browne as player-coach attracted the likes of Ireland duo Chris Cargo and Mikie Watt (from Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles and Lisnagarvey respectively) during the close season – and skipper Roche has big plans for the future.

“The club wants to become one of the most successful in the UK and challenge for titles both domestically and in the long term on a European level,” Roche told Ham&High Sport.

“We are also really keen to grow our juniors section, which already has about 200 members despite only starting a few years ago.

“We have people from aged four to 70 playing at every level, so we’re very proud of the role we play in our community.”

Hampstead & Westminster host Wimbledon this weekend (push back 2pm) hoping to build on an excellent start to the new campaign, with the side currently third in the Premier Division.

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Roche, who is in his fifth year as captain having joined the club in 2010, is determined to help his side reach the play-offs for the first time this season, which would enable them to qualify for the Euro Hockey League.

“We’re such a new group,” the 28-year-old added. “It’s an exciting time for the club and we hope that being able to recruit a number of internationals and a couple of guys who competed at Rio will enable us to get into the play-offs and see what happens from there.”

Having led the table after four games, H&W suffered a setback last weekend against league champions Holcombe, with their opponents capitalising on a combination of poor defending, misfortune and early indiscipline to win 3-1 on a frustrating day for Browne’s side.

“The result flattered them – we substituted our keeper as we chased the game – but we’re already focused on Wimbledon this weekend,” said Roche. “They’re one place above us in the table.

“It’s another big game – they have lots of internationals and are in the Euro Hockey League in a couple of months’ time.

“A couple on our team are teachers, and they had to go on a school tour last week so we’ll have them back, although we picked up a couple of knocks last week so we’ll see how they are.

“There’s a lot of competition for places so it will be interesting to see who Kwan picks. The league is certainly getting more competitive – teams are recruiting more from abroad and other domestic leagues. The Team GB squad is reasonably well spread out across the league, so anyone can beat anyone.”

Roche believes the GB women’s gold medal success at the Rio Olympics has done wonders for hockey enthusiasts in the country, with the feted stars working hard since their return to handle the heightened attention and promote the game.

“There’s definitely been a knock-on effect and it’s brilliant for the sport,” Roche continued. “Hockey’s not something that has had a huge amount of media attention but they have really thrown it into the spotlight and shown the country why it’s such a great sport.

“We had a game at Surbiton where two of the Olympic gold-winning players had been coaching beforehand, showing kids their medals and they were absolutely mobbed!

“It’s something I’ve never seen before but I hope it continues and the sport takes advantage of the exposure.”