Hampstead & Westminster’s men have to wait to see if League Finals will go ahead this summer

Hampstead players celebrate (pic Mark Clews)

Hampstead players celebrate (pic Mark Clews) - Credit: Archant

Hampstead & Westminster men’s captain Toby Roche says they will be ready for the League Finals should they go ahead later this summer.

Rupert Shipperley celebrates against Beeston (pic Mark Clews)

Rupert Shipperley celebrates against Beeston (pic Mark Clews) - Credit: Archant

But he admits he finds it hard to see how they might still be staged as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt sporting events at home and abroad.

England Hockey announced last week that the suspension of all hockey activity was being extended from April 15 until June 30 and had started a ‘thorough process to deliver a fair and balanced outcome for teams’.

Hampstead had finished the regular season as runners-up to Surbiton and were due to host Wimbledon in the semi-finals, hoping to defend the title won last year in the 125th anniversary.

But Roche, having memorably lifted the trophy at Lee Valley Hockey & Tennis Centre 12 months ago, said: “I can’t see it happening, if Wimbledon in late June has been cancelled, although crowds would be different.

“We would need to train. It’s not fair to have a semi-final and final without a month’s worth of training. I struggle to see it happening logistically, but we will stay fit and ready.

“We wanted to win the regular season, but Surbiton ran away with it. We’ve gone unbeaten since mid-November, with the Surbiton away game our last loss.”

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Having started with a 4-3 win at Beeston, but lost by the same margin to Old Georgians, Hampstead defeated Holcombe, Brooklands and Reading, while also making their debut in the European Hockey League.

After just missing out on a quarter-final spot in Spain, they lost to Wimbledon, won at Exeter University, then suffered an 8-4 defeat at Surbiton.

“We had a few different challenges to deal with this season,” added Roche.

“The EHL was a huge highlight and a bit of a distraction and we had four in the GB set-up, so our training changed a bit, but it was testament to how well the squad has done.

“We also had long-standing injuries, so it was a juggling act at times, but we showed our depth. I broke my hand in the first EHL game and missed six games.

“Marc Edwards has been the heart of our midfield for the last four years and broke a finger, missing five games, and Paul Melkert, who also plays in central midfield, rolled his ankle.

“It turns out he ripped the ligament off the bone. He was missing from November and had the operation two weeks ago.

“Our goalkeeper Toby Reynolds-Cotterill was concussed in the Surbiton game and didn’t play since, but Lekan Ogunlana stepped in and has been brilliant.”

Ogunlana did not finish on the losing side, in fact, as Hampstead won seven and drew two of their next nine games, before a final-day home date with Beeston at Paddington Rec, which ended in a 2-0 win thanks to a brace from new GB international Rupert Shipperley.

“We knew we had to beat Beeston to be sure of second. The week before, it looked touch and go,” said Roche.

“Shippo has been brilliant, a standout player for us for the past two or three seasons. He had a good European Championships with Wales, which thrust him into the shop window and it was a great opportunity for him to trial in October.

“The club was delighted to see him get his first GB cap and throw his hat into the ring for the Olympics. He stopped teaching in October to become a full-time athlete with the Olympics in view.

“We did our best, finishing second. Surbiton are guaranteed an EHL qualification spot as the league winners, but the second spot usually goes to the play-off winners.

“It has been a bit of an anti-climax. England Hockey haven’t decided what will happen yet, so we’re waiting with baited breath.”

Hampstead, who finished two points above Wimbledon in the final table, would dearly love to get another chance at Europe, but must now wait to hear how England Hockey will determine the season’s outcome.

“We’ve got a training programme from (player-coach) Kwan (Browne) and Sarah (Hart) out physio to keep us fit and ticking over,” said Roche.

“We’re staying in decent shape if the play-offs get on. We’ve got to be ready for two monumental games.

“The EHL was brilliant, completely different to anything I’ve experienced. It put the club in the spotlight and we beat a Dutch side (HGC) full of professionals.

“We were good enough to beat Mannheim, but it didn’t happen on the day (Hampstead lost 2-1). If we had made it into the last eight it would’ve been extraordinary.

“We went with the mentality of not just making up the numbers. If we do go again, we want to make sure we get ourselves to the last eight over the Easter weekend.”

How they finished

Premier Division

P W D L F A Pts

Surbiton 18 15 2 1 93 25 47

Hampstead & West 18 13 2 3 64 38 41

Wimbledon 18 12 3 3 73 29 39

Old Georgians 18 11 4 3 63 40 37

Holcombe 18 7 5 6 51 53 26

Beeston 18 6 2 10 37 41 20

East Grinstead 18 4 2 12 31 65 14

Brooklands MU 18 4 1 13 28 64 13

Exeter Uni 18 3 2 13 28 77 11

Reading 18 2 3 13 29 65 9

Hampstead & Westminster goalscorers: Matt Guise-Brown 23 goals in 17 games, Rupert Shipperley 9 (16), Samuel French 8 (17), Chris Cargo 5 (15), Josh Kelly 3 (10), Hywel Jones 2 (16), Kwan Browne 2 (17), Kei Kaeppeler 2 (17), Richard Smith 2 (18), Will Calnan 2 (11), Paul Melkert 1 (10), Marc Edwards 1 (14), Jonny Gooch 1 (16), Harry Martin 1 (10), Rhodri Furlong 1 (6), Toby Roche 1 (12).