‘People enjoy playing for West Herts Stags’

The West Herts coach Matt Grinham hopes the men’s team continue to trade on their reputation, as he believes joining those who pay in the National League could have a negative impact.

The 2015-16 season saw the Stags punch above their weight once more to remain in the National League with a respectable fifth-place finish in Conference East. Next season they will again find themselves competing against teams boasting internationals and those who pay their players. But after two impressive seasons at this level Grinham is in no rush to see the club follow suit in pursuit of success.

“Players know what they’re getting at West Herts,” Grinham said. “I think the success of West Herts is that people have grown up with the club and they want to see the team do well. As soon as other incentives come in, they can detract from the desire to do well. There are some clubs in hockey who pay their players but it’s not a sport which can sustain that. It would be nice to model ourselves on Reading. They’re a big club but people play there because they enjoy playing good hockey. I’d like that to be the way for West Herts too.

“Other teams might be able to chuck the cash around for players but we don’t have the licence to do that. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful and I think that showed when we beat Southgate 2-1 at their place to scupper their promotion hopes. No-one was expecting us to win that game having been beaten 6-2 on the first day of the season.”

A rocky start to their second season in the National League saw West Herts win two of their 11 games before the Christmas break. Relegation looked a distinct possibility for the Stags at that stage. “The second season is like the second album really – it’s always tougher,” explained Grinham. “That’s because people knew a little bit more about us. So we found it difficult to get wins in the first half of the season.”

But a marked improvement in the second half of the campaign was aided by Ed Welch’s return to the club after nine years in Australia where he coached Westside Wolves and played in the top flight. “His arrival was massive and it can’t be overstated,” admitted Grinham. “His knowledge of top-level hockey in Australia really set the tone for the players around him. Hopefully the younger guys can learn from that and take it into next season.”

The seconds won promotion to East Premier B for the first time in ten years after chasing down long-term leaders Old Southendian in the final two weeks. A tough season was anticipated for the thirds in Division Two South but the Stags avoided an immediate relegation by finishing sixth. In Division Five South West, the fourths cantered to promotion, finishing nine points clear of Broxbourne Thirds to seal the title. The fifths also finished top, this time in Division Seven South West, with promotion on ice until week 20 following a string of Christmas draws. After the disappointment of last season the sixths sealed an immediate return to Division Seven South West by winning Division Eight.