Hockey: Sheffield Hallam start to lay the foundations for Premier dream

The new Olympic hockey pitch being laid at Abbeydale Sports Centre. Pic: Glenn Ashley.

The new Olympic hockey pitch being laid at Abbeydale Sports Centre. Pic: Glenn Ashley.

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Reality is beginning to dawn on Sheffield Hallam Hockey Club that they’re in the big time. And it’s well deserved.

After knocking on the door for a number of years the men’s first team finally managed to progress through the play-offs and into the NOW: Pensions Mens Hockey League Premier Division.

And with the iconic electric blue and pink Olympics pitch being laid at Abbeydale Park the team will have a surface fit for the top-flight.

Club president Andy Tapley said the pitch is far more important than just being part of the London Games legacy.

“What people tend to forget in the excitement of having the Olympic Games pitch is that it is a surface of the highest quality,” he told the Telegraph.

“It’s one of the best playing surfaces in the country and should really help the development of our junior players.

“The switch to a water-based (rather than the current sand-based) surface will mean our players will have no problems in playing in international competition.”

With the new pitch being slowly laid - warm weather is needed to allow it to relax having been rolled up all winter - Tapley and club officials have started preparations for the “massive” leap into the Premier Division.

He said: “For an amateur club like ourselves the financial impact is quite big. The division is primarily southern based and a lot of northern teams have struggled to stay up once they’ve got there.

“From a playing point of view we’re looking to strengthen the squad, but we have been operating pretty much as a Premier Division set up because of our link with Sheffield Hallam University anyway.

“Instead of playing and training once a week, our players also play for the university on a Wednesday and benefit from the sports science facilities available.”

Sheffield Hallam will begin the new season with a difficult trip to European Cup semi-finalists East Grinstead on September 14. Their first ever Premier Division home match will be Sunday September 22 against Surbiton.

In all there will be nine home matches with five on Sundays and four on Saturdays. The club are hoping to make their Saturday games start at 6.30pm.

Tapley said: “We’ve very excited for the new season.

“We have an excellent coach in Vicky Joel and a great relationship with Sheffield Hallam University.

“Those two reasons are why we have been promoted and, although it will be hard, our goal is staying there.”

The club’s standing in the sport was emphasised yesterday with the inclusion of Phil Roper in the England squad for next month’s World League semi-finals in Malaysia.

Part of the old Abbeydale surface will be used in hanging baskets. It’s hoped that the new pitch will continue the growth of this Sheffield success story.

* Follow the Telegraph sports writer Richard Fidler on Twitter @richardfidler and Google+ follow Richard Fidler on Google+.