Courtesy of Fay Malyon’s entry, Longridge Hockey Club were the lucky winners of our most recent kit giveaway. Based up in the Ribble Valley, a few miles north of Preston, Longridge Hockey Club is a tight-knit and thriving little club doing all the right things.

The club has undergone a tumultuous time of late, with personal tragedies, promotion, relegation and much more. We spoke to first team captain Nicki Wilkinson about LHC, and discovered a club that is finding real strength in the collective solidarity and support that pervades this fab little club.

KUDOS: Your club is comprised of three women’s teams and a junior section? How does the junior section work, and who can come along?

Nickie: The junior section covers ages from 5 – 13 with the older juniors who are deemed good enough being asked to train with our 3rd team, which is a primarily development team. We welcome all abilities from complete novices to county affiliated players. We split the groups into two training time from 6 – 7pm for younger players / beginners and older / more experienced juniors taking place from 6.30pm to 7.30pm.

Our aim to make hockey a fun way to exercise in the fresh air and train whatever the weather. We have a team of coaches so the sessions are split down for skills / fun training drills and usually aim for a larger inclusive game for all for the last 20 minutes. We have all equipment ready so don’t expect parents to buy anything until they feel their child is committed and wants to maybe get their own sticks / Longridge kit.

The season has now come to an end. How have your three teams done this season?

This year has been a superb year for our first XI, finishing 2nd by just one point, having been top of the table since before Christmas. It was incredibly frustrating to miss out on the title by such a small margin but we have still been promoted so that’s still a great achievement, especially after what has been an incredibly challenging year off the pitch for our club. The return of several key players to the squad has brought a wealth of experience and has had a very positive impact especially for the surge of young guns that’s stepped up to the squad on the back of a title win with the 2nd team last season.

As captain for the 2s squad last year, to be able to captain the 1st this year and bring those players through with me has been really rewarding to watch and the members of the 1s have really taken them under their wings and shown them the way. The standard of hockey in the North league has been superb once again this season.

Unfortunately, our 2s have been relegated this season. Last season saw them win the league but choosing not to take promotion. The squad was hit by a baby boom and with players steeping up to the 1st team, the team had to rebuild, literally from scratch. Every game was a hard fought battle and we played some superb hockey but unfortunately the wins were just not happening.

Our 3rd team finish 8th in the league. Again, a good season for the 3s. With an average age range of 14, the girls have done a superb job of doing the club proud. Numbers have been pushed this year and many players have had to double up and play 2 games in a week. The fitness and commitment from these girls and their families to travel all over the north west with them has been absolutely fantastic and cannot be faulted. We are immensely proud of all 3 teams this season no matter how the tables look.

That is fantastic! Well done! On a slightly grimmer note, we’ve had a pretty rotten winter, including the wettest February on record. How have you coped, and are hockey pitches really as ‘all weather’ as they say they are?!

We managed extremely well with the weather this season. Only one game postponed at home due to a frozen pitch. There were several games in doubt when the storms hit but as a club, we rolled up our sleeves, grabbed as many brushes as we could and swept any water, muck away to ensure we got the games on. Our pitch is definitely due some TLC, and maybe needs resurfacing in the next few years. We share the pitch with the high school so it gets used often. It is a shame to see the “all weather pitches” disappearing one by one. It does make you worry about the future of the game, especially when hockey is not a huge part of the curriculum in schools anymore.

Your club was struck by tragedy last when your goalkeeper ‘Blez’ tragically passed away aged just 27. How have you as a club been able to handle such a loss?

This has to have been the toughest thing we have ever had to deal with. Just weeks before the we lost Katy, the 1st team were hit with another tragedy. One of our players lost her brother in a tragic accident, weeks before he was due to get married. We were just about coming to terms with that when I had the news broken to me that Katy was no longer with us. It was heartbreaking, a member of our family taken away. Our friend, our sister, no longer standing in our goal, shouting at us for allowing the ball to get anywhere near her. She was the joker, a pain in the butt but we absolutely loved her. As a club, we rallied round for each other, her mother and sister who also plays. I still say it now and it sounds awful, but her funeral was without a doubt the best hockey knees up we have ever had and it won’t be topped!

I still struggle, personally, in trying to remind myself that she isn’t the first name on my team sheet any more, and also having had to be there and try to be strong for my team and trying to get them going every week. It has been really tough. I am glad for the break now the season is over. It will always be hard stepping onto the pitch and her not being there but we have to move forward, she would not have wanted us to dwell, she’d have hated that! The support from every member of our club and the community has been overwhelming. We are stronger than ever before. A family. We all know that if someone is having a tough day, someone is there for you at Longridge Hockey Club.

Katy ‘Blez’ Blezard

Mental health awareness is growing all the time, especially in sport. What do you think grassroots sport clubs can do to help those struggling with their mental health?

I think the most important thing is to talk. It is important for clubs to have a designated person in the club, a wellbeing officer, someone that people can talk to about anything that may be causing them to worry. This season, I have made sure that I have been vigilant in talking to any of my girls, one to one, when I have spotted that they may not quiet be themselves. I think all clubs need specific training on how to deal with or look out for any signs of any sort of mental health issues. 9 times out of 10 people do not realise they have a mental health issue. This needs to be tackled, and people need to be able to recognise the signs.

It’s Olympic year and when our teams do well we sometimes see a surge in interest. To anyone thinking of coming along and joining Longridge HC, how would you sell it to them?

Longridge HC is firstly and foremost a family environment with support and encouragement for all. We welcome complete beginners, people who are returning to hockey for however long to experienced players. Our 1st team is in a very competitive North Hockey league competing against much larger clubs and travel / train and play to a high standard with competition for places in fierce competition. Our 2nd team plays in the Lancashire Women’s league competing against more local teams but also at a very good standard. Our 3rd team is also in the Lancashire league and is a great development squad with a few experienced players coaching in the pitch and ensuring the younger players are enjoying and learning whilst playing the game.

We offer opportunities to be involved as a player, coach, umpire and volunteers, and we always welcome new members. LHC hopes to promote the club, sport and our fundamental values to the widespread community.

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And there you have it. Our hearts go out to Katy’s family and friends, but there can be some solace drawn from the tremendous spirit displayed by everyone at Longridge Hockey Club. By way of a tribute to her memory and legacy, Katy’s initials are to be displayed on the back of LHC’s new Kudos kit, which is a nice touch, and the kit will be with them imminently.

If you’d like to get involved, you can find them on Facebook and drop them a line.

Thank you to Nicki for her time and giving us such an insightful and lovely interview – we wish the club all the very best for the future and look forward to working together for many years to come.

KUDOS SPORTS – A LEADING SUPPLIER OF CUSTOM TEAMWEAR

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