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A pathway for future talent is the long-term aim for Cambridge City Hockey Club



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Cambridge City Hockey Club men's head coach Grant Gilmour. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge City Hockey Club men's head coach Grant Gilmour. Picture: Keith Heppell

A transformation to the first-team playing squads was not the most significant development at Cambridge City Hockey Club this summer.

The new season has started with two wins out of two for both City’s men’s and women’s first teams, and featuring in those matches have been a number of youngsters making their bows in the national league level.

It is another step in what City hope will be a thing to come for future generations, and fits within the aspirations of England Hockey.

In the past, there were performance centres around the country and youngsters who were part of these would then go on trial to play in the National Age Groups, which is within the England system.

But clubs are now set to take on a more central role within the structure.

They are being invited to apply to for talent centre accreditation which shows they have a good pathway from 11 to 18, and then into senior hockey.

A further tier would be a talent academy, which would replace the current performance centres, in about 25 clubs around the country that would have certain criteria in place and play against each other, with England Hockey then looking to them for the age group teams.

City had an academy structure in place for under-16s and under-18s, and had previously worked closely with Cambridge City Junior Hockey Club, which is a separate club that nurtured players up to the age of 14.

“What we needed, as a club, was to prove that we had from 10 to 18 which we didn’t have because we’ve always worked with the junior club,” said City’s head of youth Grant Gilmour.

But the two clubs could not agree on a mutual way to go forward and, as City have ambitions to become a talent centre, they decided to part ways.

“We had no choice because we want to be a talent centre and talent academy therefore we need to go our own way,” said Gilmour.

“We started and set up our own under-14s and under-12s which also amalgamated into under-10s because we had the interest.”

Cambridge City in action against Wimbledon II. Picture: Kim Butler
Cambridge City in action against Wimbledon II. Picture: Kim Butler

Gilmour had been coaching the boys’ under-16s, with Nick Thompson overseeing the academy which had been in place for three years, but has now stepped up to become head of youth, a role he holds jointly with being head coach for City men’s first team.

“The fact that I’m there at the bottom, and I’m there at the top just shows that fluidity through the club,” said Gilmour, pictured left.

“It’s not just me at the bottom and next thing you have some random coach who has no idea what is going on in the youth section and who is coming through.

“It’s all there, we all know what’s going on, we’re all working really hard as a team. I understand what is going on at the bottom, because I’m running it with the team, who are amazing – the backroom staff and the admin.”

The early signs are encouraging.

City have six under-12 teams, five under-14s, they have now got an extra under-16 girls’ team to make it three, and have got two under-16 boys’ team. There are more than 200 juniors in the under-10 to under-14 age groups.

“In our youth section now, under-18 boys have got probably five or six players that are playing in the first team or second team. The women had four under-18 girls in the first team,” said Gilmour.

“Helen (Richardson-Walsh, the women’s head coach) has lost a few players this year but, luckily, because our youth section is so good she has brought them up and they’ve done the job.

“It just shows the quality we’ve got and the quality of the coaching. As they are coming through, they are being called upon and performing – it’s amazing.”

Hannah Bloy in action for Cambridge City against Wimbledon. Picture: Keith Heppell
Hannah Bloy in action for Cambridge City against Wimbledon. Picture: Keith Heppell

The links between the junior and senior teams at City are multiple.

Dougie Rice has become assistant coach to the women’s first team, but also coaches the under-16 girls’ sides.

First-team player Tom Butler coaches the under-18 girls, and Jacob Marshall-Grint coaches the under-16 boys and plays in the men’s thirds side.

“These coaches also play in the senior club, and they see how these kids and these players get on so can advise in the best way possible,” said Gilmour.

“The pathway and communication we’ve got now is so good.”

Gilmour admits that it was a difficult decision for City to pursue their own path, but it was necessary to fulfil the criteria required to try to become a national talent academy.

“It’s why we’ve got that running pathway – you have to have it for the England set-up,” he added.

“We had to do it. It just makes hockey stronger in this region, and gives everyone something to fight for.”

Cambridge City women and men have had youngsters feature prominently in their start to the new England Hockey season, which has reaped two wins out of two for both sides. In the Vitality Women’s Hockey League, Division One South, Lisa Williamson scored for City in a 1-0 win over Wimbledon II, while City men beat Olton & West Warwickshire 4-1 in the Men’s Hockey League, Division One North .



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