A National League Hockey Club, part of Holcombeians Sports Club

Barry Middleton ‘excited’ to get back underway

By Lucas Ball

Men’s 1s’ player/head coach Barry Middleton is excited about his team’s hopes heading into the 2023/24 season, with Holcombe fighting on two fronts in both the Premier Division and Euro Hockey League (EHL) having earned qualification at last season’s Finals Weekend.

Holcombe were victorious over hosts Surbiton 2-1 to secure their European spot, and are set to take on Racing Club de France in Barcelona in October, before facing either hosts Real Club de Polo or CA Montrouge in the next round or a classification match.

Middleton’s side begin their campaign with a home match against Reading on Saturday (6pm), with three more fixtures to come ahead of their Barcelona trip – a home match against Old Georgians sandwiched by two away trips to newly-promoted Southgate and Surbiton.

“It feels like a long time ago but I really enjoyed it, obviously I enjoyed one day of it a lot more than the other. In terms of the whole weekend, the set-up and everything around that, I really enjoyed it.

“Being at a club was nice, the atmosphere was really good and we were lucky playing Surbiton within that, facing the home team and getting the crowd. I thought they did the whole weekend really well.

“Naturally from where we started the season and not knowing where we’d end up, it was quite an exciting one for us as well. There was disappointment at the end but that’s just sport, you’re always searching for more.

“Over the season, where OGs ended up was well-deserved so we can’t argue too much with that.

“There was a good chance that one win over the weekend got us into Europe so that was certainly one of the goals and then re-setting and looking at the final, which ended up being a step too far for us. That’s what energises us this year to try to go again and get further.

“It’s time for us to get back to how we played at the end of last season and remember what got us to those big games at the end of the season, not forgetting that. It’s always hard for teams to start again, everyone’s back on zero points.

“There were games last year where we finished five or six places above teams but only beat them by one goal, you can’t forget that it’s still tough and we’ve got to come out and earn every win, respect every opposition we play.

“It’s nice, last year was really good as well we had a home game first up, big crowd for a Saturday night game.

“The excitement and buzz that comes with it is always really nice to set you off, hopefully it’s still warm.

“For us as a team and group but also the club as a whole, hopefully it will get the season off to a really good start.”

Holcombe have strengthened with three additions over the summer – two of those players are returning to the club following previous spells in Brad Read and Louis Duprez, while Alex Pendle – a Great Britain Elite Development Programme (EDP) forward joins having finished university.

“I’m really happy with the guys coming in – one from a playing side and what they can bring on the pitch but they also fit into our group really nicely as people, which is something we’re always looking at.

“One of our big things has been retaining the group that we had last year, so we’re starting from where we finished last season and just adding a couple on, rather than bringing six new people in and trying to start again re-shaping the team and what we look like.

“That’s been a massive thing for us meaning we could get straight back into playing in pre-season.”

Last season also saw the implementation of a brand new league structure, one which will continue in 2023/24.

“It’s always one you answer depending on how it’s gone for you so naturally with where we were in the league, being in the top-six and after Christmas feeling like they were really good, competitive games gave everyone a real motivation so from a coaching side it was nice because you didn’t have to fight people to be motivated for the weekend.

“I really liked it, it depends where you fall within it – if we were at the other end and scrambling around then I might think differently. I did enjoy it.

“Anything that makes you busier is good for us! It’s coming, we know where we want it to get to, we want to see the game keep growing and the atmosphere building.

“We want players to be able to be more professional and more players to be professional, not just the guys in the senior international team. From that, the quality builds but we know a lot goes into that as well – it’s not just a case of get more players, it’s not only the hard work you’re doing but all the clubs and stuff behind the scenes as well.

“We rely on volunteers a lot for that still so we want to keep pushing as far as we can and grow as far as we can. I’ll have stopped running around before it gets to any level like that but I love hockey so I want to see it be rewarded.”

Meanwhile, a number of Holcombe players were busy for their respective international sides over the summer – Ollie Payne, David Ames, Phil Roper and Nick Bandurak [all England] won silver at both the Spanish Hockey Federation Centenary Tournament and EuroHockey Championship, Rhodri Furlong played for Wales in the same tournament, Rob Field won bronze with Scotland at the EuroHockey Championship II and Hayden Phillips played for New Zealand in the Olympic qualifiers. Middleton was also involved with England’s under-21s in Germany for a Four Nations tournament.

“It was a bit easier for me physically than the guys playing internationally just standing on the sideline!

“A lot of the guys, luckily for us, have had a lot of hockey through the summer still so there are challenges in terms of making sure they’re rested and mentally in the right place but from a touch side, playing and their sharpness it feels like we’ve got a lot of guys who’ve had a really good pre-season, even though it’s not necessarily all been with us so seeing the level they’re at is exciting to see.”

Middleton himself was also inducted into the EuroHockey Hall of Fame during the showpiece continental tournament, alongside a number of other players, staff and volunteers including former Holcombe goalkeeper Maddie Hinch.

“People who know me will know what it feels like, awkward, horrible in the moment and not knowing what to do but naturally it’s always nice and a proud moment with things like that.

“Always for me, those things are not just individual but about the team – that’s recognition of the England and Great Britain sides that I came through and was a big part of for 10, 12 years, whatever it was. 

“If you don’t have a team that’s achieving something and putting GB hockey on the map a little bit, then you don’t get these kind of things happening. It’s always on my side looking from where we were when I started to where English hockey is now and it’s a massive one that we need to put onto those people as well, there’s a lot of people within that.”

Images: Eva Gilbert