England and Great Britain international Phil Roper has talked up Holcombe’s chances of reaching the Euro Hockey League heading into the final few weeks of the season.
Roper signed for the club last summer to join his international teammates Nick Bandurak and Ollie Payne, as well as play under David Ames, who captained England in the World Cup in January, and Barry Middleton, Roper’s former captain at international level.
Holcombe currently sit second in Pool A of Phase 3 following last weekend’s 1-0 win over Hampstead & Westminster, meaning a win against Beeston on Saturday could seal their spot at Finals Weekend, which will be hosted at Surbiton this season, if Old Georgians also beat the London side.
“I think it’s good – it’s nice to be in the back end the season now where every game really means something. It takes a bit of getting your head around it compared to however many years we’ve had where you just play everyone home and away and then play-offs but it’s pretty exciting.
“The game on Sunday against Hampstead felt like a proper play-off game where maybe the quality wasn’t there but the intensity was and the feeling between the teams was definitely ‘right, we really need to win this game’. I’m pretty happy to be in Phase 3 but it’s the first year so we still don’t fully know what it all means yet.
“I really like it [play-offs hosted by Surbiton], to be honest. Lots of people have been sat on the fence or saying ‘why are Surbiton hosting it?’ but I think having it at a club, it will hopefully feel more special and busier.
“When it’s at Lee Valley and only a quarter of the stand’s full, no one gets that excited about that. Surbiton have got a good club environment, hopefully a lot of clubs will bring down some support because it’s not too far away and I think west London is a bit of a hub of good quality hockey. I think it can only be a good thing.
“It’s pretty exciting. You always want to make that last weekend of the club competition, you want to be going for that EHL spot, the Championship spot and I fully believe that we can do that.”
“I’ve really enjoyed the season. There were a couple of attractions. First of all, I wanted to play with nice guys, enjoy the environment, to have a nice team culture where you want to turn up, you want to train, play with people you want to play with.
“So far, it’s matched my expectations – it’s a really great group of guys and we all share the same goal in terms of where we want to aspire to be. It’s an exciting time.
“Secondly, having people like Barry and Amesy as coaches who you can learn from, I want to continue to learn and get better and I think they’re in a position to help me do that.
“That was another pull – to come to play with Banders [Bandurak] and Payno [Payne]. I’ve obviously got to know Sam this year and he’s a quality player, Banders and Payno are great.
“Payno with what he’s doing at the moment, I think he’s the best goalie in the world and with Banders, playing with someone who you can feed the ball too and is going to score a goal for you almost every time you get it to him is an amazing feeling.
“That was a huge attraction, I love playing with them both and they’re both great guys.”
“I’m still getting used to being an old guy, now – I didn’t realise originally that I was actually like second-oldest in the team which is a depressing thing because it just catches up with you. I thought people were older than me and I’m suddenly just an old bloke now.”
Much criticism has been aimed at England Hockey for some of their decision-making in attempts to grow the game, but some decisions this year have been met with slightly more praise, with players seeming to enjoy the new league structure generally amidst some of its complications.
The return of play-offs was also extremely welcome, though there are still some concerns regarding the quality of media and social media output from the governing body and some clubs. Roper himself also co-hosts a podcast called “Let’s Stick Together” with Brendan Creed and Joep de Mol
“I think they are trying and I really do understand where they’re coming from. They’ve made every international player in the Great Britain programme available for every game this year, which I think is a huge step.
“There used to be so much frustration from clubs when you had international players but only for 12 out of the 18 games. Now we’re available for every game,
“I think that’s a big step but the next step is really valuing the club game, putting more on it, making sure that clubs have the ability to grow and succeed and then hopefully start to challenge other European teams when we go to the EHL, because at the moment we’re not doing that consistently enough. How it looks, I don’t know but I think there are reasons to be critical and reasons to be optimistic.
“It’s interesting because I think a lot of it comes down to some financial stuff, and maybe some comes down to England Hockey [not] having the staff to distribute and put it onto clubs where they can do it.
“Some clubs just can’t have the facilities to physically video a game with good quality, for example. Until we get to that step where we’re asking people to do that, we can’t carry on trying to get better.
“I’d love to see it where there’s an actual quality highlights package for people to watch, there’s commentary, there’s the right stuff being put in place but I don’t know if I’m the right guy to ask how to get about doing that.
“The frustration is, if you’re trying to find out results, certain clubs you don’t even know how they’ve got on until it goes up on England Hockey’s website and that can be very slow so there are obvious frustrations when you want the league to be better or want people to care about the league.
“If you want people to care about the league, they have to be able to find out about the product – if I want to find out the football scores, I just go onto BBC Sport and it’s there immediately.
“For us, you have to wait a couple of hours quite often and you don’t even know who’s scored or what’s happened.
“It’s an interesting one because we have to be careful on the podcast to be critical in the right moments.”
Great Britain will be back in Pro League action in April, May and June – starting off with a mini-tournament in New Zealand with Australia before hosting India and Belgium in May and early June, and Spain, the Netherlands and Germany later in June.
Roper is looking forward to getting back in front of a home crowd, but admits he still has reservations about the Pro League, with fans often finding the format confusing.
“The Pro League has its pros and cons but one of the big pros is that you do get to play in front of a home crowd every year. I think the first games are against India and Belgium in May, I’m buzzing and hopefully it’ll be an exciting time to get back to it and have some home support.”
“I like it and I don’t [the new mini-tournament format]. I like it for the fact that I’m a player and I get to play against other top nations in this mini-tournament format and you feel like you’re getting four really high-quality games over a short period of time in front of crowds, that’s amazing.
“I think the Pro League could be so much better, we have to find some kind of consistency where the fans actually understand the product, it’s not just about us playing quality opposition because what we’re trying to do is grow the game, I think and I’m not sure that’s exactly the right way to do it.
“We have to have consistency where the fans understand what’s happening every year and they have a reason to come down to support us. The Pro League just needs to be tuned to match that and until it is, maybe we can’t grow the game as much.”
Great Britain Pro League tournaments:
New Zealand Mini-Tournament 21st-29th April 2023
Women’s – 22nd April 2023- 3am – Australia vs. Great Britain
Men’s – 22nd April 2023 – 5:30am – New Zealand vs. Great Britain
Men’s – 23rd April 2023 – 3am – Australia vs. Great Britain
Women’s – 23rd April 2023 – 5:30am – New Zealand vs. Great Britain
Women’s – 28th April 2023 – 6am – Great Britain vs. Australia
Men’s – 28th April 2023 – 8:30am – New Zealand vs. Great Britain
Women’s – 29th April 2023 – 3am -New Zealand vs. Great Britain
Men’s – 29th April 2023 – 5:30am – Great Britain vs. Australia
All games in Christchurch
London Mini-Tournament 26th May-4th June 2023
Men’s – Fri 26th May 2023 – 14:30 – India vs. Belgium
Women’s – Fri 26th May 2023 – 17:00 – Great Britain vs. China
Men’s – Sat 27th May 2023 – 12:30 – Great Britain vs. India
Women’s – Sat 27th May 2023 – 15:00 – Belgium vs. China
Men’s – Sun 28th May 2023 – 12:30 – Great Britain vs. Belgium
Women’s – Sun 28th May 2023 – 15:00 – Great Britain vs. Belgium
Men’s – Fri 2nd June 2023 – 14:30 – India vs. Belgium
Women’s – Fri 2nd June – 17:00 – Great Britain vs. China
Men’s – Sat 3rd June – 12:30 – Great Britain vs. India
Women’s – Sat 3rd June – 15:00 – China vs. Belgium
Men’s – Sun 4th June – 12:30 – Great Britain vs. Belgium
Women’s – Sun 4th June – 15:00 – Great Britain vs. Belgium
All games at Lee Valley
London Mini-Tournament 16th-20th June 2023
Women’s – Fri 16th June 2023 – 12:30 – Great Britain vs. Germany
Men’s – Fri 16th June 2023 – 15:00 – Netherlands vs. Spain
Women’s – Sat 17th June 2023 – 12:30 – Netherlands vs. USA
Men’s – Sat 17th June 2023 – 15:00 – Great Britain vs. Germany
Women’s – Sun 18th June 2023 – 12:30 – Great Britain vs. USA
Men’s – Sun 18th June 2023 – 15:00 – Great Britain vs. Spain
Men’s – Mon 19th June 2023 – 17:30 – Spain vs. Netherlands
Women’s – Mon 19th June 2023 – 20:00 – Great Britain vs. Germany
Men’s – Tues 20th June 2023 – 12:00 – Great Britain vs. Germany
Women’s – Tues 20th June 2023 – 14:30 – Netherlands vs. USA
Men’s – Wed 21st June 2023 – 17:30 – Great Britain vs. Spain
Women’s – Wed 21st June 2023 – 20:00 – Great Britain vs. USA
All games at Lee Valley
Catch Roper in action for our M1s on Saturday afternoon at 5:30pm against Beeston.