Photo gallery: Future looks bright for Harleston Magpies following celebration of 80th year
- Credit: Archant Norfolk
As Harleston Magpies celebrate their 80th year sports reporter David Freezer went along to the north Suffolk club to find out how an isolated rural outfit has proved so successful
Arriving at Shotford Heath it would be easy to underestimate the power that Harleston Magpies wield in the world of hockey – plenty of visiting opponents certainly have done.
The club's Astroturf pitches are set amongst a vast expanse of fields just south of the Norfolk border near the village of Weybread, yet this is a club which competes on the national stage with teams from cities such as Cambridge and Brighton.
That high profile has been achieved in an impressive first 80 years since the club was founded in 1935 and the future is looking bright as well.
The Magpies men's first team have just returned to England Hockey's national league system for the first time since 2012, joining the well-established women's first team in representing Harleston on the national stage.
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So what is the key to the club's success? Ben Wright has played for the club since he was a child and is now the men's firsts head player-coach and said: 'I think initially they were very lucky to be one of the first clubs in the area to have an Astroturf laid, we're talking decades ago now, I think that initially was quite a big attraction.
'I think since then with the men and the women doing so well, continuing to compete at quite a high level relative to where they are in the country, I think that's phenomenal really.
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'The catchment area is small but growing on reputation in and around the region, so we've been able to attract people from Norwich, Ipswich, we're now trying to attract people from Cambridge as well, so that's a big thing that we've been working on. There's a lot of people behind the scenes at the club who do a lot of work.'
The clubs has around 250 senior members and 100 junior members and can boast seven women's teams and a girls development team, six men's teams and a boys development team, and nine junior teams.
Tristan Baynes, pictured, Magpies' playing manager, added: 'There is a great core of people who are committed to the club, enjoy the social aspect, work a lot and that works throughout the club so the success has been maintained through that hard work.
'We're very lucky to have a good clubhouse, pitches and a great atmosphere, so that encourages people to come along. It's a family club as well so all ages play and that's obviously very important to a lot of people as well.
'We're a bit in the middle of nowhere so it takes quite a few people by surprise when they get here but it's a very good facility, it's very welcoming and people generally have a good time here – despite the weather being a bit tough at times.'
Ladies hoping to build on strong third-placed finish
As the men's first team at Harleston Magpies prepare to make their return to England Hockey's national league system, they do not have to go far for advice on how to become established at that level.
The Magpies women's first team are preparing for their eighth successive season in the Investec Women's Hockey League Women's Conference East.
The women's firsts were also well established in the league before it was restructured in 2008 as well, winning the Women's Division One title in 2004 and Division Two title in 2000.
Their success has been an integral part of the club's continuing growth and ladies club captain Louisa Greenacre says the secret to that success is simple.
'Community is the essence of it,' said Greenacre, pictured, who plays in defence for the firsts.
'Although we may not all live in Harleston, we create our own community within the club.
'It goes from us competing at national level down to competing in the local county league and everyone is included, which I think is key. We pull people in with top quality coaching and obviously the performance side is there as well, competing at the highest level.
'We've been on the map for several years, we're renowned as a club who does well at youth hockey and that has obviously come through and the ladies have been in the national league for a few years now and it's good to see the men have come up to the same level.'
Magpies have seven women's teams and a girls development team at the club and attract players from far and wide, with players in the first team travelling to Shotford Heath from as far afield as King's Lynn and Peterborough.
But Greenacre, who travels from Norwich to play and train for Magpies, says local players are important part of the club as well.
'There's a nucleus of players who have been at the club since juniors and have developed through all the teams to the first team,' Greenacre continued.
'Ladies first-team captain Lucy Belsey has been with the club since a junior and is now in her second season captaining the team.'
The upcoming season is set to be an important one for the firsts as well, as they look to build on a pleasing third-placed finish in Women's Conference East last season. Ten wins in 18 matches made for an enjoyable season for the team – with attacker Emma Lee-Smith named in the league's team of the year after scoring nine goals.
Competing in the league means plenty of travelling, including as far as Maidenhead in Kent and Slough in Berkshire, but the firsts are used to those demands.
'We finished a strong third in the East Conference last season so we'll be looking to build upon that,' Greenacre said.
'There's been a slight change of the league, a few new teams, Slough have joined who were in the West Conference last year, so there are certainly going to be some tough competitors out there, so we'll be hoping to perform as well.'
With the second team finishing fifth in their first season in East Premier and the thirds finishing third in Norfolk Premier, there was plenty else to be positive about for the women's section last year as well.acre added: 'If it's someone who has never played hockey before, we've got coaching for all levels and all abilities and they will enjoy the coaching and will enjoy the social atmosphere.
'Or if someone wants to come and play top level hockey and improve their performance, that's there as well, that performance route is there to engage in the coaching and the tactics and to play top quality hockey.'