Tough start for Belper Hockey Club

As well as the changes off the pitch, there were a number of changes to the playing staff with a number of movements occurring.

It was with sadness that the club said farewell to Sam McCambridge who has returned to Australia and Joe Browne and David Boddy who have left to go to university.

The squad will certainly miss Sam’s contribution to the goals tally and the club will miss his infectious personality.

The loss of Joe and David will also be deeply felt. David provided a huge amount of pace to the frontline and Joe had developed into a very strong defender. Their performances at the back end of the previous season showed that they will continue to go from strength to strength.

The clubhouse, changing rooms and pitch have also undertaken a transformation as club members have worked hard to clean, decorate and repair the facilities. The Meadow’s is in the best shape for manys a year thanks to the hard work of everyone involved.

Although the first XI has lost a small number of players, there have also been some new recruits to the camp. Belper are pleased to welcome new players Ashley Blakemore from Chester and Aaron Cambden from Beeston. Both players bring experience with them and operate in the frontline. At the back the club has welcomed new faces Jacob Bullock and Toby Hooker. Both players have come from the club youth teams and judging by performances in pre-season, are both already eminently capable defenders who will get plenty of pitch time in the coming season. Rich Cassidy has also returned from university in London to bolster the squad further.

Although not new players, Ben Walton and Dougie Campbell have returned from a long period away from the 1st XI due to injury. Despite not playing, Walton was always a very vocal supporter of the club and could frequently be heard on the side lines at the Meadows while Dougie has continued his junior international career where possible with Scotland. Ben and Dougie have struggled with numerous injuries throughout the last three seasons and to see them back and training well has been a great boost for the new management team. The longer away trips during the season will certainly be more entertaining now that ‘Wally’ is back in the squad.

Mark Lamb planned a thorough pre-season programme taking in a significant amount of cardio training as well as stick and ball training. This was built up to include a number of fixtures over the last month. Six fixtures have taken place allowing Mark to try out several formations and player combinations. Initial matches against National Conference South opposition Teddington and Midland Premier outfit South Notts were promising in parts but showed that there was plenty of work to do ahead of the league season. Belper managed a win against Teddington (3-1) and a credible draw (2 -2) against a South Notts side packed with former Belper players.

The following week Belper recorded another win (5–3) over newly promoted Lichfield who will undertake their second stint in the National Conference West. James Blackwell and Dan Darby both impressed in this win showing good form early in the season.

The highlight of the pre-season programme was a Monday night fixture against National Champions Beeston. Despite a couple of injuries Belper put in a magnificent performance only to lose out 4–2. This was an encouraging performance that showed just what the squad is capable of if they can maintain high standards throughout the season. Jacob Bullock was the star performer on the night putting in a performance that belies his young age.

The final week of pre-season has been completed with two further victories against West Bridgford (3-6)and Edgbaston (3-5).

Despite fielding a weakened squad, Ben Walton, Ben Inshaw and James Blackwell all performed very well to ensure two wins for the Nailers as they prepare for that vital first league game against Doncaster.

With the National Conference North set to be a very competitive league, it is vital that the Nailers get off to a better start than the previous campaign. With Brooklands dropping out of the Premier League and a strong Preston side being promoted from the Northern Premier league, there will be no easy games this season.

The four biggest challenges will surely be Durham University (the current league champions), Sheffield Hallam, Doncaster and Brooklands.

“The league this season will be tighter than it has been for a number of years” said Mark Lamb. “With a premier league team coming down and the previous league winners staying in the league, it will be much harder to challenge at the top. But with the squad we have we are more than capable of competing with and beating the top teams.

“This season I am wanting to build a strong cohesive unit that will be able to provide any team with a stern test. The game against Beeston certainly showed what we are capable of and it’s down to us to maintain the standards the players have set themselves. I can assure any supporter that there will be no compromise in the coming season from my squad and we will also provide lots of exciting hockey for the spectators.”

Captain Richard Kitchen also added “We cannot take anything for granted this year. The competition for points means that we will be battling from the first game for every point we can get. “We have a tough start at Doncaster and it will not get any easier after that.” He was also quite upbeat on the state of the playing staff “Although we have a couple of injury concerns ahead of the first game in Sam Hawkes and Tom Sherratt, we have a strong unit of players with lots of experience on the pitch. There is a real buzz in the camp and the guys are champing at the bit to get going.”

Belper start their league campaign with an away trip to Doncaster on Sunday 18th September with a 2.00pm push back All support is, as always, very welcome. The Nailers will follow this fixture by entertaining Leek at the Meadows on Saturday 24th September. A mouth-watering clash considering the history between the two sides from the same fixture last season.